For me, this is the time of year when I can sit back and start enjoying all the produce I preserved in the summer and fall.
To make sure your hard work doesn’t go to waste you need to store it properly. You can do everything right when you initially preserve the food but if you don’t store it properly, there can be problems later. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than spending hours preserving food only to find out months later it isn’t edible.
Here are a few common issues:
• Indian meal moths (also known as pantry moths).
I am currently battling these little buggers for the second time in two years. I’m sure they somehow have an important niche in the environment but I despise them!
This is the most common moth to infest food in the United States and it is found most often where dry pet food is produced or stored which means pretty much any place where you buy food. When in the larval stage, you’ll also find they love foods such as coarse flours, whole grains, cereal, dried fruit, seeds and spices. Oftentimes the first sign of an infestation in your house is when you open a container of dry food and you see a web on the top of the contents.
Getting rid of that container is just the first step; it’s likely you have other containers that are infested. Dealing with the moths can be time-consuming because the mature larva will move out of the container where you spy the webbing and move to another spot to make their cocoon. They’ll usually pick a dark corner which means your shelves and pantry areas are prime real estate for them.
You’ll need to go through all your dry goods and get rid of any infested food. Do not assume that because a box or bag is still sealed that they aren’t infested! These guys can chew through cardboard and plastic and make themselves at home, raising a family and creating an entire subdivision in your dry goods.
Then clean the cabinets by vacuuming out the cracks and scrubbing the shelves, so not a speck of spilled food remains. It’s not a good idea to use any pest-killing chemicals in the kitchen. In addition to a thorough cleaning, you can also buy a pheromone trap to lure the males to their demise. Part of my own war on moths is to store my dried food in canning jars and canisters that seal tightly.
• Proper storage of your filled canning jars is crucial.
Ideally, jars of home-canned food should be stored in a cool, dark, dry location. Between 50 and 70 degrees is ideal. Do not store your jars where the temperature will exceed 95 degrees as the seal may break and contamination may occur.
If your jars happen to freeze, the contents will not be spoiled if the lid is still sealed but the quality of the food might be impacted. I shouldn’t have to say it but … if the jar freezes and breaks, don’t eat the contents! If your garage isn’t insulated, it may not be the best place to store your canned goods because of the fluctuation in temperature from summer to winter.
• If you store nuts you’ll want to make sure they don’t spoil.
The best choice is to store them in the fridge or freezer. You can store them in the shell or shelled. If you shell them first, you should put them in freezer bags or jars so they don’t absorb moisture or unwanted flavors. Dried filberts (I know, they’re called hazelnuts now but old habits die hard) walnuts and chestnuts will still have good quality for up to a year in the refrigerator.
If you freeze them at 0 degrees, you can keep them for up to two years. If you can’t keep them in the refrigerator or freezer, you need to keep them as cool as possible. The air temperature should be 55 or less and the air should be as dry as possible. If you have nuts in their shells and you can’t keep them in the freezer or fridge, beware of the dreaded Indian meal moth! Store them in a closed container or you may lose the battle with the moths.
• Dehydrated foods also need to be stored properly.
Fruit leather sheets should be rolled up in plastic wrap and then put in plastic freezer bags or containers that can seal tightly. You’ll need to check the leather once in a while to make sure it hasn’t gotten moldy. For long-term storage, you should keep it in the fridge or freeze it.
If you dehydrate herbs they too should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark and dry location. Store the seeds and leaves whole and then crush them right before you use them. That will not only give you the best flavor, but they also have a longer shelf life than ground herbs and seeds.
If you store your food properly you’ll be eating good quality food until next harvest season, enjoy!
(Information from University of Nebraska Extension publication, “Managing Pantry Pests”; OSU Extension Publications FS 146 “Harvesting, Handling, and Storing Nuts from the Home Orchard,” FS 232 “Making Dried Fruit Leather,” PNW 612 (“Storing Food for Safety and Quality”) and SP 50-921 “Drying Herbs.”).