– Survival: Food Supplies
Managing Food Supplies
Safety and Sanitation
- Keep food in covered containers.
- Keep cooking and eating utensils clean.
- Keep garbage in closed containers and dispose outside, burying garbage if necessary.
- Keep your hands clean by washing them frequently with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected.
- Use only pre-prepared canned baby formula for infants.
- Discard any food that has come into contact with contaminated floodwater.
- Discard any food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more.
- Discard any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture.
- Eat foods from cans that are swollen, dented, or corroded, even though the product may look safe to eat.
- Eat any food that looks or smells abnormal, even if the can looks normal.
- Use powdered formulas with treated water.
- Let garbage accumulate inside, both for fire and sanitation reasons.
Note: Thawed food usually can be eaten if it is still “refrigerator cold.” It can be re-frozen if it still contains ice crystals. To be safe, remember, “When in doubt, throw it out.”
- Alternative cooking sources in times of emergency include candle warmers, chafing dishes, fondue pots, or a fireplace.
- Charcoal grills and camp stoves are for outdoor use only.
- Commercially canned food may be eaten out of the can without warming.
- To heat food in a can:
- Remove the label
- Thoroughly wash and disinfect the can. (Use a diluted solution of one part bleach to ten parts water.)
- Open the can before heating.
Managing without Power
Here are two options for keeping food safe if you are without power for a long period:
- Look for alternate storage space for your perishable food.
- Use dry ice. Twenty-five pounds of dry ice will keep a 10-cubic-foot freezer below freezing for 3-4 days. Use care when handling dry ice, and wear dry, heavy gloves to avoid injury.
Early Methods of Food Preservation
Before the days of man-made refrigeration and electric freezers, food preservation was limited to a handful of age-old methods. Without the input of electrical technologies, people were limited to the preservation methods available to them in their immediate surroundings. For example, where there was no natural snow or ice, such as in the southern colonies, freezing, as a method of preservation was not an option. Here below is a list of the six basic forms of preservation used in storing food.
I. Desiccation (dehydration)
V. Chemical Preservation (naturally occurring chemicals)
VI. Freeze drying
Desiccation is simply the process of removing the water content of a food item. By preserving food using this method, food can be kept for a long time without making any compromises regarding the nutritional value of the food. Dehydration of food also drastically cuts down of weight, given the fact that most food contains between 75-90% water, making this method ideal for long travels where fresh food is not available and weight is a critical issue. Simple dehydration is most commonly applied to fruits, vegetables, and fungi, while meats are usually dried in conjunction with a chemical preservative of some sort to further ward off bacteria and extend shelf life. Low heats, either generated by the sun, warm oven, or fire are the most common ways of drying goods, with an obvious dependence on location. The sun drying methods probably wouldn’t be the best choice in the Northwest.
Applying high heat to food has proven to be an effective method of preserving due to the sterilization that occurs. By raising food items to a high enough temperature and then sealed, bacteria is killed off leaving a sterile product. Compared to its counterparts, heat preservation did no really strike popularity until the development of pottery and cooking vessels. Nowadays, with the advancement in cookware, pressure-cooking is a widely used, usually more effective sterilization method, speaking in particular reference to canning/jarring. Sterilization via pressure cookers works by placing the food item in a can/jar that is sealed and then place in a large, heavy-duty pot filled with a few inches of water. A lid, which contains a rubber ring to seal the pot, is placed on top and tightened down. With this method, heat generated in the pot is not released but instead sealed on the pot, creating a pressurized environment which is usually kept t around 20 to 30 pounds. Under pressure, the contents inside can be raised to a much higher heat that when not pressurized, making the sterilization process even more safe.
This method is pretty self-explanatory. By lowering food temperature below the freezing level, bacteria and molds cannot thrive, thus keeping the food preserved almost indefinitely. This has to probably be the oldest farm of preservation for people living in cold climates around the world.
Fermentation is the slow decomposition process of organic substances induced by micro-organisms, or by complex nitrogenous substances (enzymes) of plant or animal origin (Walker, 1988). Cheeses and alcoholic beverages have long been prized for their retention of nutrients, longer shelf life, and portability, not to mention the enjoyment of consumption. The fermentation of certain liquids is especially important in arid climates where water is scarce. This method proves to be a practical and efficient way of preserving, especially in developing countries (like colonial America) and remote areas of the globe.
Chemical preservation involves introducing a chemical to a food item in order to suppress the ability of bacterial growth. As mentioned before, this type of preservation is most commonly associated in conjunction with dehydration. Contrary to popular view, food additives are not a new phenomena, maybe just the vast quantity is. Salting, smoking, and spicing were the three most common forms of chemical preservation. Meats cured with salt as well as smoked meats were especially important due to the rapid decay of meat in practically any environment that is above the freezing level. Smoking introduces the antioxidants butylates hydroxyanisole and butyl gallate in large amounts which inhibits bacteria growth. Spices have a similar quality, being rich in antioxidents as well as bactericides (substances that kill bacteria.)
Another method that has been used for thousands of years, yet thought to be a modern innovation is freeze-drying. This is not a widespread method due to its environmental pre-requisites, yet where conditions are right proves to be a very effective method. Natives of South America living in he Andes have found out by taking potatoes to a high point in the mountains where the atmospheric pressure is low, the potato can be sliced and crushed and then spread out on rocks while the combination of freezing air and low pressure take over and freeze-dry the potatoes.
Food Circulation Before Refrigeration
In the days before refrigeration in America, the economic activity surrounding the food market was a localized process and weighed heavily on geographical location as well as the changing of the seasons. With the beginning of the colonies, the American palate for the most part was a bland one, with bread, grains, and salted meat making up much of the diet. The two spheres that it would be important to take a look at to better understand individuals eating habits are the cities and the rural farms.
People living on rural farms outside of the city generally produced the bulk of food that they were to consume. Interaction in any sort of food market was very minimal, except for necessity items such as salt, which could not be produced on the farm. The eating activities of the rural farmers focused heavily on the changing seasons which meant that whatever crop was ripe at the time was the food that was eaten then and there. Dairy products were also consumed under the condition that the farm has some dairy cows, for at this time there was still no established way of transporting milk with out running into spoilage. The other foodsource that played an important role in their diets was salt pork. As opposed to beef, pork was much more economical due to the shorter time period that was required to raise a pig as well as the relative ease. Pigs require very little attention, so this was a definite plus for farmers. Interestingly enough, the farmers fed a large bulk of their corn to the pigs. Even though approximately three million calories can be produced by one acre devoted to corn, many farmers chose to turn that corn into pig feed, reducing the caloric production by two thirds. But since Americans loved their meat and corn was an abundant crop, the farmers took the cut in exchange for being able to have meat.
City dwellers were also confined to the availability of goods from their immediate surroundings. Much of the local produce was grown in the city or collected from farms on the outskirts and brought back into the city for sale. Still, the notion of widespread agricultural commerce was not of much significance in times like this since exchange of goods was taking place in such close proximity. The nutritional values of food had gone unnoticed, where food was merely an ailment to hunger and to build body tissue. People in cities still relied heavily on salted meat to eat and distilled liquors and cider(where available) to wash it down. Diverse palates were more or less limited to the richer upper class who could afford more luxurious items.
Early Days of Refrigeration
In order to help fresh food last longer, an efficient method of keeping the produce cool enough had to be created. Inventors toiled for years with iceboxes of many sorts, but creating an efficient icebox is was not quite as easy as it sounds. In the late 1700′s, due to a rudimentary knowledge of temperature dynamics, the contraptions were not quite up to par with what was demanded by the produce. For some time, inventors thought that with iceboxes, the principle was to try to keep the ice from melting, thus providing for a long, constant cold temperature. On the contrary, iceboxes, has history will soon see, works best when there is proper balance of insulation and air circulation.
In 1803, Maryland native Thomas Moore coined and patented the first refrigerator, which single-handedly put a huge twist on the agricultural business. Thomas Moore lived about twenty miles outside the city of Washington, for which the village of Georgetown was the market center. On his farm were dairy cows whose milk was churned into butter and taken to market to be sold. Moore devised an icebox out of a cedar tub which was insulated with rabbit fur, filled with ice, and wrapped in a piece of sheet metal so he could transport his butter at a cooler temperature. He was on the right track, for in the warmer months of the year, Moore noticed that people would pass up his competitors butter, which had softened up and often times melted, for his butter which was wrapped up and came in individual bricks.
What also made this stand out is that customers were willing to pay a premium for his product. Moore saw his invention as an improvement for farmers because now they didn’t have to rely on traveling at nighttime to keep their goods cool.
With the invention of the icebox came the manifestation of the ice industry. In the eighteenth century, the wealthy people in America used ice for cooling beverages and making ice cream. Each winter, men would go out onto lakes and cut larges slabs of ice and store them in underground icehouses for future use. Around the time of Moore’s invention, Ice prices were still quite high due the laborious and time-consuming work that went into harvesting slabs. In 1827, a man by the name of Nathaniel Wyeth who was employed by Massachusetts ice merchant Fredrick Tudor stepped on the scene with an invention that would further advance the ice industry and bring in close touch with refrigeration technologies. Wyeth had created an ice cutter that was dragged across the ice in a checkerboard pattern by horses. The cutter had sharp, saw-like edges that ripped a deep groove in the ice, which was drawn back and forth until it almost broke through. Wedges were then inserted into the grooves to break the slabs off so they could be floated to shore. To put into perspective the impact of this device, consider this: five years after the invention of the cutter, the cost of filling up an icehouse in Massachusetts had dropped more than 60%(Cummings, p.38)
Shortly before Wyeth’s invention for the ice cutter, Tudor had introduced the above ground icehouse based off of refrigeration experiments used in shipping goods from the colonies to the West Indies. It had been estimated that the waste being generated by the below ground icehouses was close to 60%, where the above ground once generated a mere 8%. With this advancement combined with the higher ice production, more ice companies formed in the north, which resulted in a lowering of ice prices. Shipments of ice to the south increased, but due to still high transportation costs, it remained more of a luxury than in the north.
The dynamic interconnectedness of the inventions of the icebox, ice cutter, and above ground icehouse proved to be a very powerful market tool. With cheaper access to ice, more farmers and households were catching on to the refrigeration craze. Everyone seemed to be benefiting. Farmers were able to offer a wider range of goods to sell as well as travel further with them, increasing their scope of sales. Items that were not previously marketable without refrigeration, such as fresh meat and dairy products, (with cheese and butter being a small exception) were now profitable. The customer reaped these benefits on the other end of the deal. With refrigeration, a wider range of foods could be bought to please the palate, further evolving the diversity in the average American’s diet. Refrigeration was also a big time saver for whoever did the shopping since food could be stored and kept for days, eliminating the need for daily trips to the market. Health issues came into focus as well; bringing to light the fact that food stored in a cool environment was less prone to sickening bacteria growth. Thus, Americans in the north began to eat healthier. By 1838, fridges were considered and article of necessity in the north, with many households having one for meat and one for dairy and produce.
Expansion of Railroads and the Ice Industry
With new technologies in refrigeration and the rise or railroads In America, farmers were now able to produce goods farther away from the point of consumption and transport them to the markets with no loss in nutritional value. The big advantage to this is that the rail cars were much faster, safer, and spacious than the traditional wagon methods used prior to the railroads. Because of this expansion, farmers increasingly moved away from city limits in search of larger land plots and better soil conditions. As business pushed westward, farming communities developed while at the same time taking advantage of the widened scope of the agricultural market. Goods could now be transported from farm to city, as well as from city to farm, which increased the span of products outside the city. From a mere 27 miles of track in 1830, the rail industry grew to more than two thousand miles by 1840.
This introduction led to a mushrooming effect regarding availability of many foods that once were quite limited. The invention of the icebox helped push this along, such as with the production and sale of dairy products and fresh meat, but it was the railroad network that really got things going on a mass scale. To put this into perspective, it would be good to take a look at the milk consumption in New York City in the 1840?s. In 1840, people who drank milk in the city consumed locally produced milk, which was bought daily. In the years of 1842-43, the Erie Railroad carried three million quarts to the city for consumption, Three years later, the quantity was twice that amount. By 1848-49, more than nine million quarts of milk were delivered to the city. (Cummings, P, 43) this pattern is not limited to just milk but practically everything else being sold in the markets. The rise in availability further influenced the growth of cities and the demand for more food, both in quality and quantity.
Throughout this time, the warm southern states were still not reaping many of the benefits of refrigeration because of the high ice prices. None the less, ice was still shipped south, a lot of the time arriving in much smaller slabs than when they were shipped out, usually being consumed by the upper class. This definitely put a restraint on the farmer’s ability to produce goods to send to the markets. The tables turned however when the invention of the mechanical ice machine was brought into the picture by Professor Alexander Twinning in 1850. With complications in efficiency in the beginning, these machines were not very widespread. But once the kinks were ironed out and artificial ice manufacturing plants were established, the industry took off. Now, Ice was no longer a luxury item geographically bound the northern states of America, but could be produced anywhere at any time. This also helped improve the cleanliness of the ice, which was admired by customers and producers alike. This addition help to further expand the use of railroads.
In 1867, after years of toiling around with many designs, J.B. Sutherland patented the first refrigerated rail car. For years, inventors had tried to apply the technology of the icebox into the rail cars, but due to the lack in adequate cooling efficiency, rail cars had trouble making it long distance. This car, as seen below, consisted of an insulated car with an ice reservoir at each end with ventilation ducts on the top. While moving, air came through the top vents passing over the ice and then circulating inside the compartment by way of gravity. Hanging flaps were implemented to adjust the temperature range. This was the first step to truly efficient transportation of goods over long hauls. By 1869, the first shipment of fresh fruit was transported from the west coast to the east, beginning the age of transcontinental shipping.
The expansion of ice manufacturing plants over the course of twenty years from 1870 to 1890 effectively wiped out the natural ice harvesting industry in the north. In 1870, there were four manufacturing plants which were located in Texas, Tennessee, and Louisiana (2), The number jumped to thirty-five in the next decade, and by 1890, the number of manufacturing plants rose to two hundred and twenty-two.(Cummings, p.64) At the same time, natural ice was becoming more of a growing problem and health concern due to the many pollutants that were seeping into the water bodies used for harvesting. When mechanical production was implemented, quality control was much more easily watched. Also, with lowered prices and greater availability of ice, the southern states were able to jump in the game and compete.
Up until the early 1900′s, these mechanical ice machines/refrigerators were primarily powered by outboard diesel engines, so personal household used was not terribly common. More and more though, farmers began to purchase these machines for their farms to store any overflow of production. It’ wasn’t until the early 1900′s that companies like Frigidare and Maytag began marketing electric refrigerators for home use. In the beginning, these were used seasonally, primarily be upper class citizens. Compared to an icebox, an electric fridge was extremely expensive to run, not to mention the costs of getting a DC outlet installed in the home.
Consequences of Technological Preservation Advancements
The consequences of the technological advancements of preserving food in the early days of America are quite profound. In the scope of just 100 years, agricultural business went from being locally owned and operated where goods were produced and sold within the parameters of small towns, to an intricate network of business that spanned the entire continent. Most rural dwellers at the time were self sufficient forn the food that their land provided. This greatly affected the diets, outlook, and consumption patterns of individuals. With an expanded array of foods to choose from, Americans could have a more fine tailored diet according to their nutritional wants and needs. Abundance was the key term, and when there is abundance, there is bound to be creative forces working with it. Now that more food was available to the average person, cooking shifted from being a remedial chore of survival into an art, or hobby. In the late 1800′s cookbooks became increasingly popular amongst housewives and cooks, which had an impact on what the family ate on a day-to-day basis. Gone were the times of eating bread, salt pork, and corn pone day in and day out, and in came meals tailored to creative tastes. Things like Texas raised roast beef cooked with apples from Washington and sugar from the West Indies was becoming more of a comman and appealing thing.
Growing food markets also led to the decline of locally owned and operated farms. Families abandoned their backyard gardening in lieu of the quick and efficient market system. Local farms could no compete with the big-scale farmers outside of the city, who at this time began to seed the future for monoculture food where a plot of land is used primarily for growing one particular crop. With a declining number of people actually working the land, our internal biorhythm clock has been altered and re-adapted to the market economy. Instead of a crop being harvested a certain time of the year, people focused on the time in which the meat man or egg man was going to be in town.
With refrigeration also came an increased knowledge in the field of food nutrition. People were becoming more conscious with what they put into their body and the farmers were there to supply. Studies by the American Food Administration began to come out more and more, informing citizens of the nutritional value of foods that influenced their buying. Later down the road, the food pyramid was devised, creating a structure in which citizens could follow to ensure a healthy diet. America was on the road to healthy eating, or so it thought. The present day proves quite differently. With the increased technology in agricultural production and division of labor in processing, today’s food is far from anything natural and wholesome.
We live in an economy now where we have almost completely lost the food-land connection. With greater convenience showering us every day, a compromise takes the place. When we go to Burger King or Taco Bell, we are giving up nutrition and knowledge of origins for a quick, cheap, easy, and convenient meal, just as the people in the 1800′s lost farming knowledge when they could buy produce chilled from a vendor. All these consequences, both positive and negative, have led us to the current state, which we are in now.