Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Food Spoilage

So, there are lots of benefits to growing your own food, and a lot of difficulties to it. One of the big ones is that if you don't have the correct way to preserve your food, it spoils. This comes to mind because the lady of the house and I spent about $50 to make a pot of food that was going to be a staple for about 2 weeks of dinners and lunches. We'd figured by the way we'd made it we should be able to get about 24 servings out of it bringing it to, with the starch to round it out an approximately $3.00 meal per serving with everything included. Not bad at all. So, we let it cool from the stove, had a bit of it, put the pot in the fridge, the second day we get some out of the pot, put it back in the fridge and cook it separately. Then life happens and we don't put the food into freezer containers for 3 more days. Shouldn't be a problem, this particular dish should be fine in the fridge for a bit over a week and a half. And yet, we come back, having had a total of 6 servings out of it, and there's mold on the surface.  One dead pot of food, now coming out to $9 a meal given how much we got out of it. This was rather upsetting, and sobering. Preservation of the food that comes out of our animals and the ground is damn important since we can't eat it all at once.

Vegetables vs Meat
Vegetables and meat both have their own challenges in terms of preservation and storage so have to be approached separately for the most part. The constant though is that if you don't have secure storage vermin will get at your preserved food and take advantage of the stash. A fridge or freezer is secure storage, but isn't always the best place to store things. For instance, bread needs to be stored in a cool dry place, and a fridge actually causes it to degrade faster.

A Note
I am not an expert on this, I am still learning so feel free to add in your own information. Also, take a look at the Just In Case Book Blog for a lot of information about preparedness and food preservation that I don't have the knowledge to go in to.

Of primary concern for us is meat because that's what we are going to be producing first. One of our big concerns is not wasting any of the meat because if we are going to be butchering animals, we damn well want the killing to not go to waste. That said, even if you don't see the death of the animal you are eating, ensuring nothing goes to waste is important. There are some frightening statistics about food waste, which I also am not going to go in to, but you can do some looking into it at the website for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN .

With rough figuring we will probably be producing about 250 lbs of rabbit meat a year. That is more than enough for both the lady of the house and I to eat meat for the full year based on how we eat meat. That said, we won't just be going outside, butchering a rabbit, cooking and eating it. Butchering times come when the baby rabbits are at proper weight and are butchered as a group. So what do we do with this sudden influx of meat? We won't just eat a shitload of meat in the week following, and go without for a few months.

Before preserving meat of any sort you need to make sure the blood is drained since the presence of pooled blood increases the rate of spoilage of meat. You also want to make sure the organs are separated from the rest of the body, and that the meat is cleaned properly. Obviously you also want to make sure that the fur is off the animal, while it seems obvious it is worth saying in the preparation stage.

Freezing is the easiest way to preserve meat, but is reliant on power. I don't know about you, but as there are more and more black outs occurring, the idea of losing the products of hours of labor, and dozens of lives totaling to weeks or months of food is upsetting to me. One can get around this with a generator, or by preserving in other ways. Another thing to note is that you can't freeze things for ever and expect them to be good. http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html

In the winter you can potentially freeze foods outside, especially if you construct proper outside storage but I don't know much about these methods and will leave their research up to the person who is focused on that.

Smoking or drying your meat is a very functional way to do long term preservation. You make a jerky and your meat can last quite a long time. It also takes up significantly less space and weighs less than normal meat. Cooking with smoked meat is a different sort of thing than cooking with fresh or frozen meat, but it doesn't rely on power and just requires secure storage. There are a bunch of different methods of smoking, and be aware not all of them actually preserve the meat. This is something that is worth doing a good bit of individual research on for how you personally want to do it. My favorite is marinating the meat and hot smoking it to kill off all of the parasites and bacteria.

Salting dries out the meat by pulling most of the moisture out of it. By doing so you increase the length of time that the meat will survive without a refrigerated environment. There are places that suggest use of saltpeter for drying which gives a pink color to the meat, but there are indications that nitrates may cause cancer in humans. Again, something worth more research.

There are many methods of pickling, but the traditional one is brine. In this method you keep your meat in a solution that is too salty for microbes to survive. It keeps the meat healthy to eat and moist, but rather significantly affects the flavor of the meat. I'm sure there are recipes and methods for how to do this, but it isn't something I've particularly researched.

And More!
There are many more methods of preservation that I know little to nothing about that I've been finding as I was doing research for this post. They include jugging, canning (Yes, for meat), burial, and lye among others. There are a lot of potential methods for preservation, and my personal inclination is smoking and freezing. That said, it is well worth us doing more research before we have many pounds of rabbits on our hands.


  1. When I was really young my family used to go one town north and pick out a cow that was to be our meat for the next year (or almost a year). They would slaughter and clean it, and my parents and grandmother would butcher it and package it (freezer wrap and foil, this is before Ziploc and FoodSaver). We kept it in a large upright freezer in the basement. I don't remember any long blackouts, but I don't remember ever having to empty the freezer due to food spoiling. A well packed freezer should keep food safe for several days without power if it is not opened during the outage.

  2. Refrigerating bread may be bad, but freezing it seems to work just fine on both store bought and home made bread that are stored in plastic bread bags. I just take it out to thaw at room temperature, and there is virtually no effect on the flavor or texture.