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The Issue With Can Rotation Systems – Prepping

  • Post category:Food & Water
  • Post last modified:December 17, 2022
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  • Reading time:13 mins read
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In this article, I cover four reasons why I’m not a big fan of can rotation systems for our prepper pantries and why a simpler and more traditional method may be better.

I don’t hate any food rotation system or setup.

Food rotation is one of the keys to success when running a prepper pantry. Almost any kitchen or pantry. We didn’t worry about rotation much when I was working as a cook in a small restaurant, other than certain meats. We ran through everything extremely fast, but the new product was ALWAYS placed behind the old one, and we never opened a new food container until the old one was finished and disposed of.

This seems like common sense, yet many preppers struggle with it. I think we tend to overcomplicate the simple things. Perhaps because we feel it couldn’t, or shouldn’t be, as simple as it is.

With that said, I’m writing an article explaining why I don’t favor can rotation systems. I think they’re a decent idea, and in a perfect world, we might all have the setup in our pantries. So I don’t hate the idea. We’re returning to what I just mentioned, “We tend to overcomplicate the simple things.”

What are can rotation systems?

Can rotation systems are exactly what it sounds like. They are shelving or racks designed and built specifically, so the newest cans fall behind the older cans. The old prepper mantra: ‘First in, first out.’

In our quest to overcomplicate things, we preppers have the fantastic ability to create, build, engineer, and improvise. And some of the can rotation systems are pure works of art. Genius is the only way to describe many of these setups.

You will find many can rotation systems on Pinterest, some commercial, some built. Pinterest is great for ideas.

My issue with can rotation systems boils down to four things:

1) Cans are the least issue regarding food rotation because they will last almost indefinitely when stored properly.
2) Can rotation systems are expensive to buy and a challenge for most people to make.
3) Can rotation systems generally take up more room than just stacking and storing the cans on regular shelving. (See my note/caveat below)
4) Relying on an automated system for just cans doesn’t teach and encourage food rotation of other products, many of which will have shorter shelf lives.

Note/Caveat: When I say can rotation systems take up more space, I’m comparing them to traditional shelving in a pantry room. I can see how adding a wall mount can holder could free up space in kitchen cabinets. Here’s an example Todd shared: DIY Food Can Dispenser – with plans by Bob’s Wood Stuff on YouTube.

Let’s look at some helpful ideas and solutions for food rotation

Everything can’t be a gripe session. Let’s look at some things to help with our prepper pantries and food rotation.

Sometimes old school still makes sense.

I have an article & video on “Prepper Pantry Inventory – Plain Sight Inventory System” (The video isn’t great), where everything is basically just stored (And commercial cans are often stacked) in rows on wire rack shelving units. All in plain sight.

Image - Canned Vegies In Our Prepper Pantry

It takes a little effort to get food rotation down

It takes a little effort and consistency to maintain proper food rotation in our pantries. It also requires the cooperation of everyone that uses our pantry. The bigger the pantry, the more important that food rotation becomes.

I’ll admit, things are WAY easier now that it’s just my wife and me. Less than two years ago, we had a house full – Eight people and three dogs. I had to act as the traditional mean old grandpa to keep everyone out. Traditional other than the locked exterior steel door and cameras with motion detection. 😅

Today, both my wife and I rotate food as it’s removed. We both buy to replace what we removed (We use a dry-erase board on our refrigerator to keep track).

Image - prepper pantry shopping list

That’s where the ‘we‘ end. 😅

My wife is glad to leave the labeling and stocking food to me. And I’m more than happy to do it. Hint: Listening to a podcast or some music after grocery shopping helps. I like to see how loud a little AC/DC needs to get to rattle the shelves. 😉

We have a table in the pantry, and we put newly purchased food there. Then I mark each item as described above. Then I kick up the music and pull the product off the shelf (If needed), place newer food behind, and replace the old. It takes a little dedication. You need to be a little weird to enjoy it as I do.

We found what works for us. You need to find what works for you and yours. Maybe that’s a can rotation system. Maybe it’s bins, boxes, or bags. Whatever works for you.

The important thing is that we prepare for emergencies we may find ourselves in later. The rest is just fluff and talk.

Me. I said that. Just now.

Here’s something from a prepper buddy I thought I’d share. It’s not for everyone because it would take up a lot of room, but I thought it was unique and interesting.

I have flat shelves and dedicate certain shelves to 2022,2023,2024…etc. based on expiration date, then when I need something I pull it off the shelf closest to expiring.
An Anominous Seasoned Prepper

And that, my friend, is what ‘finding what works for you and yours‘ looks like. It’s not necessarily doing what everyone else is doing. Sometimes it’s unique. Sometimes it ain’t.

Label your food dates

Date labels on food storage
Date labels on food storage.

I learned something from my prepper buddy Todd Sepulveda over at the Ready Your Future Podcast. Todd takes a Sharpie pen and marks the date he placed each item in his pantry. I adapted that for something that fits me better but either way works great. I mark my food with the actual ‘best buy’ dates on the package.

Marking your food with the dates drastically speeds up food rotation. It ends the constant spinning and scanning of every inch of the container looking for the tiny and faded best buy date – other than the one time right after you placed it in the pantry. Todd eliminates even that by putting the date he added to the pantry.

Frozen Food Sidebar: Whether I freeze in Foodsaver bags, Ziploc freezer bags, or the original package, frozen meats get two dates written with a Sharpie pen. I write the ‘best by,’ ‘freeze by,’ ‘sell by,’ or ‘whatever by‘ date, along with the date I added it to the freezer.

Date labels on frozen food storage.
Date labels on frozen food storage.

This gives me an idea of how old the meat was before I put it in the freezer. If the meat was near the end of the ‘use by‘ date, I don’t want to leave it in the refrigerator any longer than it takes to thaw that food out.

Note on frozen meat: I love cooking, and I have all the toys: Crock pot, Instant Pot pressure cooker, Sous Vide cooker, frier dryer, rotisserie, etc. I’ve learned, especially when working against time regarding near-end dates on meat, that you don’t always NEED to thaw the meat before you cook it.

For example, my Sous Vide cooker doesn’t care if the meat is frozen. The Sous Vide will bring the water temperature up to precisely what it’s set up and maintain that exact temperature. Last week, I put on a couple of frozen steaks, which were as impressive as ever.

The same with my Instant Pot pressure cooker. If I’m putting in a frozen or semi-frozen chicken, I add a couple of minutes to the cook times, and everything comes out fine.

Wrapping up ‘The Issue With Can Rotation Systems’

To recap, can rotation systems aren’t evil gremlins, they can have a few issues.

Food rotation good.
Smelly dead food bad.

However you make it happen, food rotation is good. Whatever works for you.

Get everyone on board or off the boat… ah, pantry, as it were.

If you have the space, by all means, give the food rotation system a try. If you have the extra money, however, wouldn’t it be better served on more food and supplies? But who am I to talk with over a dozen wire rack shelving units in this house?

Call To Action / Next Step

Next Step: Expanding Our Prepper Pantry Beyond Two Weeks

Stay safe. Stay prepared.
Hawkins Out.

Pinterest Image - The Issue With Can Rotation Systems.

Brian Hawkins

Father, grandfather, Veteran, animal lover, law-abiding taxpayer, homeowner, trucker, and a United States Citizen. Oh, and I'm also a prepper, survivalist, responsible gun owner, and hiker.

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