Sunday, October 6, 2013

Our First Country Problem: Rodents Attacked Our Food Storage

Rodent damage to our Hard White Wheat bags.
Having lived in the city for the last 21 years, we have had to deal with ants, roaches, spiders, and noisy crickets. Never once did we have to deal with a rodent problem and likewise never had to defend our plentiful food storage.

In 2010, we constantly bought as much food storage as we could afford. I was working the equivalent of two jobs and we were lucky enough to pack away a year's worth of food for our family of eight. That was no small accomplishment.

We proudly displayed it on our kitchen loft for many months until a SurvivalBlog article got me to thinking "Maybe I shouldn't make this public knowledge." Some strategically placed cutouts turned our kitchen loft into a nice hidden cache. I found work lockers to be another great place to store additional food and put up a good 30-40 cans of soup there.

Another food storage casualty.
So our food storage had been safe...until now. When we packed up our food storage to relocate to northern Arizona, I made a great score in finding a DAILY discarding of big, wide meat boxes from our local Walmart butcher. These boxes held a ton, had nice notches for handles on the sides and were very sturdy. Before I returned from my Oklahoma journey, Wifey had packed 117 boxes with the help of the girls.

The food storage we bought in #10 cans was still in it's original boxing. The rest of our food storage was packed in mylar bags with oxygen eaters courtesy of our local LDS Cannery.  We packed hundreds of these mylar bags in boxes from Walmart and lugged them north. Little did I know, field mice were on standby, waiting for our arrival...and the handy little handle holes on the side of each box meant INSTANT ACCESS for our new friends.

They got several rice bags.
I also didn't know that mice would chew right through our cardboard boxes to get to our powdered milk.  Even the mylar bags proved no barrier for their little nibblers. We discovered tragedy today when we were looking through boxes for handles to add to the little girls' clubhouse wall. There they were, plain as day...mouse turds, all over the inside of the box.

As we began moving boxes away from the wall, the horror became more clear. They had chewed through the cardboard on several boxes and contents were spilled out onto the floor. We've been here three weeks and today we pulled 21 mylar bags aside that had holes in the bags.

So we spent half of our Sunday, which was very enjoyable up to this point, taking food storage out of cardboard boxes and putting them into home depot buckets and plastic boxes with secure lids.

Our question now is: "What do we do with the damaged items?" Do we have to throw it away? Some bags have such small holes in them that it seems hardly large enough to squeeze a rice grain through it. Having worked so hard to save up the money AND bag it all ourselves, I'm hoping somebody can tell me how to save this stuff. I guess the worst case scenario would be to feed it to chickens, once we get some more.

Besides the rice, we also lost:

All these bags have tiny little holes in them ranging from the large ones I imaged at the top of this post to little bitty holes only big enough for one grain of rice to slip through. So, are any of these salvageable? Should we dump them out and sift it for rodent feces to see if the bag got contaminated? Can we make the powdered milk and boil it or something to make it safe to drink?

I hope it's not all wasted.



  1. People will tell you that you must not get anywhere near rodent droppings because of the risk of Hanta virus. Hanta is certainly bad news, but its actual prevalence varies quite a bit, and isn't terribly high most places. A friend tells me about eating bread made from mouse-eaten wheat throughout most of his childhood; the bread occasionally tasted of mouse urine. I don't necessarily recommend that, but the alternative was to starve, likely you could stomach some mouse pee. In other words, there's a risk there, and it's your job to get a good idea of what the risk is, but if push came to shove, it likely wouldn't kill you. Certainly the stuff with pinholes is salvageable.

  2. I would throw it out and count it as an expensive lesson.

  3. I'm leaning towards tossing it all. I wish I could boil the powdered milk and salvage it but sounds like the risks just aren't worth it.

  4. Lay it to the side and use it as chicken feed when you get your hens. They are wonderful garbage disposals and there isn't anything there they won't eat. Though they say the onion will come through in the eggs.

  5. I agree save it for chicken feed. No need to learn to like the taste of mouse urine just so you don't starve, go get chickens, recycle the food wasted for eggs.

  6. It'll be fine. Most, if not all, will be boiled which will kill any residual bacteria...patch and save. Just my two cents.

  7. I don't know much about the risks, so if I was my choice I would just save it for feeding animals aka chickens.

  8. Such a shame - but don't eat it. I'd get 12 pullets from Craig's list or elsewhere asap and feed it to them. The contaminated food probably won't last until next year unless you put it in a freezer or place it in vacuum storage.
    (which seems like too much trouble considering you just moved)

  9. The risks are greater than the returns as far as using the compromised packages, I would say keep it for chicken feed, mark it up as a very expensive lesson learned, buy some clean metal 55 gallon drums, food grade if possible, and put your food stores in them. I have seen mice chew their way into plastic buckets. Put the drums up on pallets in the basement or the garage. Just my 2 cents.

  10. Since most of it is dry goods, there should be no problem with it other than needing to be re-packaged. Mice are everywhere including the fields where the grains were grown, and storage facilities where it gets processed anywhere along the way. Once you cook it (or plant it) it won't matter.

    I briefly had a mice problem in my house. They had chewed through wood and drywall to get into my house. And are the reason I have cats.

  11. If I was not feeding a family I might risk using the bags with tiny pin holes but better to notch it up as a hard lesson learned than be ill. Buy those chickens and use the contaminated bags as chook feed at least you will get some good out of this experience.... Eggs.

  12. Hi, just caught up on the Oct. blog posts. Was afraid you might've left us. Nice to know that isn't so. Kept checking & of course, the few days I didn't check you posterd!:). Re rodent distruction, chicken feed sounds good. Looking forward to Wifey's posts & getting her perspective. We live in S.E. WAshington, have only been to the Phoenix area. Will be nice becoming acquainted w/northern AZ.

  13. There's probably mouse pee all over the bags, and I guarantee some of it went through the holes. I speak from experience.

    Chicken feed. Don't risk it.

  14. Get a big supply of DCON and start to feed those critter inside and out. as long as they are hungry feed them, it will take a while but you get them all!
    also do you know about a 5 gal pail, dowel and peanut butter trap. they are foolproof...............let me know if you need instructions.

  15. Hantavirus is a very big concern around rodent droppings. DON'T eat anything they've touched.
    As far as more storage, nothing in plastic is safe from rodents. 55 gallon galvanized trash cans will work well for your surviving bags. Make certain that you wash ALL of those bags off with soap and water before you store them again. (Again, Hantavirus, and hanta is present in the South West.) I agree with the earlier posters who say to put the trash cans on pallets up above ground level.
    I lost a case of Girl Scout cookies a few years ago when mice managed to get into the trunk of my locked car. They ate through the cardboard case, the cardboard boxes, and the plastic overwrap.
    You also need to look into getting a couple of cats for your property. We have two cats. Both are neutered, both are from the animal shelter, and both are ferocious mousers.

  16. 1] Mouse borne illnesses can be nasty
    2] Long cooking/boiling will kill most nasty things
    3] The top of the bag is going to be fine if they ate through the bottom (but how far down do you want to consider 'good')?
    4] I'd rather eat "Really well cooked ever so slightly possibly compromised food" than go hungry. So don't dispose of it until after you've replaced it
    5] Many restaurants have worse things going on in their kitchens.

  17. I am one that packs my food storage in #10 cans and I buy lids from Emergency Essentials. I know that the Mylar etc may be better, but I am looking for a rotation not a bunker secure. I buy the preservative packs as well.

    The number ten cans are available from most fast food places, nursing homes, or schools~for free as they are waste. We trim off the metal sharp piece from when it was opened and it is perfect.

    By the way, my rule of thumb is always this: When in doubt~throw it out. Saves heart none of us are seeing the actual damage but a photo.


  18. I would not take a chance and feed it to the chickens. Definitely get some metal trash cans! The rodents will go through the plastic in about 30 min. I also agree with the decon and cats. I have started my fall mowing and I probably have 1 critter per 50 sq. ft in my pasture, they are all over the place!

  19. Well, thanks for all the helpful comments. I'm reading them aloud at the dinner table. We had no idea they could eat through a plastic Home Depot bucket! I was told to go find cheap igloo/ice chests at Goodwill and use those but I'm pretty sure those are all plastic too. I will search for a cheap source for of all metal trash cans.

    thanks again everybody!

  20. Well, I will add my 2 cents for what it is worth. As a pharmacy student, my advice would be to throw it out or use as chicken feed. Please don't eat it. Bacteria are nasty-viruses are horrible! People get infected with botulism all the time and not all of them survive. Your good health will be your most important survival tool.Vermin-rats, mice, squirrel, etc-will chew through most anything. You might try putting the new food storage in plastic buckets and then put those into metal garbage cans with secure lids. Add a bungee cord to that lid so that it is t-i-g-h-t!!
    I would also do some house examination. It usually consumes several weekends "off" but is worth it. Make sure you have sealed walls, doors and windows that shut completely, and use insulation foam under baseboards so that the wall/floor/baseboards are tight. Make sure all of the air openings have tightly fitted screens. Check the attic for any critters and any openings that allow them in.
    Best of luck. Things like this are always a shock! -Stealth Spaniel

  21. I would worry about using it a chicken feed, as they will be your food source eventually, one way or another. Hanta virus is known to be in your area, and that's not something you want to have to deal with. I know it is a major loss, but I'd take the loss overall and start over. Better safe than sorry.

  22. METAL. Trash cans. Lockers. Homemade or store bought. They are cheap compared to throwing away your food that was damaged, which is what I would recommend.
    Plastic buckets are no big deal to rodents. They work if you have a concrete room with a door that seals (such as a metal fire door).

    CATS. I know you have a dog that kills chickens and would probably kill a cat. If you can't keep your dog from killing these smaller animals, you will continue face this type of issue, with no eggs or chicken meat, and ruined food storage. Your dog needs to understand you are the boss and if you say no to killing livestock or other helpful animals, that means NO. I live in ranch country. Killing chickens and barn cats is a good way to get shot. Maybe get some professional training with the dog, as GSD's are way smart, in a good and bad way.
    Perhaps your dog would allow a terrier breed dog. They work on rodents as well as cats.
    You probably stand a bigger chance of getting sick or dying from rodent problems than you do of needing a human predator deterrent. Aside from the sick "feeling" we all get when we discover rodent poop, the germs it carries can make one truly sick in such a way that death occurs before the medical establishment even thinks that the "flu" the person has, really isn't flu. Even just cleaning out the area where the poop was found is dangerous. Weekenders cleaning up poop in their mountain cabins and guys clearing out mouse nests from autos they are rebuilding have died from Hanta virus.

  23. A poster above discounted the risk of Hanta. Not too many years ago, Hanta virus killed more people in Wyoming than any other illness. Yes, I know it wasn't that many, but which of your children would you risk? My guess is none.
    Store in metal, get a few cats, feed the chewed bags of food to the chickens in the winter when there isn't any grass or bugs (which also become way cost efficient when they can freely roam). You can fight it with poison, but you will need to continuously monitor the situation and redistribute in the future. You just can't poison all the mice. Maybe a combination of rodent killers and poison, which is what we have, only using the poison in areas the cats do not have access to.
    Life is a constant battle, but is beautiful nonetheless.

  24. This is really a nice article informing about food storage ideas. I really liked the comprehensiveness of the article and the ways things have been elucidated here.

  25. Can you sow or sprout the wheat? I've played with throwing out handfuls of wheat around our acre and was pleased to see it come up next year. I live in a moderately arid area and still it did well with no help from me. I bet the chickens would lose their minds with some tasty sprouts during the winter months.

    1. I can try. Caught a mouse yesterday with a peanut butter trap!

  26. the poison that worked best for me was tomkat. but i prefer a few cats.

  27. I'd toss it into compost or chicken feed..better to have a sick chicken than a sick person.I'd avoid poison,as you have a dog,and if a dog will eat cat poop,it would probably eat a dead mouse! Rumor has it,that a small lid,like a mayonase lid,filled with coke,will kill mice.As gross as it sounds,they drink it,get gas,can't burp,and explode! Safe for the dog,non toxic...

  28. Little late to the party, but here's my two cents: If it's just a small hole, I'd discard that "end" of the product by feeding it to the chickens. The rest I'd save (obviously in a metal container or those heavy duty buckets) but lable & make sure it was either rinsed off well beforehand (unless you were going to immediately grind it as in wheat) or just make sure you REALLY cook it. I know, I know, there's the Hanta virus mouse poop dust thing to worry about and I don't want to discount that possible contamination, but if it's cooked properly, there should be no problem. And the more contaminated stuff I'd give to the chickens as is. They are ALWAYS picking in mouse droppings around a homestead, a few that have "house mouse" droppings in it doesn't seem to be much more dangerous than what they are picking through outdoors.

    We've also had a mouse problem several years ago with the mylar bags stored in those big plastic totes. They chewed through the totes and the mylar bags. We tossed the obviously "icky" stuff to the chickens & saved the rest (and have long since gone though it...without any ill effects that we know of). And on another similar topic, we've changed from the mylar bags (we buy in bulk & seal our own) to a heavy duty plastic see-through bag. We once had an infestation of weevils in several packages of our stored oat groats and didn't know it until we opend the mylar bags. Had we packaged the oat groats in clear bags, I could have caught it in time before the entire bag was destroyed.

    And please try not to use poison. At least around here, we have too many "good" critters that I wouldn't want to accidentally kill.

  29. OJD

    1. Transferring to steel trash cans. Thanks David!

  30. This is really an awesome write for me. I would love to follow you for a similar kind of stuff.

  31. I am very sorry for hearing that the rodents destroyed your foods can i ask one question what your country done to solve this problem if you share it will helpful to many country.

    DIN 7 | DIN 6325

  32. Very late to the game here- I came from Jim Rawles' link about your house fire. When you are able to rebuild, restore, etc. I recommend glass storage to counter rodent problems- that and having cats. When we moved last year a family of mice had moved into the house before us. Our kitties loved the adventure of mousing for the first time and caught 3. I got the feeling they were disappointed that there weren't more. We began putting our dry foods into glass jars and haven't seen or smelled a mouse since.

    If anything remains of that compromised food or if anything else like that happens in the future, you might consider composting or see if any of it can be used to grow more food. I have a bunch of beans sorted out that are dented/ wrinkled and not the sort of thing one should eat. In July I decided to experiment and soaked 1/4 C of beans, planted what germinated and in the end got 13 beans from one successful plant. Considering that the original beans were free and I'd have tossed these discards otherwise, it was worth doing and I plan to do more when spring comes.

  33. I am also late to the game and very sorry to hear about your house fire. Been reading your blog for a few months, then reformatted my computer and lost the bookmark. I am glad JWR mentioned you, as I was wondering how you guys were faring.

    PLEASE DON'T EAT ANY OF THE COMPROMISED FOOD! This deputy lived very near my mountain place: My family and I are very careful of hantavirus, especially after gutting and cleaning out many POUNDS of rat turds from my place when I first bought it. Luckily, someone advised us to be careful before we started and we wore respirators throughout the entire process.

    Good luck to you, OJD!

  34. Didn't come across this until after reading about your fire, but as a former resident of northern Arizona I will agree with everyone who was warning you about the danger of hantavirus being spread in mouse urine. Hanta has killed a number of people in northern Arizona in the recent past and it's not a pleasant death.

    Another rodent-spread disease to be concerned about is plague. It's endemic in the area, and periodically sweeps through the prairie dog towns. It's been several years since I was last living in the Flagstaff area, but I recall on average 4 or 5 cases every year. Usually not fatal, as local doctors recognize it and treatment is relatively simple with antibiotics. But if you're not aware of it as a local threat, it's easy to ignore a "case of the flu" until someone is dangerously ill.

    Cats are a very good idea for keeping rodents under control around the homestead. But coyotes are fond of cats, so expect to lose a few outdoor cats. On the other hand, the coyotes eat a lot of mice too, so as long as they keep their distance it doesn't hurt to have a few in the area.

    I would recommend against poison. It's not terribly effective, for one thing. And the risk to your animals is too high. Physical barriers, food containers that are rodent-proof (metal and glass), traps and cats are a better plan.

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  36. What a waste! Of course, I wouldn’t have recommended keeping them for consumption. However, I know it would have really made you feel bad to throw them all away. I hope you did as some of the commenters have suggested and used them as livestock feed.

    Allan Sutherland


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