No matter what you choose to feed your pet in these tumultuous times, food storage is an issue that must be addressed. I’m going to put a disclaimer in right here: even though I might suggest a certain type of storage for a particular food, doing so in no way implies any recommendation to give said food to your pets.
As with most things in life, when I began looking at this subject I realized that it was more complex than I ever imagined. I’ll need to cover this food storage in a series, first addressing dry food, then canned and raw foods.
Depending on the type of pet you have, you might use dry food… grains, seed, or kibble. For convenience and economy, many people buy the largest available bag of food or feed, and store it for long periods of time. Before you purchase those 50-lb. or 100-lb bags, consider how long it will take your pet(s) to consume this amount of food. Keep in mind that the longer food is in storage, the greater the probability that some spoilage will occur.
Even though dry foods look fine for a long time, they start to deteriorate from the moment the bag or box is opened. This is particularly true of “fortified” foods. Exposure to air, light, moisture and heat will degrade vitamins and other sensitive nutrients. If you store food for extended periods of time, it is much less nutritious by the time you reach the bottom of the package. You also risk contamination by mold spores and infestation by a host of unpleasant bugs, particularly storage mites. If at all possible, it’s better to buy smaller quantities of food, more often.
If you must store dry food more than a week or so, keep in mind that moisture and warmth are the culprits that promote the growth of mold. To prevent this, you must store your dry foods at a temperature of less than 70 degrees F and at less than 15% humidity. This presents something of a challenge in warm, humid climates. Most kitchens are both warm and humid, making them poor candidates for storage. Garages are often exposed to extremes of temperature and are also not good storage options for foodstuffs. If you have a climate-controlled pantry you’re very lucky; barring that a cool, dry basement is probably your best option. If your basement is humid, you can use a dehumidifier to improve the situation. Make sure food is stored at least 2-3 feet above the floor on clean, dry shelves.
A common error that people make when storing large quantities of dry food is to put it in a large plastic garbage can. This is inappropriate because the material used to manufacture waste receptacles is not food-grade plastic. This means that dyes and other plastic additives can potentially leach into the food. Also, fats from the food can leach into the plastic and become rancid, contaminating the next batch of food. Garbage bags aren’t food-grade plastic either and should not be used to line containers.
One of the more economical ways to get food-grade plastic containers is to visit a local bakery or restaurant. They receive a lot of foodstuffs in these types of containers and are usually delighted to get rid of them. Keep in mind that not all HDPE (high density polyethylene) containers are food grade. Also, even bona-fide food grade containers are not considered safe if they’ve been used for any other purpose, such as a bucket for floor washing or for storing something other than food. If in doubt, don’t use the container, or at the very least line it with a food-grade bag.
While we’re on the subject of food-grade containers, check out this information from packaginglaw.com:
The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) so-called “good manufacturing practices” regulation for food-contact materials, set forth at 21 C.F.R. Â¤ 174.5 (”General provisions applicable to indirect food additives”), requires that food-contact materials must be “of a purity suitable for [their] intended use.” This requirement applies equally to packaging materials for pet food and packaging materials for human food; however, due to differences between humans and pets, a “suitable purity” determination for one may not be sufficient for the other.
Section 174.5 states that a food-contact product may not impart a taste or odor to the food such that it would render the food unfit for consumption. Some household pets, dogs in particular, have acute senses of smell. Therefore, manufacturers of pet food packaging must be careful to ensure that their packaging materials do not impart an unintended odor or taste to the pet food, which might not be detected by humans, but that would be offensive to the pet.
The mandate of “suitable purity,” of course, also relates to safety. A substance may comply with a specific food additive regulation, but still be unsuitable for a particular use if it contains an impurity or additive that would be unsafe when used as intended. In this regard, manufacturers must be aware that the toxicity of certain substances varies from species to species. Therefore, a substance that is non-toxic to humans may raise toxicity concerns when ingested by pets.
Furthermore, when evaluating the safety of a substance for use in contact with food, the potential level of dietary exposure to the substance is considered. For humans, the estimated dietary intake of a substance used in food packaging materials can be diluted by the fact that the human diet consists of many different foods, packaged in an assortment of different materials. Pets, on the other hand, typically consume a diet consisting of a more limited variety of foods packaged in a limited number of materials. Thus, the potential dietary exposure to a given packaging material can be much higher for a pet than for a human. Consequently, a safety evaluation for one species is not necessarily directly applicable to another species.
Judging by how well FDA addresses the concerns of pet owners in general, it would be reasonable to assume that not a lot of attention is paid to these regulations, particularly if the packaging originates on foreign soil. However, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to presume that the packaging is probably as safe as the food itself, and suggest that in order to avoid unwanted exposure to air and moisture, it’s best to leave the food in its original packaging, and place the entire package in a food grade storage container to retard spoilage.
To prevent moisture from forming in the storage container, you might want to place a desiccant pack in the storage container… not directly in the bag or box of food! A food-grade silica gel desiccant is available, but if you’re nervous about that, a rough sawn piece of non-toxic wood makes a respectable moisture absorbent. Oak and maple are pretty good candidates for this purpose. Be sure not to use any toxic woods, or aromatic woods that might spoil the taste of the food. The wood must be oven-dried so that it absorbs the maximum amount of moisture. Place the dried wood between the inside of the storage container and the outside of the food packaging.
In the good old days, rice was often used as a desiccant, and it worked well to keep salt shakers flowing, but it’s a less good idea for use with dry goods storage, because it will actually attract some of the pests you’re trying to prevent. Salt is an organism-hostile substance anyway; so using rice in salt shakers is perfectly all right.
It’s always a good idea to date your food packages with indelible marker, so that you always know exactly how old it is. If you notice any changes in odor, color or consistency of the food, don’t take chances; throw it out and wash the container thoroughly with an antibacterial dishwashing detergent. Make sure that the storage container is completely dry before using it again.
In conclusion, the best method for storing dry foods is to limit the amount of time you actually need to store them. Smaller packages mean fresher food, and lessen the odds that you will expose your pet to food-borne illness.
Photo: Cindy Funk