Monday, 12 August 2013

07:23 – I got email over the weekend from a long-time reader who, like more than a few of my readers, is becoming increasingly concerned about societal breakdown. He wants to store a year’s worth of food for him and his family, but they’re a young couple with a toddler and can’t afford to spend much. He looked at the emergency food page on Costco’s website and was horrified at how much it’d cost him to store a year’s worth of freeze-dried foods for his family.

I told him, in short, not to worry about buying expensive freeze-dried food. Instead, he should be buying canned and regular dry food. I told him to ignore the “best-by” dates on canned foods. We just bought some canned food at Costco that has a best-by date in 2015. The reality is that that canned food will be just fine–nutritionally and taste-wise–for at least 20 years, and probably much longer. I remember back in the late 60’s or early 70’s when they raised a riverboat that had sunk in 1865. Among the many items they recovered were numerous cans of food. Scientists evaluated that food for safety and nutritional value and found that it was still safe and still provided good nutrition. In some cases, the appearance and taste were a bit off, but not enough to make it inedible, particularly in an emergency. So those cases of canned pork and beans, vegetables, fruit, and so on from Costco are going to be fine for 20 years, minimum. About the only nutritional loss over the next 20 years or more is likely to be vitamins A and C. Big deal. Stock up on multivitamins and keep them in the freezer. Same deal on dry foods. Costco sells 20-pound bags of white rice in heavy plastic bags. I told him they’ll be fine 5, 10, and 20 years from now, even stored in the original heavy plastic bags. Same thing with stuff like dry beans, macaroni, and so on. Vegetable oil has among the shortest shelf-lives of common foods, and even it should be good for at least five years in an unopened container.

And, with a few exceptions, the same thing holds true for storing medicines for an emergency. I have, for example, some amoxicillin, metronidazole, sulfadimethoxine, and other antibiotics in the freezer. The expiration dates are mostly in 2014 or 2015. The truth is that all of those drugs will still be safe to use and effective 20 years or more from now. There may be a slight loss of potency, but not enough to matter. Same thing for the dozen or more other classes of drugs I have stored, from antihistamines to analgesics to antdiarrheals. Particularly when frozen, these drugs maintain potency for decades.

So, I suggested that each time they make a Costco run, they buy at least two at a time. If they’d ordinarily buy one bag of rice, buy two or three or four. If they’d ordinarily buy one case of canned corn or baked beans, buy two or three or four. Stick one of each in the pantry for current use, and the rest on the shelves in the basement. That avoids one mistake people often make, which is to buy emergency food that isn’t stuff they regularly eat. This way, they’re buying only stuff that they eat regularly, and they can cycle it through so that the new stuff they buy always goes into storage. Once they reach steady-state, they’ll have a year’s supply of food on the basement shelves, and they’ll be eating canned and dry food that averages a year old. Which will be indistinguishable–nutritionally or otherwise–from the same items immediately after purchase. And, of course, the other advantage is that if any of the food you purchase ends up being recalled for contamination or whatever, you won’t have eaten any of it yet.

Finally, he was worried because he hadn’t found much information about storing food for their dog. I told him not to worry about that, either. Dog food wasn’t even invented until something like 1935. Until then, dogs ate human food from their masters’ tables, and they got along just fine for 35,000 years. They were just as healthy and lived just as long on human food as they do on all this specially formulated dog food. In fact, I suspect that dogs still lament the invention of dog food, because every one I’ve ever known much preferred table scraps. And, having read about what goes into dog food, I can’t say I blame them.

I continue to be amazed by just how inexpensive decent scientific equipment can be nowadays. A couple weeks ago, I ordered a scale from Amazon with milligram (0.001 g) resolution and a 20 g capacity for twenty bucks and change. A little while ago, I ordered a pH meter from Amazon with 0.01 pH resolution and automatic temperature compensation for $105.

Barbara and I got a lot done over the weekend, including building another small batch of the CK01A chemistry kits. We’re in pretty good shape now on all of the kits except the CK01B chemistry kits, of which we have only five in stock. So today my first priority is to build some more of those. I have everything on hand to build another 13 of those, so that’s what I’ll do. Then it’ll be back to working on the next batch of 60 biology kits.