Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rodent and Insect Proof Food Storage

Eww, mice have been here!
I have been unpacking all the boxes from my move here now that the Shouse kitchen is usable. When I packed my kitchen in Phoenix, I was sure to bring all my canned foods and other pantry staples. I didn't plan to have them in storage as long as they have been, nor to be so inaccessible, but it is what it is and I am just now getting to unpacking and putting them away. I discovered this box to the left hidden deep within the pile of boxes.Yes, folks, that is rodent damage. I had mice in the storage area and they had a good time eating some of my baking supplies and boxed goods. Thankfully they only invaded this one box. Know why? Because all of the other supplies were in rodent and insect proof packaging. So today I will be focusing on how to keep rodents and insects out of the food in your tiny house and, as a bonus, out of your building all together.

Mice are disgusting and dirty
Practical storage in a small space can often be difficult. Limited shelf space seems to always be an issue no matter how large the house, but in a Shouse it can be an even bigger challenge. There are many options from the cheapest (zipper top plastic bags) to the expensive (Lock-N-Lock, Tupperware, etc.). I think I have tried just about every type of storage there is available. Some worked great, some fed the mice. Let's talk about what will work for storage that can keep your food fresh and the pests away.

There are five primary ways we store food: 1) in plastic (containers, bags, or wraps) 2) in paper (sacks, packets, cardboard, or waxed), 3) in glass (jars or containers), 4) in cans, and in any of those containers combined with 5) refrigerator or freezer. In our country plastic reigns supreme, but glass is beginning to pull up in a close second.

Vacuum Seal Containers are good for
dry goods and short term storage
Plastic: A blessing and a curse  Our culture is beginning to realize that plastic, especially cheap imported plastics, can leach chemicals into our foods. PBA recently made headlines due to its estrogenic effects (Click here to read/listen to an NPR report on this topic). Additionally, pests can often smell the food contained in the plastic. Plastic is easy for rodents to chew through, so it offers little protection to a determined and hungry creature. Cheap containers often do not seal air tight which allows foods to go stale or spoil before their time. As a rule, I try to stay away from using plastic. It is interesting to note that the box that I had that got invaded had a couple of plastic containers and the critters managed to chew through them. I will not mention the brand on here since I wouldn't want to blast them on my blog, however they are a well known and popular brand that are not inexpensive. I do like the plastic vacuum containers that go with my vacuum sealer. I only use them to store dry goods, so the changes of chemicals leaching are less, but I still don't use them for storage of more than a few weeks. Vacuum bags do not leach the same kinds of chemicals, so I use my vacuum sealer liberally. However, I make sure that I do not store the vacuum bagged food on the pantry shelves.

Paper and Cardboard are no match
 for mice and insects
Paper: Attracts bugs and is like a paper plate for critters When I moved I had recently made a score on Suddenly Salad salad mix kits. I bought six of them on sale and for less than two dollars. I packed all six boxes directly into the packing box. Evidently the mice really enjoy Suddenly Salad. Not only did they eat the boxes of Suddenly Salad, but they ate the 3 boxes of Jello Chocolate Pudding I packed as well. Ever since I was a child my mother drilled it into me that storing things in cardboard boxes is a bad plan because many insects, such as roaches, actually eat cardboard as food. Storing food in cardboard is just like laying out a buffet for bugs. So, my advice, and what I plan to always do, is to unpackage foods from cardboard packaging and store the product in a different container.
I love Mason Jars!

Glass: The magic of the Mason jar  Anyone who knows me knows I am a super big proponent of Mason jars for storage. They are inexpensive, reusable, can be washed and sterilized, and store neatly on shelves. Rodents cannot chew through glass. Glass can be recycled if broken. It is easy to see the contents of a Mason jar. Glass does not leach chemicals and stores things air tight. Jars are great for storing wet foods, dried foods, and dehydrated food.

Only the cans survived
Cans: Almost bullet proof storage  Canned goods (aluminum cans, #10 Cans, etc.) that are commercially produced can store safely for years. Even if stored in a room full of rodents, cans can be washed and dipped in a combination bath of chlorine and water to sterilize them prior to opening. If you are going to have a summer or winter cabin, canned food is the safest type of food storage. Did you know you can can foods at home just like the big companies do? While I don't have the equipment myself, my local LDS cannery does and sometimes they open their doors to non-Mormons. I buy canned goods for long-term rotating storage when it is on sale. I even have a can rotation system to help me store cans neatly, rotate my canned goods, and help me stretch my food budget.

Ok, so what is the best way to store food so that you don't attract insects and rodents?

Sugar I vacuum sealed and
keep stored in freezer
  • Storing foods in glass containers such as Mason style jars and purchasing canned foods is the best approach for goods that will be stored on pantry shelves. 
  • Keeping meets and freezable items frozen in a deep freeze will preserve the food and prevent invasion by critters. 
  • Storing open packages in the refrigerator is also an excellent preventative measure. 
  • Finally, making sure to clean up after every meal, cleaning up any food spills, and taking the trash/compost outside away from the house diligently will do most of the work to keep the critters at bay. 
  • Vacuum sealing bulk items in smaller quantities in high quality vacuum seal bags.

No matter where you live, country, city, or suburb, insects and rodents can become a problem. Being proactive will prevent unwelcome dining guests from calling your home their home.