When it comes to building a prepper pantry, there are many options available, such as buying canned and packaged food from a grocery store, home canning, dehydrating, and freezing. In this article I’m going to compare canning vs. freezing for long term food storage. We’ll look at what you need to can food vs. what you need to freeze food, the pros and cons of each option, and the best choice for you, based on your personal long-term storage needs.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of each option, as well as the tools you’ll need to succeed.
Pros of Canning
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When it comes to canning vs. freezing, there are many benefits to canning. Here are some of the main ones.
Canned Food is Shelf Stable
If I was going to pick just one benefit of canning over freezing, it is that canned food is shelf stable. You don’t have to worry about the electricity going out – or even having electricity at all for that matter.
While the canning process itself requires some form of fuel such as electricity, gas, or an open fire, once the canning process is complete, you can store the food without electricity. This saves money since canning won’t increase your electric bill. It’s also a smart choice for people who live off grid or in a place with frequent power outages.
It’s Easy to Store and Organize Canned Food
You can make a mess of any type of food storage, but with just a little bit of diligence, organizing canned food is straightforward. Of course, it helps if you have shelves dedicated to your extended pantry, to store all your home canned food.
You’ll also need to rotate canned food, putting newly canned food behind older canned food. This requires some effort, but when done correctly, it’s easy to see and find all your home-canned goods.
If you don’t have a large amount of dedicated space for your prepper pantry, since canned food doesn’t require electricity, you can store it multiple places throughout your home. This doesn’t necessarily help with the organizational aspect, but it can help you build up a decent supply of food storage, even if you live in a small space.
Canned Food is Already Cooked
A big advantage of canning over freezing is that the canning process itself cooks food. For instance, if you can cubed, raw chicken breasts, when they come out of the canner, they’re fully cooked.
It’s important to note, however, that you typically cook some food such as salsa before canning, but there are many raw pack canning recipes available where you pack the food raw, and it cooks during the canning process.
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Cons of Canning
Despite the many benefits of canning, there are some drawbacks as well. Here are some of the biggest ones.
Canning Has a Big Learning Curve
If you didn’t grow up canning, you’ll have to learn a lot to successfully can. For instance, you’ll need to learn when to water bath can, when to pressure can, and what types of foods you can’t can. You’ll also need to know how to prepare food for canning, how to properly put on the lids so they seal, and how long to process the food.
Thankfully, there is an abundance of safe canning information available through organizations such as the National Center for Home Food Preservation, but you must apply yourself to learning about safe canning practices.
Pro Tip: For more information on canning safety, check out my article, Canning Mistakes that Can Kill You.
Canning Requires Special Equipment and Tools
Successful canning requires the right equipment and tools. You can’t use just any old jars and lids. For water bath canning you can use any large pot with a lid, if you have some type of rack you can put on the bottom of the pot. A pressure canner is needed for low acid foods such as most vegetables, meat, and beans.
Canning Jars Are Breakable
Another con of canning is that canning jars are made of glass and are therefore breakable. If you live in earthquake country like I do, a jolt can cause your canned food to come crashing down and end up in a heap of broken glass. You can also accidentally drop a jar or break it in some other way.
Canning Jars Can Become Unsealed
When you can food, it’s important to check the seal before putting the jars into your pantry. But even if you check the seal, that doesn’t mean that down the road the can won’t unseal. If you find that your jars have unsealed, the food you spent the time and money canning is unsafe to eat and must be tossed.
Some Foods Are Unsafe to Can
There are certain foods such as rice and pasta that are unsafe to can but can be safely frozen.
Tools Needed for Canning
Pro Tip: To learn more about all you need to successfully can, check out my article, Essential Tools for Canning.
Now that you know the pros and cons of canning, it’s time to look at the pros and cons of freezing food.
Pros of Freezing
There are many benefits to freezing food. Here are some of the main ones.
Freezing Food is Easy to Learn
Most likely you’ve used a freezer most of your life. If nothing else, you’ve probably bought frozen food from the grocery store, and stored and used frozen food on a regular basis.
So, while there are things to learn to improve the quality of the food you freeze, there isn’t much to it. And there’s nothing to it if you buy food found in the freezer section of Costco or your local grocery store.
Freezing Requires Minimal Hands-On Time
Especially when compared to canning, freezing requires minimal hands-on time. In some cases, you’ll want to blanch vegetables before freezing, and that requires a bit of time, but nothing compared to canning.
Less Risk of Botulism
Botulism can occur in any type of food storage, but there is minimal risk when it comes to frozen food. It can happen when, for example, if you refreeze food that has thawed. But you don’t have to be AS cautious with freezing as you do compared to canning. Additionally, most mistakes you make with freezing won’t cause serious illness or death.
Freezing Destroys Fewer Nutrients
While nothing beats the nutritional value of freshly harvested, unprocessed food, compared to canning, freezing destroys fewer nutrients. Note that this doesn’t really matter when it comes to food that requires cooking such as meat and beans. With those, regardless of how you preserve them, you use heat at some point before consuming the food.
But with things such as fruit, that you’ll eat raw, frozen fruit keeps more nutrients than canned fruit.
You Can Use Tools You Already Have
I’ll get into helpful tools for freezing a bit later in this article, but you can freeze food using items you likely already have such as jars or containers with lids, or freezer bags. And of course, you need a freezer.
Cons of Freezing
While there are many benefits associated with freezing food, there are also some drawbacks. Here are the main disadvantages of freezing food as part of your long-term food storage plan.
Unless you live in a huge space, you’ll have space limitations no matter what type of food storage options you use. But when it comes to canning, you can stash cans of food in various places throughout your home. In contrast, with freezing, the amount of space you have for food storage is strictly limited to the size of your freezer(s).
Freezers Can Be Hard to Organize
We’ve all likely experienced times when we’ve discovered food that has been buried in our freezer for who knows how long. And even if you know for sure that you have a particular item in your freezer, you may have to really dig to find it.
Thankfully, there are ways to organize freezers, but generally speaking, it’s harder to organize food in a freezer compared to keeping canned goods organized on shelves.
Freezers Use a Lot of Electricity
Thankfully, freezers have come a long way when it comes to energy efficiency, but they still use up a lot more electricity compared to canned food, that only requires energy during the canning process.
Of course, there are ways to minimize the amount of electricity used by freezers such as buying energy efficient models, minimizing the amount of time you open and close them, and keeping them full. But there’s no getting around the need for electricity, which brings me to my next point.
Food in the Freezer Can Spoil if the Electricity Goes Out
Losing tons of food, especially expensive items such as meat, due to a power outage, is one of my worst nightmares when it comes to heavily depending on freezers for food storage.
Having said that, unless you live in an area with frequent power outages, this is unlikely to happen for a prolonged period of time. As a backup, you can invest in solar or some other type of power source to use in case of a power outage, but the bottom line is that if you lose electricity for long, all your food – and the money associated with it – goes down the drain.
Freezer burn is a definite possibility with food you store in a freezer, especially if you store it for a long time period. You must take certain precautions to avoid freezer burn, such as properly packaging food before freezing.
Tools Needed for Freezing
On the most basic level, to freeze food, you only need a freezer, and some type of airtight containers or freezer bags. But if you plan to make freezing a major part of your food storage plan, here are a few things worth investing in:
- A spare freezer. There’s only so much room in the freezer that is part of your fridge, so investing in at least one added freezer is ideal.
- A vacuum sealer (Amazon) is a fantastic way to improve the quality of the food you store in your freezer. You can use a vacuum sealer with FoodSaver bags (Amazon | Walmart). You can also vacuum seal mason jars if you have proper attachments such as these on Amazon, or these on Walmart.
- Containers made specifically for freezing help because they are airtight. They also often stack. I really love these Souper Freezer containers (Amazon | Walmart) that freeze food in measured amounts. While you can store them in the containers, you can also remove the food once frozen, and store them in freezer bags. What I really love about them is that they are designed to fit perfectly into gallon size freezer bags. I also love that they enable you to freeze food in suitable serving sizes.
Benefits of Using Both Canning and Freezing for Long Term Food Storage
When it comes to the canning vs. freezing debate, you can see that there are pros and cons to each option. In terms of which choice is best for you, much of it depends on the time you have to invest in food storage. If your time is extremely limited, then freezing is an excellent choice. Freezing is also better for those who don’t have the tools or knowledge to can. However, those living in a location with a lot of power outages benefit by storing food shelf stable canned food.
Since there are pros and cons to both canning and freezing, and since you can’t can or freeze everything, in an ideal world, you’ll use both canning and freezing as part of your long-term food storage plan.
For maximum effectiveness, I recommend that you learn all you can about your food preservation methods of choice. To do so, I recommend the following resources: