Buying bulk food can save you tons of money – if you can keep it from going bad. Here are some long-term storage tips about flour and other related dry grain products.
The biggest problems you’ll have with food item storage relate to nutrition, pests, and odd changes. Nutrition wise food does deteriorate, but the degree depends on the food item. Pests are a big problem unless you have a good system in place, and odd changes means things like changes to flavor, texture, smell, color, and cooking quality.
Smart buying tips for bulk flour and grains:
Pest infestations can happen in flour, grains, nuts, sweeteners, beans, pet food, and more. When it comes to saving your bulk dried grains the first step is prevention.
- If you’re buying in bulk packaging, check the sell-by date, look for cracks and rips in the package. Don’t man-handle the package. Most bugs love the top of a package. If you don’t shake the package, you can open it at home and see the buggies then return the package.
- If you’re buying from bulk bins, check the top layer of food in the bin for bugs.
- Buy from reputable sellers. This is especially important if you mail-order bulk foods.
- Add bay leaves to the top of your bins – note that this can change the flavor somewhat, but bay leaves do naturally detour pests.
Moving on to storage…
Keep your storage area clean and if possible up off the ground. One idea is to use bins on a wheeled cart (if you have the space). Of course, if you don’t have the space, maybe you shouldn’t be buying bulk. If your storage area become dusty with flour on the floor, vacuum up the flour. Wet mopping can push crumbs into crevices where bugs will try to get at them. Keep your vacuum in the garage and change the bags often because bugs can live on in your vacuum bag. One way around this is to get a cup vacuum.
For your storage bins go for air and moisture tight. You need containers made of glass, metal, heavy plastic, or tin. I know some people who have used metal garbage cans, big fat Tupperware, and even the large mason jars. It really doesn’t matter so long as the lid is tight.
Rotate if you use multiple bins. If you use a single large bin, never add fresh to top off the container. Use all the grains, clean the container, then add more. This is one reason why two bins per item at least are better for bulk food storage.
Temperature: If you’ve got the room many dried grains do well in a refrigerator. Most of us do not have extra cold storage so second best is to try and keep foods stored in an area that can be maintained to stay below 70 F and above 32 F.
Light: Light can be an issue to many bulk foods. I like mason jars, but they’re not really ideal for keeping foods fresh and nutritionally fit, unless you store in a pantry or other unlit area. No food should be sitting in direct sunlight.
Moisture: Humidity is the worst for bulk foods. I’ve heard that ideally you should aim for 15% or less humidity – but that’s a tough one. In NM we could keep bulk items with less trouble but say, in Oregon or Ohio, you’re in trouble. Keeping containers off the floor can help. Keeping foods in an air conditioned space can also help. Lastly, use those air tight containers.
Time frame to keep dried grains:
- White flour -6 to 12 mos
- Wheat flour – 3 mos or longer if kept in the fridge (I don’t like the taste of wheat flour kept in the fridge though).
- Popcorn – 2 years
- Baking soda – up to 18 mos, but go by the expiration date when possible.
- Ground spices – 1 year
- Whole herbs and spices – 2 years
The Food Marketing Institute has a fairly long list with many foods and their use by times – but it’s not extensive. If you buy a lot in bulk you might want to get a good food storage booklet to read from your local cooperative extension service.
My food storage book rant:
IF you decide to buy a book on the subject research it completely first. Many have a large religious slant, which is fine if you’re ok with that, but of course not if you’re not. Also many books on food storage seem to be written by would-be poets who just decided to write a food storage book – i.e. more quotes and poems than tips. I’m not sure why, but most home food storage books are just not all that useful – I’ve found better info through my local extension service. I have seen some good root cellar books for veggie and fruit storage, but we’re talking about grains so…