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COVID-19 and food shortages

COVID-19 and food shortages


Summary

  • Food shortages and breaks in food supply chains have been some of the many impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Consumer buying behaviour in grocery stores has changed, from panic-buying to completing larger shops less frequently.   
  • Meat shortages typically occur due to outbreaks in processing plants, while some plant-based crops have to be destroyed due to lockdowns and restrictions preventing timely harvesting.
  • Dehydrating food can help you stock up and preserve healthy foods for use over the coming months, and up to a year (for some foods). 
  • Just as shopping behaviours have changed, food dehydration requires some changes in food preparation and cooking routines, which can be an adjustment at first but provide you with access to nutritious foods even if shortages and supply chain issues occur.


COVID-19 has changed the way people manage many areas of their lives, especially food purchasing, storage and consumption as food shortages and supply chain issues reveal the importance of being prepared and proactive. Further, food insecurity has increased since COVID-19 started spreading globally due to the economic impacts of lockdowns, restrictions on people working and businesses trading. 


The types of food that have been scarce throughout the pandemic depend on your location, regional and seasonal scarcity, and specific food supply chain issues. For example, many countries have experienced panic-buying of non-perishable food items such as flour, pasta, and frozen and canned foods when lockdowns or stricter restrictions are announced. 


While times of panic-buying can cause temporary food shortages due to spikes in demand, it’s the potential for prolonged food shortages and supply chain issues that people should consider preparing for as uncertainty continues to remain the only constant. Stocking up on non-perishable foods can help you to be proactive in preparing for food shortages, but dehydrating foods widens your options and allows you to extend the life of fresh produce. This article outlines how you can be proactive in preparing for potential food shortages by dehydrating foods.


COVID-19: Highlighting the need for food preservation and storage

The four pillars of food security are availability, access, utilization and stability. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, breaks have occurred in food supply chains which have caused food shortages of some products such as beef and pork in American grocery stores. Meat shortages have primarily occurred due to COVID-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants. Apart from closing these plants to deal with an outbreak, many of the animals that would have been a food source have to be euthanized and this results in further shortages. Similarly, plant-based foods and crops have been destroyed when lockdowns and restrictions have made it difficult for farmers to harvest crops and distribute produce to grocery stores. While grocery stores have typically restocked out of stock items quickly throughout 2020, it doesn’t mean that further food shortages and insecurity may not come. 


To combat food shortages in grocery stores and the subsequent food insecurity that can result, people can look into options such as purchasing directly from farmers either through markets or online shopping platforms that connect consumers directly with farmers. While this option can be a good way to access fresh produce and know exactly where it came from, it can also be expensive and, if the food isn’t preserved, it can spoil quickly. 


One of the best ways that people can proactively prepare for potential food shortages is by dehydrating food. Of course, it can seem daunting if you’ve never dehydrated food before, but with an understanding of the elements that go into efficient food preservation through dehydration, you can make sure you have access to wholefoods now and well into the future.


How do you prepare for food shortages and supply chain issues?

Dehydrating food is one of the best ways to prepare for and get through food shortages. By dramatically reducing the moisture content of your food, the bacterium that causes food to spoil can’t survive. As a food preservation method that’s been used by civilizations for at least 12,000 years, consistent low heat and airflow are the not so secret ingredients in making fresh food edible for longer. While most foods can be dehydrated when raw or uncooked, the USDA recommends that raw meat is first heated to 160 degrees fahrenheit (71 degrees celsius) before dehydration.


When dehydrating food, it’s important to keep the heat consistent at around 140 degrees fahrenheit (60 degrees celsius). Exposing food to higher temperatures will cook instead of dehydrating it. Two of the key reasons that dehydrating food is effective in preparing for food shortages is that it safely extends the shelf life of fresh food without losing essential nutrients. Further, most dehydrated foods don’t require refrigeration, with the exception of dehydrated meats which should be refrigerated or frozen after two weeks.


There are a range of methods you can use to dehydrate food, including:

  • sun drying by leaving food, usually fruit, in the sun to dehydrate
  • air drying which is similar to sun drying but food is placed in the shade
  • solar drying by using a dehydrator that is solar-powered
  • oven drying to slowly dry foods at around the 140 degrees fahrenheit (60 degrees celsius mark)
  • microwave drying by using your microwave on “defrost” mode, which works best for fruits and herbs
  • electric dehydrating by using a fit-for-purpose machine with the appropriate fans and elements to dehydrate food quickly and evenly. 


Each dehydration method has its upsides and downsides. However, for dehydrating large amounts of food, an electric dehydrator can ensure your food is safe to store for long periods while allowing you to efficiently dehydrate different fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, herbs, and grains and nuts with consistent results. Beyond consistent and safe results, the other key benefit of using a fit-for-purpose electric dehydrator is meal variety. By selecting the ingredients you want to dehydrate, you can tailor your meal options to your unique needs instead of relying on pre-packaged and staple non-perishable items from the grocery store. This means that even in times of scarcity or when supply chain issues occur, you can still pack as many nutrients as possible into your diet, keeping you feeling fit and healthy. 


Are there any foods that can’t be dehydrated?

There are some foods that can’t be dehydrated due to their high fat content. These foods include nut butters, avocados, olives, dairy, eggs and condiments that contain dairy. If you still want to have these foods available in the event of food shortages or supply chain issues, look into purchasing and storing powdered forms, such as powdered milk or nut butters. Alternatively, you could look into making your own nut butters and plant-based milks if you don’t want to consume powdered versions of high-fat or dairy products. For example, you could ensure you have the ingredients on hand to make plant-based milks by dehydrating and storing nuts such as cashews, almonds or macadamias. When you need to make some milk, simply soak some nuts in filtered water for at least four hours. You can then use specific equipment such as a nut milk bag to extract the milk or blend the nuts with some water for an extra creamy version.


Preparing food for dehydration

Apart from consistent heat and air circulation, making sure your food is cut into consistent-sized pieces will help you to get the best results. If your food isn’t cut into uniform sizes, you could end up with some pieces of food that don’t fully dehydrate. Once stored, this food can spoil which can undo all of your hard work. To make sure you get consistent results, consider investing in some tools to help you cut things like fruits, vegetables and meats. Some key food preparation and cutting tools you may invest in include:

  • an apple slicing tool, which can simultaneously core, slice and peel apples and pears
  • a sharp paring knife or hand peeler for fruits and vegetables
  • a food processor or grater to slice and dice ingredients that you may rehydrate for cooking (think ingredients that go into soups, curries and baked snacks such as nut bars).


It’s not essential to invest in these particular tools to get best results. As long as your food is cut into consistently-sized pieces and you group similar foods together, you should get the result you’re after — dehydrated food that retains taste, contains essential nutrients, and can be safely stored for several months.


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As mentioned earlier in this article, the average temperature required for dehydrating food is 140 degrees fahrenheit (60 degrees celsius). However, as outlined in the list below, different foods naturally require different temperatures to safely and consistently dehydrate. The table below outlines the temperature guidelines for dehydrating different foods.

Food Temperature (℉) Temperature (℃)
Herbs 95° 35°
Vegetables 125° 52°
Beans and lentils 125° 52°
Fruit 135° 57°
Grains 145° 63°
Pre-cooked meats 145° 63°
Meat and seafood 160° 71°
Poultry 165° 74°

Which foods are best to store during food shortages?

There are four factors that impact the shelf life of dehydrated food: temperature, moisture, oxygen and light. A 10-degree celsius reduction in temperature, for example, will double the expected shelf life of your food, while keeping food in clean, dry jars  in a dark area will also help your food store as long as possible. To further extend the shelf life of your food, you could vacuum seal some foods to remove all oxygen once dehydrated. As a guide, fruits and vegetables dehydrated at home typically store for six months to a year, depending on how much moisture you remove from the foods. Meat will last up to two weeks when stored in a cool, dry and dark place. After this time, you should store the meat in a freezer or refrigerator and consume it within one year after dehydration.


How do you cook with dehydrated food?

Just as the options for dehydrating food are endless, the options for cooking with dehydrated foods are endless too. Similar to the dehydration process, there are key factors in rehydrating and cooking with dehydrated food: water, heat and time. With your dehydrated food, you may opt to eat some ingredients on their own as a snack, such as fruits and nuts, or you could rehydrate foods to cook a meal. Think of it like the dehydrated foods available for people who go on extended outdoor expeditions where there is limited or no access to food. Meals that are easy to prepare with dehydrated ingredients include risottos, pasta dishes, soups and stews, curries, chilli con carne, and breakfast options such as oatmeal.


Be proactive, focus on your health and prepare wholefoods today

COVID-19 has impacted people around the world in many ways and the potential for food shortages and supply chain problems still exists. When faced with the potential of these impacts from some information sources, it can be easy to feel fearful and panicked. However, taking some simple steps now to prepare — especially when it gets your body moving and away from these information sources — is a great place to start. 


Facing the challenges inherent with food shortages and supply chain problems doesn’t mean you can’t continue eating nutritious wholefoods. While it may require some adjustments to your regular cooking and food preparation routines, dehydrating food is a good way to proactively prepare and make sure you and your family have access to great tasting and healthy food even if shortages occur.


The most efficient way to prepare dehydrated food is with an electric food dehydrator. Using purpose-built equipment will help you to prepare lots of food with consistent dehydration results and a long shelf life. To get started, think about the kinds of foods you’d like available for snacking and making meals. This may include nuts, fruit and jerkies as snacks, and vegetables, grains and meats for savoury meals. 


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Nicola Smith

Nicola is the owner of NS Consulting, a corporate communications and copywriting consultancy that works with businesses experiencing exciting periods of growth and change. Her clients value her calm, measured and analytical approach along with a safe pair of hands to deliver a range of communications strategy projects. When Nicola isn’t typing at her computer, you’ll find her reading, writing, or at the beach.