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Keeping a supply of emergency food on hand can be a lifesaver during an emergency, but there’s more to it than simply stocking the pantry with your favorite food. These five tips can help you maintain its quality longer and make it more convenient.

Date the Food

Canned and jarred food comes with use-by dates printed on the can or the labels. Some food products such as sugar, honey and molasses do not, however. These products last for years since they naturally inhibit bacterial growth and are natural preservatives. Other kinds of food are susceptible to microbial growths or degradation over time.

Stay on Top of Food Rotation

Food rotation is easy to say, but harder to do, but it’s essential for managing your food budget and minimizing unnecessary waste. Arrange the shelves so that there’s room to access each row of food conveniently, or invest in canned food organizers that make food rotation simple. They automatically dispense cans from the bottom, and you can replenish your supply by adding cans to the top. The cans roll to the bottom through gravity.

Sometimes the dates on cans and packages are hard to read and take time. Some people color-code their labels by year and use a marker to note the month and date. It’s easy to hang a sheet of paper inside a cabinet door that has the key to the color-coding system.

Use Safe Containers

Vacuum sealers prolong the shelf life of dried food and you can extend it even further by using Mylar bags. They are impervious to air and will block out all light. Dried beans, grains, pasta, fruit and vegetables will last much longer when stored in airtight Mylar bags. When you include oxygen absorbers in the bag, there is no risk from exposure to air.

Besides the Mylar bags, consider using canning jars for food storage. They’re reusable, easy to sterilize, and don’t break easily. Plastic lids and rings are available that won’t rust on or react to acidic contents. While they’re fine to use for dry food storage, plastics can’t be used when canning food.

Keep the Space Dark

Light deteriorates the quality of food you keep in storage through a process called photo degradation. Keep the doors closed to food stored in cabinets as much as possible. Some people use a separate pantry for long-term food storage. It’s easy to forget to turn off a light, but putting it on a timer or motion sensor will turn the light off before it has a chance to damage the food.

The only exception to the light you allow in your food storage pantry is UV (ultraviolet) lights. This spectrum of sunshine alters the DNA of microorganisms that can spoil food. Bacteria, viruses and mold spores won’t be able to reproduce after UV exposure. These lights are available as hand-held devices that you can shine over the shelves in the pantry to lower the risk of food spoilage caused by microbial contamination.

Maintain the Humidity

The logical place for storing food is in the kitchen, but the humidity often reaches levels that promote mold growth and deteriorates cans. A better place might be in a closet away from bathrooms and the kitchen.

If you store the emergency food supply in the basement, consider using a dehumidifier to keep the humidity at or below 30 percent. Rust, mold and mildew thrive in damp conditions. Molds and mildews will grow on paper products, which can quickly spoil the contents unless they’re in plastic or Mylar bags.

The time and financial investment you make in food storage and the products to prolong its flavors will pay off in the long run. An ample supply, carefully preserved, gives you food security you can count on when you most need it.