If there were ever two things that went hand-in-hand they are living a prepping lifestyle and stockpiling: food, water and other goods so you are ready to face the fateful day when society falls apart.
Having the skills to live off the land and furnish what you need is of course great, but it is better to have everything you need on hand for the duration when you need it.
Amassing a large quantity of various foodstuffs, bottled and potable water, medication, batteries and more will form the core of your material preparations.
However, like the song says nothing lasts forever, and everything you can buy, no matter how shelf-stable it is, no matter how preserved it is, can wear out, breakdown or spoil. The only way to prevent this is to rotate your stocks.
I hate to say it but stockpile rotation can become a job unto itself. Luckily for you we are here to provide you with several tips that can give you a major leg up when it comes to efficiently rotating and maintaining your stockpile.
Tip #1: Mark It and Date It!
For beginning preppers, or those who are sticking with a doctrine of, ahem, minimal preparation, you probably won’t need to worry too much about rotation because you can simply consume, use or refresh your supplies once or twice a year without too much additional expense.
However, once you start dedicating banks of shelves, whole pantries and even entire rooms to your stockpile rotation becomes critical for preserving your investment and preventing waste.
Failing to rotate properly means you’ll be throwing money in the trash at best or, at worst, opening up spoiled and wasted goods when you are depending on them!
The simplest and most essential element of any good rotation plan is marking every item that you put into storage. At its most basic, this is nothing more than the date you purchased the item.
Knowing the actual date you purchased an item at a glance will inform your decision of how long you can keep it before it starts to go bad (the case of food or water), or when it is likely to start breaking down or losing efficacy (in the case of something like medication or batteries).
You can opt to include additional information like where it was purchased from and other useful bits like lot number and so forth whether or not you purchased it or preserved it yourself. In case of accident or mishap this can be good information to have if you are trying to track down spoilage.
A large batch of preserved fruit, for instance, that spoils but has since been mixed in throughout the rest of your supply will make for a nerve-wracking game of chance every time you open one of the like items.
If you had every can labeled with a lot number you could easily pull them for closer inspection or quarantine.
Lots of preppers like to write directly on the container using an indelible marker like a Sharpie, but I personally like to give the container or item a craft tape or painters tape label that I then write on, allowing for easy removal and easy, high-contrast reading.
Tip #2: Get the Real Data on Expiration Dates
This might come as a surprise to you, but you cannot trust the expiration dates on much of the packaged items that you buy from the store. Simply put, most of these are sell-by dates have been established by byzantine government agencies with very little basis in fact.
As it turns out, an awful lot of items, particularly dairy items and dry goods can stay safe and edible, if not palatable, far longer than the advertised dates would have you believe.
So, how will you really know when your canned or other preserved items are no longer safe to eat? First, you’ll have to do a little research. There have been some initiatives that endeavor to figure out what the real story is concerning longevity of the items we buy.
Second, use your head. Any canned or pouched food product that is swollen or overly firm has probably already gone bad. This is due to the presence of bacteria that have taken up residence in the item, hungrily devouring it and generating waste gases as a byproduct of their microscopic feasting.
Should you notice this happening, you will want to compare it to other like items purchased at the same time.
Though this is a generally reliable indicator of spoilage, it is not foolproof. It is a bad thing to let your food and other items sit too long and risk uselessness, but it is just as bad to keep buying them over and over to replace them when the sell-by dates are flat-out lying to you.
Whatever legitimate expiration date you decide on, write it down on the item below the purchase date.
Tip #3: First In, First Out! Always!
There is one maxim that any stockpiler should live by: first in, first out! FIFO means that any items that go into your stockpile earlier in the timeline are the first ones to be used when you are drawing them out.
This prevents the altogether too common syndrome of items being pushed to the rear of the pack where they languish for eternity, only for you to find them hopelessly spoiled or useless when you have consumed all the others that have been piled atop them.
By way of a “for instance”, let us say you buy three cans of green beans for your stockpile, one can in April, one can in May, and one in June. All three are labeled accordingly. Let us also say that you will be drawing from your stockpile for everyday cooking to prevent waste later on near the end of the year.
As additional cans of green beans go into your stockpile the newest and most recently purchased cans of green beans should be placed behind the one you bought way back in April, with the can from May immediately behind that and the can from June immediately behind the May can.
Done this way your oldest stock gets pushed or “fed” to the front where it will be used first, or “pulled out” first. First in, first out. This doesn’t just apply to food. It can also be used with water supplies, batteries, medication and all other consumables.
One element that will help you adhere to FIFO is careful organization. We will talk more about that in a minute, but the tidier and more organized your storage system is the easier it will be to make use of this principle.
Tip #4: Planning: Analyze Your Consumption Against Your Capacity
A classic mistake that some preppers make when beginning to amass supplies for their stockpile is buying well in excess of their storage capacity or buying contrary to their primary disaster survival plan. What does this mean?
For instance, a prepper who lives in a larger two-story house in a rural setting, one with a full basement and a detached garage or workshop, will have considerably more room for useful storage of goods than a prepper living in the middle of a major metropolitan area in an overpriced apartment that is scarcely bigger than a lunchbox.
Does this mean that amassing a stockpile is only viable for people who don’t live inside cities? Absolutely not! But it does mean you should stockpile according to reality, and rotate your goods accordingly. Other factors enter into the equation also.
A prepper who is taking care of a large family of eight all living under roof is a lot of mouths to feed, a lot of gear to store and many bodies to take care of. A single prepper, or a prepper living only with their partner, will have a much easier time of things.
Especially if your family is not entirely on board and contributing to your prepping plan, someone who has many other people to take care of might be best served to stockpile particular goods and store them in such a way to facilitate less frequent rotation.
Tip #5: Buy and Store for Stackability
You will likely find that whatever space you have for storage will quickly be consumed by what you are purchasing. Every prepper knows the pain of looking for space to install one more set of shelves, or build one more rack.
Under beds, in cupboards and on top of appliances, pretty soon every spare space that can hold a can, a jar, a bag, pouch or container will be crammed full of the same.
Remember, prepping in quantity like this and maintaining your stash is an efficiency game. Act efficiently from the very beginning! You might not need extra room if your shelves are sturdy enough to support cans and containers stacked one upon the other.
Instead of a mishmash of container sizes, standardize them as best you can. If you cannot standardize, consider storing groups of jars, bottles and bags inside of larger containers that can then be stacked. Make sure you note what groups of goods are inside per hour advice above.
But a word of caution: considering that all these goods must be rotated, the farther out of sight and the less accessible they are the less likely you are to rotate them. You are only human.
If you do decide to group your goods into containers make sure you have a preset schedule for when you will access, inspect and rotate them accordingly.
Tip #6: Use a “Ready Rack” Method.
One of the best things you can do to maintain your sanity and keep your goods accessible for everyday use as a result of them coming up on their expiration dates (yours, not the manufacturer’s) is to keep your pantry in your kitchen free from as much clutter as possible. I mean to say keep your pantry set up for everyday use, not for long-term mass storage.
When doing so, any of your stockpiled goods that are to be pulled out of storage and used should be moved to the pantry so that when you need lima beans, fruit cocktail, or corned beef hash it is ready for you to grab. This “everyday use” position is called the “ready rack” for any given item.
This helps ensure that items close to the end of their useful storage life will not be wasted, pushed off into a corner and forgotten about or simply discarded. Essentially, your first out products are placed in their typical spot throughout your home.
This applies to more than just food. The ready rack for batteries could be a designated drawer or cabinet. Water could be moved to your vehicle for emergency storage, or trips to the dog park or beach. This is one of the best ways to protect your investment and preserve your emotional health.
Tip #7: Make Your Menu Off of Your Stores
A common failing preppers have when maintaining their stash is making their grocery list per usual, and not off of their stores.
This mistake ensures that you are less likely to rotate your items in storage. One simple way to counteract this is to create your menu off of the items you have in storage.
Remember, you want to be using these goods, not treating them like they are precious metals. Whatever your recipes call for, whatever your weekly menu is, plan off the things you have in stock, don’t just go buy them again to cook with and waste an opportunity to add fresh reserves to your stash.
If you’re going to be whipping up Aunt Millie’s fruity jello dessert, go see if you have the prerequisite gelatin, canned fruit and crushed walnuts in your stores.
If drawing from the stores will run you below your preferred readiness threshold, then you should still go on and buy those ingredients at the store but you add them to your stash.
Not only will this approach save you a considerable amount of money, but it will also keep all the items you need fresh and free of potential spoilage.
Tip #8: Inspect for Pests, Spoilage and Damage
Like I said earlier, maintaining and rotating the items in your stockpile is going to very nearly be an extra job. It is a lot of work, and a big part of that work is keeping an eye on each individual item for signs of spoilage, failure and damage or infestation by pests.
There is seemingly no end to the mishap and misfortune that can befall your stash before you need it.
Canned goods may be more or less safe from all kinds of pests, but should they be compromised or start to spoil, the cans will swell up, as described above. Sometimes this is easily detectable, sometimes not.
All kinds of dry goods are vulnerable to infestations of mites, weevils and other insects. Anything that is not in a metal package will be vulnerable to mice and rats, which can chew through nearly any other material with aplomb.
Even your non-comestible items are vulnerable. Batteries can wear down, lose their charge or even corrode overtime for seemingly no reason. Fabric goods of all kinds can dry rot or mold. Metals will rust.
Every kind of problem you can imagine can happen and the only way you’ll detect it in time to save your goods or to stop an infestation is to really pay attention when you are interacting with it. Don’t go through the motions, and don’t leave it out of sight and out of mind.
Having a stockpile of goods and supplies is an integral part of being prepared for trouble. But the accumulation and maintenance of such an important stash necessitates a considerable amount of care in the dispensation of the items in order to prevent wasting money and your precious time.
Though it is a lot of work, and work proportional to the size of your stash, intelligent procedure can help make the process more efficient and easier, helping you get the most out of it with the least possible effort.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.