Hesperian Health Guides

Safe Food Storage

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 15: Sustainable Farming > Safe Food Storage

One of the tragedies in communities that produce food is that much of the food goes bad because of weather, pests, or other causes. Safe food storage is as important as the ability to grow food in the first place.

Protect stored grains from pests

After harvest, much grain is lost to rodents, insect pests, or rot. To protect grains in storage:

  • Dry and store the grains as soon after harvest as possible to avoid loss in the fields. Well-dried grains should be soft enough to break with your teeth and dry enough that they make a good cracking noise.
  • Store dried grains in well-sealed, clean containers in a place protected from moisture and pests.
  • Smoke the grain before it is stored to kill pests.
  • Repel insects, but not rodents, with wood ash and plants such as hot chilies, eucalyptus, and other strong smelling plants. (If grain is already infected with pests, the protection will not work.) Dry the eucalyptus leaf, chili seeds, or other plant and grind it to a powder. Mix 1 handful of the powder with each kilo of grain or beans to keep insects out. Be careful not to breathe in the powder. More time and effort are needed to wash the grains before eating, but there will be more grain to eat.
Illustration of the below: a thatched grain storage container on legs.
Rodents stay away from open spaces. Clear the area of weeds and other cover. Rodents are attracted to food waste and protected, dark areas where they can nest. Remove these the area.
Rodents can squeeze through very small holes. Keep storage containers well sealed and repair any holes quickly.
Rodents can leap. Keep grain storage containers high off the ground.
Rodents can climb. Clear away anything touching the storage container and put collars around its legs.
Rodents are scared of dogs and cats, so keep these animals in the area.
Grain storage containers keep out rodents such as rats, mice, and squirrels.

Storing fruits, vegetables, meat, and milk

A home with maize drying on the roof.
Sun, and heat from cooking, will dry maize placed on a roof.

Fruits, vegetables, meat, and milk are full of moisture. Moisture is needed by the bacteria and fungus that cause rot. Keeping foods cold or frozen will slow down the rotting process. When there is no way to store foods cold, they can still be preserved by:

  • drying. Foods can be dried in the sun, in an oven on very low heat, or by putting them in salt. If kept away from pests and moisture, dried foods can be stored for a very long time.
  • smoking. Foods put over a smoky fire will be preserved both by the drying that happens and by the smoke. Meats are commonly preserved by smoking.
  • fermenting. Fermenting, like rotting, is the process of letting bacteria and fungus change food. But unlike rotting, fermenting allows only certain kinds of bacteria and fungus to grow. Cheese and some kinds of sour breads are fermented foods. Fermented foods can be more nutritious and easier to digest than the food they are made from.
  • pickling and jarring. Fruits, vegetables, and meats are soaked in vinegar and kept in covered or sealed containers. The sourness of the vinegar keeps bacteria and fungus from growing. Fruits can be cooked in sugar syrup and sealed in boiled jars to preserve them.

Storing root crops

Root crops can last a long time if they are stored in places that are dark, fairly dry, cold, and safe from pests. Layering root crops in straw or sawdust so they do not touch each other keeps them fresh.

How to make a natural refrigerator

EHB Ch15 Page 306-2.png
Two clay pots of different sizes, one placed inside the other.
Food or drink is placed inside the smaller pot and covered with a damp cloth.
The space between the pots is filled with wet sand that is kept always moist.
This natural refrigerator works best in dry, hot climate.
A Nigerian teacher named Mohammed Bah Abba developed a method called the “Pot-in-Pot” to store food where there is no electricity.

Leave the Pot-in-Pot in a dry, open place. As dry air surrounds it, water in the sand passes through the outer surface of the larger pot, making it stay cool. When the water passes from the sand, the inner container is cooled, destroying harmful germs and preserving the food inside. The only maintenance is washing and replacing the sand every so often.