Rice and beans are the food staples of many cultures. Rice and beans are also calorically dense and store well. However rice stored in a plastic bag risks contamination from rodent pests, moisture, and oxygen degradation.
To prevent rodents like mice or rats from getting into your food supply, store in hard plastic or glass containers. Thick Mylar bags prevent sunlight, moisture, and oxygen from crossing it's layer.
Adding an oxygen absorber chemically removes the oxygen from the sealed bag and protects the food from spoiling.
What are Mylar Bags?
If you don't know what I am taking about, which I certainly didn't the first time I read about them, you can see what I mean here: Mylar Food Storage Bags.
Sealing rice, beans, pasta, coffee, salt, flour in this fashion can extend it's shelf life to decades.
They are the same space looking material used to make Mylar blankets, which are great for reflecting heat and keeping humans from going into shock.
What are Oxygen Absorbers?
So as the name Oxygen Absorber implies, they absorb oxygen. They are tiny packets that contains an iron based powder that reacts with oxygen.
The packets are designed to let oxygen in, but not let iron out. You will then be left with all non-oxygen components of the air sealed in the bag (Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide, etc).
They are measured in cc, or cubic centimeters. This is the physical amount of oxygen they remove. They are typically sold in units of 50, 100, 300, 500, 1,000, and 1,500-cc. But you can also find larger 2,000-3,000 cc sizes.
There are tons of chart that pre-calculate for a given food and volume how much air-volume you need to remove and therefore how many oxygen absorbers to include. This website is one such site: Ready Nutrition: How Many Oxygen Absorbers?
Mylar Bags + Oxygen Absorbers = Food Science
I love science, so pitching this idea without actual research isn't in my nature. So to the Brigham Yong University: Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science department!
If I knew about this stuff earlier in my life, maybe that would have been an interesting career path, aw well, a little too late for me.
Their food storage department makes recommendations for long-term food storage per person. Source: An Approach To Longer Term Food Storage
In this .pdf they also make note that grains, legumes, sugar, apple slices, potato flakes, salt, baking soda, baking powder all have +30 year shelf life. Non-fat dry milk has 15 year shelf life, and dried carrots have 10 year shelf-life.
You can find more of their work and science: BYU Research Long-Term Food Storage Publications
But what about the Mylar bags?
BYU also lists a study testing the oxygen content of a Mylar bag heat sealed over a 6 month period. Assuming there are no rips or holes in the Mylar bag, the oxygen absorbers removed all the oxygen, and allowed no new oxygen to enter.
Bingo! We have a way to seal food such that no oxygen can get in a ruin our lovely rice and beans.
You can find their full publications here: Lloyd MA, Pike OA. 2000. Practicality of foil laminate bags to store dry corn and beans in Kenya. Technical Report submitted to LDS Welfare Services.
How to Preserve Food with Mylar Bags
#1 Pack the food in Mylar Bag
Your Mylar bag does not have to be a 5 gallon (30lb) size. They come in smaller volumes, which can mean less weight. If you are using the standard 5 gallon bucket: place the Mylar bag in the bucket. This helps to prevent the Mylar bag from ripping. Add your food to the bag.
#2 Add Oxygen Absorber
Remove the oxygen absorber from it's package and place 1,000 - 1,500 cc in your 5 gallon Mylar bag. You want fresh absorbers, as they start reacting as soon as they make contact with the air, much like a chemical hand warmer.
#3 Heat Seal the Mylar Bag
Using a wood stick or wooden broom handle and an iron, seal the bags. Alternatively you can press seal with a hair straightener or similar press+seal iron.
You want to get a good seal, by preventing wrinkles in the seal. When you heat the bag, you are melting the bag and fusing it together. This will create an air-tight seal in your bag.
I used a $17 iron (this one exactly) I bought off Amazon and it does the job. It also doesn't damage the iron, so you don't need a dedicated iron for food storage.
(Don't expect the bag too suck down too much, but it will some. As the oxygen absorber will remove Oxygen but our atmosphere is mostly Nitrogen and that air will remain in the bag.)
#4 Relax (and cook some rice + beans)
That's it, your bag is sealed. You are ready to face the uncertain future with your stored rice, and beans. Now it's time to relax and breath easy, knowing you family is a little bit more prepared.