Food storage is essential for preparedness, but a lot of us don’t have big root cellars. Not to mention that few pantries are large enough for long-term food storage. For many of us, that leaves the garage.
Can you safely store food in the garage? Canned food and other shelf-stable food is best stored in cool, dry, dark conditions. If you keep the temperature above freezing and below 85°F (29.4°C), keep the humidity low (below 15% if possible), and minimize direct sunlight, then your garage is safe for food storage.
So yes, you can use your garage to store food, as long as you can keep it in the right conditions. Let’s look into that a bit further.
Stockpiling food and water is like a little insurance policy: Hopefully, you never have to rely on it, but if you do, it could prove to be priceless. Whether it’s the threat of natural disaster or the fear of a pandemic, having a safety stash of food and water can give you a little peace of mind. However, if you’re planning to store your stockpile in the garage, you may want to reconsider.
While it may be a neatly out-of-the-way option, the garage isn’t necessarily the best place to store your excess canned goods. The USDA recommends storing canned goods in a cool, dry location—and most garages fail on both accounts.
Which Conditions Matter for Food Storage and Why?
Shelf-stable food (canned, dried, etc.) is always given a duration of time that it’s good for. But the duration given is always based on “room temperature” conditions.
For example, when you buy canned peaches from the grocery store, the expiration date on those peaches assumes that they’ll be stored in your house, which you typically keep at a fairly stable temperature. Your house is also often dryer than outside during the hot/wet months because air conditioning dries the air a bit.
Canned food for tropical areas is processed differently from canned food for temperate areas, and the expiration dates are set using the assumption that it’ll be stored somewhere warmer and more humid.
Even if you’re preserving your food, you’re probably basing how long it’s good for off of guidelines you read somewhere. Well, those guidelines make those same assumptions of room temperature, fairly low humidity, and out of direct sunlight.
So what conditions matter?
The USDA states in their Shelf Stable Food Safety Guidelines that temperatures over 100°F are harmful to canned goods and that ideally, you would store canned goods in temperatures below 85°F (29.4C).
That’s because higher temperatures cause food to spoil faster. Yes, even sealed canned foods do spoil and how fast they spoil goes up with temperature.
On the other end, temperatures below freezing could cause contents to freeze which can lower the quality of the food inside as it freezes and thaws, and it can reduce the structural integrity of the can causing it to lose its seal or just wear out more quickly.
The USDA doesn’t give specific guidelines on what level of humidity constitutes “dry”. They just say to store canned foods and other shelf-stable products in a cool, dry place.
Food Safety Magazine suggests that you should store dry goods in areas with humidity below 15%. But unless you live in a desert (like I do), 15% is going to be difficult to achieve without using a dehumidifier.
The USDA guidelines just say to not store food under sinks or in particularly damp basements or garages. If your garage is about as humid as your house, then it’s not going to be any worse than storing your food in a kitchen pantry (at least from a humidity perspective).
Humidity is important because moisture contributes to spoiling in dry foods. It also leads to rust on cans which reduces the structural integrity of the cans storing your food. So when it comes to canned foods, it could shorten the life of the can, especially for those dry, canned foods that can last up to 30 years. And for other shelf-stable dry foods (not canned) humidity could shorten their life substantially.
Direct sunlight isn’t good for shelf-stable foods because it can cause lots of good vitamins and nutrients to degrade. Direct sunlight can also cause your food (even canned food) to heat up, even beyond the average temperature of the room where it’s stored.
So if you store food in direct sunlight, you may be heating it a lot more than you think.
Things That Don’t Belong in Your Garage
We’re guessing your decluttering strategy is something like this: No place for it inside? Put it in the garage.
But the truth is, your garage isn’t a great catch-all storage space, since it’s not climate-controlled and (literally) a big, open the door to critters and pests outside. Skip storing these items there, and make room for what space is meant for — your car.
Leftover colour from the last time you redecorated won’t last long if subjected to high heat in summer (or falling temps in the winter). Plus, cans stored on cement floors will rust faster than those stored on a shelf.
We know you want to be well-prepared for a summer of cookouts, but only keep propane tanks for your gas grill outside, where it’s well-ventilated. Otherwise, you risk igniting the fumes when you start your car.
A stockpile of canned tomatoes, beans, and more has a shorter shelf life in a room that gets hotter than 70 degrees (and when temps reach 95 degrees, the food will spoil quickly). If your canned goods freeze in the winter, they can be thawed, but the quality might diminish.
In fact (and don’t hate us for this one), you probably shouldn’t store any food in the garage, since it could attract rodents. The silver lining? An excuse to finally trick out your pantry with that new shelving system you’ve been eyeing.
Yes, by definition, fridges control the temperature in your food’s environment. But as the heat rises, your fridge will need to work harder to keep your food cool — and you’ll feel the burn in your energy bill. Plus, a fridge won’t keep food cold enough when the surrounding temps drop below 60 degrees, since it will run less when it gets chilly.
Open stacks of linens or paper goods
Mice and other pests love to make nests in bunches of fabric or paper (like that pile of cardboard boxes from your recent move). Store paper cups and plates in your pantry instead, place linens in plastic bins if you have to put them in the garage, and purge recyclables often.
DVD players, televisions, and computers you’ve meant to donate (or return to your grounded teen’s bedroom) could get damaged in extreme heat or cold.
Did you know that it is possible to transform your garage into a long-term food storage option? Yes, your garage makes for ideal food storage if you know how to transform it. You’ll be able to store your food safely in your garage and never get to worry about it. You’ll be able to store here your canned goods, beans, rice, and other foods in your garage.
You’ll have to make sure that your garage has the proper storage equipment and meets the right temperature conditions of ideal food storage. Follow the tips below on how to make your garage an ideal long-term food storage option.
The foods should always be kept dry in your garage
Foods intended for long-term storage must be kept dry all the time in the garage.
- To do that, you must ensure that your garage is free from moisture all of the time.
- You may also try to install garage cabinets where you can safely store your foods. Garage cabinets should be able to keep your food dry and safe from dust and other elements.
Keep animals out
Animals, like rodents, have a knack for sniffing out food no matter where they are, so you have to make sure that all your foods are safe from these annoying critters.
- If you want to store foods in your garage, be sure to keep them off the ground by installing garage cabinets or overhead racks.
- Overhead racks are ideal for keeping unwanted pests away from your food. You can install them above the ground so they’ll be out of reach. Not to mention, that overhead garage racks are capable of holding 1,000 pounds of food supplies.
Keep the temperature in your garage ideal for food storage
Be sure to keep the temperature in your garage at 70°F (21°C) or lower if you want to store your food there for a long time.
- Canned goods, for instance, are not affected by dropping temperatures in the garage. They can still be good to eat even if they are frozen as long as their seals are not broken.
- If the temperature gets hotter in the garage, it can be bad for your food storage. The foods can lose their texture, flavour, and nutrition if the temperature gets hotter inside the garage.
- To help maintain the temperature, you must increase the airflow in your garage. You can either install an air conditioning system in your garage, upgrade its insulation, install a ceiling fan, or change the old roll-up doors in your garage.
Keeping food in the garage: reasons it isn’t a great idea
The First Issue: Climate
Let’s get obvious out of the way: Keeping food in the garage in the summer is a bad idea. The garage is probably hot and damp, which is the prime condition for spoilage of all foods.
But what about the winter, especially in cold climates? The main concern is temperature stability. Assume an uninsulated garage will stay slightly warmer than the outside temperature, so on a very cold day that might put your garage in the safe zone, between 35 and 38 degrees. If the temperature dips below freezing, the texture of foods such as milk or leftovers can get wonky. If the temperature gets above 40 degrees, that’s outside the safe range, and food can spoil.
Plus, the Pest Question
Another risk of keeping food in the garage: pests. Mice, rodents, roaches and insects will be attracted to food in the garage. No need to incentivize baddies nesting in there — and if mice do happen to move in, learn how to get rid of them.
What About Pantry Items?
In general, most pantry items, from canned foods to dry goods such as crackers or chips, should be stored in a cool, dry place. The garage doesn’t have the climate control of an insulated house, which means it’s damper during all seasons. That’ll make unopened pantry goods spoil quicker, and even canned goods can get rusty.
Canned beverages, such as soda, are generally safe to keep in the garage, though they may rust or explode. Note, too, that the quality of beer and wine can deteriorate in too-hot or too-cold temperatures.
How to Make Your Garage Safe for Food Storage
At this point, you may have already determined that your garage is good to go for food storage! But in most cases, temperate (at the very least) is going to be an issue.
Most garages aren’t temperature regulated like the rest of the house, and in many cases, they’re not even insulated. So in the winter, it’s possible to reach freezing temperatures, and in the summer it’s possible to reach temperatures well over 100°F depending where you live.
So let’s talk about how to make your garage safe for food storage.
Control Room Temperature
First things first, we need to find out if your garage is suitable for food storage.
The best way to do that is to start tracking the temperature in your garage over time. This temperature and humidity monitor available on Amazon is inexpensive and will track the temperature and humidity of your garage for you over time so you can see what the highs and lows are.
You probably don’t want to wait a year to see how big your temperature swings are before using your garage for food storage. So just try it out for a few weeks. If it’s winter, see how low it goes. If it’s summer, see how high it goes.
If you live in a climate that gets pretty cold and your garage stays above freezing every day during the winter, then your garage is probably going to be okay for temperature.
If you live in a hot climate and it’s summer, if your garage temperature doesn’t go much above 85°, then it’s probably going to be fine year-round.
Then, monitor the temperature. Check-in every week or two, and see if the temperature is staying in the safe zone.
If it’s not, then we need to start looking at solutions.
Control Your Garage Humidity for Safe Food Storage
Humidity probably isn’t going to be as big of an issue unless your garage is significantly more humid than your home.
To test that, I suggest also using this temperature and humidity monitor available on Amazon to test out the humidity in your home and then in your garage. Is it significantly higher? If it is, you’ll want to work on it. If not, it’s probably fine.
I do want to point out that humidity percentages are relative and based on temperature. What that means is that at higher air temperatures, the air can hold more water. And since humidity percentages are based on how much water the air can hold, the same humidity number at warmer temperatures means more water in the air than at lower temperatures.
So the 15% humidity number isn’t necessarily the best indicator of what level of moisture in the air is safe for shelf-stable food. However, the humidity percentage (called relative humidity) is the easiest way of measuring moisture in the air, and it’s the number of humidity monitors will give you.
The point here is that as long as the moisture content in the air in your garage is similar to the rest of your house, the garage is no worse for food storage than an indoor pantry, at least from a humidity perspective.
Keep Shelf Stable Food Out of Direct Sunlight
This one is relatively easy compared to the last two.
If you have windows that let in a lot of sunlight in your garage, you’ll want to make sure you keep your food storage in a place in the garage that doesn’t get that direct sunlight.
You might also consider putting up some blinds and curtains to keep that direct sunlight out if there isn’t a fairly dark area in your garage.
It May Not Be Practical to Store Food in the Garage
I’ve listed a lot of problems with storing food in the garage. Every one of those issues can be overcome. I keep most of my food storage in the garage. But if you can’t overcome the temperature issue, or if you don’t have any other place to store lawn tools and gasoline, the garage may not be the best place for your food.
If that’s the case for you, you should consider looking at the many ideas out there for creative home food storage solutions. There are often unused spaces under beds, in closets, and in the far corners of cabinets that can be great for storing food.
Keep in mind, though that not all food can be stored in your garage. You must first select the right food products that are sure to last for a long time if they are stored in your garage. Once you’ve finished transforming your garage into an ideal food storage option, you should be able to use it to store foods safely for a long time. Heck, you’ll even get to store food products here for 20 or more years!