“Nice shelves loaded with glass jars full of home-canned food, Erica! Now, don’t you live right on a fault line or something? Aren’t you guys in Seattle just waiting for an 8.0 earthquake to turn your whole city into rubble? What’s your plan for those jars of tomatoes, then, huh?”
Yes…I know, I know. There is a huge risk in investing time and money into jars of healthy home-canned food when one little Gaia Hiccup could topple your entire investment. Putting all your food in glass jars when glass is the thing most likely to be destroyed by the natural disaster that is most likely to hit you is not good planning.
If you want to go all the way in protecting your jars from tectonic rumbling, this is what it’s going to take:
Either wood or heavy duty metal. This is not the place for some snap-together plastic shelving unit designed to hold sweaters for nine months in a college dorm before falling apart. To quote my father, you want shelving, “strong enough that elephants can dance on it.”
The ideal shelves should be either attached directly to wall studs at the back and supported by legs at the front to distribute the weight or should be free-standing but secured to your home’s framing studs with heavy duty screws or earthquake strapping to prevent rocking or “hopping” of the entire shelving unit in a quake. We currently have wall-mounted, bracketed shelves, and this type of shelf can never really be as strong as a free-standing type.
Bracing at the Front of The Shelves
A good shelf means nothing if a jar can just bounce off of the front of it in a quake. People who build wood shelves can add 1×2″or similar strips of wood across the front of the shelf. Ideally, you want this bracing to be high enough to prevent a jar from bouncing right over it.
Here’s a nice example of wooden bracing at the front of the shelves. You can tell the owner of this pantry is serious because there are at least 32 5-gallon buckets full of what I presume to be dry goods like rice and wheat stored in this pantry.
If you buy Metro-type snap together wire shelving at industrial or kitchen supply places (and this stuff is a personal favorite of mine), they will come with a 3 or 4-inch high snap-in “backstands” for each shelf. They look like this:
The backstands are designed to stop items from falling off the back of the shelving units. However, if your unit is mounted securely against a wall and you clip the backstands in the front, you have excellent earthquake bracing for your jarred goods.
We have Metro-type shelving like this in the garage and I adore it. Our current shelving in the pantry is a rail-and-post system with medium-duty wire shelves. It looks good, but I suspect that before too much longer we will need to swap the medium-duty set up for industrial Metro-type shelving to handle the weight I’m putting on the shelves.
I have seen a lot of examples of bungee cords being used to brace jars against earthquakes and, frankly, I don’t know that it does much. Bungee cords are stretchy. I have a hard time believing that you could get a bungee cord tight enough to actually keep a jar from bouncing off a flat shelf in an earthquake. If anyone has any direct experience with this I’d love to know your experience.
Baby Locks on Cupboards (Even If You Don’t Have A Baby)
If you store items in cupboards that might be damaged in an earthquake should the doors bounce open (which they will), you can install inexpensive interior-mounted baby latches to your cupboards. These will help keep doors closed and jars and other items in, in the event of a quake.
Once you’ve ensured your shelves aren’t going to collapse, and you jars aren’t going to rattle off your shelves, the final step in earthquake proofing the pantry is padding the individual jars.
The simplest way to do this is to store filled jars back in the original box they came in with the cardboard divider in place (or, make a sturdier DIY one out of corrugated cardboard). I highly recommend wrapping once or twice around your jar-boxes with duct tape when they are still new and crisp. This does a lot to keep them functional and strong enough to handle getting shoved around (gently, please) while full of preserves.
You can also wrap your jars individually in something squishy. If you get a package with a lot of bubble wrap in it, you can cut jar-sized sections and duct tape them into reusable bubble-wrap sized sleeves for your jars. My kids would have a field day with this.
If you are super handy you might even bee (get it? bee?) able to crochet something like this lovely jar cover, although making 27 or 48 dozen of them might get seriously time prohibitive:
The simpler, uglier equivalent to apiary-themed jar garments is to re-purpose your old worn out tube socks by cutting off the top stretchy bit and sliding that on to protect your jars.
My Half-Ass Solution
I don’t have a perfect solution for my own pantry, but I have come up with a kinda half-ass solution that may or may-not accomplish anything. But it was free, and it makes me feel slightly better.
This is what my pantry shelves look like up close. The medium-duty wire shelf snaps into the wall-mounted bracket. These types of shelving systems are great and really customizable for closets and are probably great for pantries too, if the owner of the pantry is not insane about storing heavy canned goods, like me. You can get shelving systems like this at any organization store or big-box home improvement chain.
Note the rolled-over lip at the front of the shelf. I turned a few upside down and got this.
Here’s the same shelf, side-by-side, flipped upside down and right-way-up. (Sorry about the crappy not-quite-Instamatic photos. The natural light in my pantry is deliberately non existent.)
Simply flipping the wire shelves gives my jars a teeny bit of protection against sliding right off the front. The lip generated by this move is about 3/4″ deep. That’s not a lot but it is something.
That lip provides a measure of protection in that it slows down the daily earthquake that is my 2 year old son. He likes to run into the pantry in an attempt to play “stack the jars into a tower!” This is one of my least favorite games and I think he just likes seeing how fast I can run after him squealing, “Noooooo!”
I can’t say that it would stop the jars from bouncing right off the shelf in a big quake, but I think it might help in a small tremor.
Have you done anything to protect your preserves from an earthquake or other natural disaster?
Preparedness means a lot of different things depending on your outlook and goals. But some things you can never be prepared for. Today we remember the victims of the 9/11 bombings and those first responders who were charged with being prepared for anything, no matter how terrible, and who did never faltered in their oaths on that day.1