shelf life of foods

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Shelf Life of Food
Getting prepared with foods with a long shelf life

If you're new to prepping, you may be overwhelmed with
analyzing the shelf life of foods for your food storage, and you
may have many questions...

  • Which foods have the longest shelf life? Foods will have
    the longest shelf life if they can resist heat, moisture,
    oxygen, and light.

  • How long does dehydrated food last? Food you dehydrate
    yourself will last only about a year, but food commercially
    dried can last five to ten years. A good brand of dehydrated
    food is Harmony House.

  • How long does freeze dried food last? Generally freeze
    dried foods lasts 15 years; however,  Mountain House food is
    the only freeze dried food scientifically proven to last 25 or
    more years! (This applies to Mountain House in #10 cans.)

  • What are the best survival foods to store? The list below
    contains foods with longest shelf life to give you a deep
    larder of food.

Top Ten Foods with a Long Shelf Life
Knowing which foods to store and how long they will last is
among the most important of tasks as a prepper.

Here are the top ten foods with the best shelf life:

#1: Shelf-stable food: White rice.
White varieties of rice easily last 30 years or more; however, like
other dried products, require proper packaging to keep out the
vermin. Do not store brown rice for the long term as it does not
have a long shelf life because of its oil content.

#2: Shelf-stable food: Dried Beans.
Combined with rice, beans provide the perfect source of protein,
which is why they are so popular with preppers (and why they
make it to #2 on the list of foods with the best shelf life). While
many preppers stock beans, they often don't know that beans
may be ground into flour for baking breads, biscuits and cookies,
making them ideally versatile and useful to preppers.

#3: Shelf-stable food: Dried corn and popcorn.
Did you know corn is a vegetable when it's fresh, but when it's
dried it's considered a grain? Technically popcorn is a grain too!
Popcorn is extremely versatile as you can pop it or grind it into
cornmeal. Cornmeal just can last as long as dried corn, as
cornmeal is more susceptible to vermin. Dried corn will also help
you sustain livestock. You can also bait deer with dried field corn
in a world without rule of law.

#4: Shelf-stable food: Dried and freeze-dried meats.
Beef jerky was an American pioneer staple. Don't overlook cured
meats like Salami, which can have a long shelf life as well. Did
you know you can eat freeze dried chicken dices directly from the
bag or can (uncooked)?

#5: Shelf-stable food: Legumes (lentils and peas).
Lentils  have sustained man since biblical times and have an
almost indefinite shelf life! The longest lasting lentils are whole,
not cracked. Because of their size they are quicker to cook than
pinto beans. They are an excellent source of fiber! Dried Peas,
another popular legume, is often overlooked by preppers, dried
peas have an incredibly long shelf life like other legumes. Split
peas have a 4-5 year shelf life on their own and you can increase
the shelf life to 25-years or more by packaging in mylar with
oxygen absorbers.

#6: Shelf-stable food: Oats.
Oats continue to go under appreciated in the world of prepping,
but peppers will find many reasons to hoard oats once they get
started preparing them. Oat groats are the whole grain. They
take longer to cook, but they can last upwards of 30 years in your
food storage. What's more,
Oats are highly nutritious and
versatile. During the
Great Depression, homemakers used oats to
extend meats and casseroles.

#7: Shelf-stable food: Pasta.
Italians have long stored dried pasta to get them through lean
times, but did you know pasta has a legacy dating back hundreds
of years to the Chinese and possibly beyond to Jerusalem? Rice
flour was made into dumplings in China, but this kind of pasta is
perishable, unlike Italian semolina pasta. Durum wheat semolina
isn’t overly absorbent, which is probably why it's such a durable
food (and credit given to the Italians)! Indeed, durum wheat
pasta has a long shelf-life; however, the egg noodle variety is
much lower at 5-8 years under proper conditions (dry canned with
oxygen absorbers). While other pastas have a much longer life,
extending 25-30 years under proper conditions.

#8: Shelf stable food: Dried fruits, such as raisins, apricots,
Dried fruits are always good to stockpile for variety.  

  • Raisins are an ancient prepper food and an excellent source
    of energy. They are an ideal prepper food because they "don’
    t spoil, bruise, or need refrigeration," according to SunMaid,
    America's favorite brand of raisins.

  • The pioneers dried apples.

#9: Shelf Stable food: Cane sugar.
Sugar is both a condiment and a food. Sugar lasts indefinitely if
stored properly, and has a variety of uses in prepping. Isn't that

#10: Shelf-stable food: Wheat (hard red).
Hard red wheat is a prepper staple because of its long shelf life.
Once, you've ground your hard red wheat into flour, the shelf life
decreases. With hard red wheat, you can make breads, cakes,
pasta and so much more.

Want to know more shelf stable foods?
Here's the complete list of 37 foods to stockpile before crisis.

Foods with a long shelf life
On the topic of shelf life of the foods in your pantry, there's much
to know. Generally, here are some things to look for. Foods with
the best shelf life include:

  • Canned foods. Canned foods generally will have a one to
    three year shelf life, depending on where in the cycle you
    purchased the product. These are the manufacturer's
    suggested dates based on maintaining the integrity of the
    food. Beyond the date printed, food may be mushy or
    otherwise loose texture. Though the canned foods may still
    be edible, the manufacturer does not guarantee quality.
    Food will really only go bad when the can has been dented,
    punctured, corroded, or exposed to extreme  heat or cold. In
    such cases, botulism may set in.

  • MRES: When many preppers think of shelf stable, non
    perishable foods, Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) often come to
    mind. MREs were developed for military convenience. They
    include everything a solider needs to eat (no chef required).

  • Freeze dried foods. There are many brands of freeze
    dried foods, including:

  • Dehydrated foods. Dehydrated food in grocery stores often
    are found in and around the bulk food bins. Ordering shelf-
    stable food that can store for 25-30 years is an admirable
    goal, accomplished best when stored in #10 cans and
    commercially prepared food buckets packed in mylar bags
    with oxygen absorbers. If your aim is long term food storage
    (25 years shelf life), then look for freeze dried foods in
    nitrogen packed #10 cans. These specially formulated cans
    are packed in small portions to maintain freshness and keep
    variety in your food storage.

  • Shelf-stable, dried foods. You can also dry-pack can to
    increase the shelf life of your favorite foods.

Shelf-stable condiments to stockpile
Here's a list of shelf-stable condiments and spices to stock in
your prepper's pantry:

  1. Cane sugar. The United States has a limited production of
    cane sugar. It's grown only in Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, and
  2. Honey. Prized since Egyptian times, honey is food and
  3. Salt. Surprisingly, salt is not a spice. (See more about salt
  4. Tea. Dried tea leaves have sustained man through the
    centuries. (The process of boiling water to make tea was a
    key to making water safe to drink.)
  5. Freeze dried coffee. Many prepper sites list coffee as shelf
    stable, but it isn't necessarily so, because the oils of coffee
    reduce shelf life. Green coffee beans are available for long
    term in #10 cans and you can roast them, the way pioneers
  6. Cacao. Cacao was food of the ancient Mayans for many
    reasons! A long shelf life among them.
  7. Maple Syrup. Natural goodness for your pancakes, maple
    syrup won't spoil! Skip Mrs. Buttersworth, it's not real maple
  8. Bourbon Vanilla Extract. Bourbon vanilla extract makes it
    to the list of the 37 foods to hoard in crisis. The alcohol
    content keeps your extract freshforever!
  9. Vinegar. Discover the many reasons preppers stock vinegar.
  10. Baking soda and baking powder.
  11. Coconut oil. Most oils become quickly rancid: the exception
    is coconut oil. With a two-year shelf life, and the surprising
    health benefits of coconut oil is a prepper favorite!
  12. Soy Sauce. This popular Asian condiment is fermented for
    long shelf-life. Enjoy!

How to Plan Your Food Storage
Here are some considerations and tips for long term food storage.

Plan on variety, but don't get too creative.
Combating menu fatigue will be an issue, but there are a variety
of brands of shelf stable foods packed in #10 cans or
commercially packed food grade canisters to give you the variety
you need. Among our favorites include:

  • Augason Farms. Ideal for potatoes and milk, Augason
    Farms is one of our favorite freeze dried food manufacturers.
    Try their bucket of potatoes and pancakes!

  • Future Essentials. Future Essentials has the long term
    needs of foodies in mind when they pack shredded
    mozzarella in #10 cans, and also their hard to find bread
    crumbs, which will come in handy to coat and fry fish or to
    make salmon burgers from those cans of salmon you've

  • Honeyville Farms. Stash Honeyville Farms whole powdered
    eggs in your long term food pantry
  • Mountain House. Popular with backpackers and the best
    bugout food you can get: Mountain House freeze dried foods
    also come in #10 cans so you can store them in your pantry.
    The #10 cans from Mountain House are scientifically
    guaranteed to last 25 years!  Top on the list is their beef
    stroganoff! Other popular choices include eggs with bacon,
    and pasta prima vera.

  • Emergency Essentials (formerly Provident Pantry).
    Popular for their freeze dried ground beef and milk,
    Emergency Esseintials (Provident Pantry has the variety of
    foods you want. Live a little with Provident Pantry's freeze)
    dried ice cream sandwich, above right. You'll feel like an
    astronaut. Fill your Prepper's pantry with Provident Pantry
    Instant Nonfat Dry Fortified Milk, too. The milk mixes
    smoothly and tastes creamy and delicious. For extra
    nutrition, this milk is specially fortified with Vitamins A and

  • Buy foods with high caloric content. Stressful times will
    require more sustenance. Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) for U.S.
    Army personnel have around 1200 calories per meal and with
    high protein content to sustain physical stamina. You should
    think the same of foods you buy.

  • Think about serving sizes. You'll get a general idea about
    how much food to pack, but when it comes to serving sizes,
    one cup of beef stroganoff won't be enough food for a hungry
    man who's spent a hardworking afternoon fighting zombies.
    The "servings" are a food rationing measurement. In times
    of stress, you'll need more food. Likewise, think about
    volume and weights of foods. If the product packs water, it
    could be deceiving about how much food product you're
    getting. Freeze dried foods pack more easily into limited
    space and is equivalent to more food.

  • Don't just buy grains and leave them in bags. Storing grain
    is often a goal of Preppers as bags of rice, for example, are
    fairly inexpensive and can provide sustenance. Improper
    storage will surely get an infestation of pests. The grain
    must be sealed away from pests (preferably stored in food
    grade buckets, sealed into mylar bags with oxygen
    absorbers, and vacuum sealed with gamma lids). This will
    help prevent moisture and oxidation. The easiest solution is
    to purchase commercially packed grains to ensure the
    product will be fresh and available for use when you need it
    most. For example, rice stored in #10 cans, left has a 25-
    year shelf life. See our section on long term grain storage.
    And don't even think of stocking up on wheat if you don't
    have a clue on how to bake from scratch

How to analayze non-perishable foods
New preppers are often overwhelmed at analyzing the shelf life of
foods for their long term food storage needs.  The following
provides more help on the shelf life of foods in your pantry,
  1. decoding food dates
  2. knowing the difference between freeze dried and dehydrated
  3. understanding the role of salt in shelf-stable foods, and

#1: Decoding food dates (Julian dates)
In the United States, there's no universally accepted system of
food dating: only infant formula requires product dating by
federal law! While it's optional, manufacturers want product
dating to make their product taste more appealing to consumers.
Also because when a product expires, they have an opportunity to
sell more. Of course sometimes manufacturers want to "hide"
their dating. For the most part, decoding food product dates is
relatively easy:
  • "use by" dates are for quality (not for safety reasons);
  • "best by" dates are also for quality
  • expiration dates are for

  • Julian dates are closed coded dates. This dating scheme
    used to help employees manage the freshness guarantee of
    products. That's the toughest date to decipher, but you can
    do it! They look like packing numbers. According to the USDA
    they are "specifically, a means of identification of product
    slaughtered, prepared, processed, or packaged on a certain
    date in the case of a recall."
#2: Knowing the difference between freeze dried and
dehydrated foods.
Do you know the difference between freeze dried foods and
dehydrated foods? Knowing the difference will affect the price of
your foods, the flavor and the length of shelf life. Here is a
primer to help:

  • Freeze dried foods are flash frozen in a process where the
    water content of the ice is removed through a process of
    sublimation. Essentially the ice changes from a solid to a
    gas . The benefits of freeze dried foods are that they
    rehydrate quickly and they have a longer shelf life than
    dehydrated foods. Because they rehydrate well, freeze dried
    foods retain their flavor, texture and nutritional value better
    than dehydrated foods.

  • Dehydrated foods have had the water content removed
    naturally or by heat. While the process is beneficial for
    storage of grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit, the
    hydration process is not as forgiving as freeze dried foods.
    Essentially, the food texture doesn't quite return to the
    original state after returning the water content.

Preppers keep a watchful eye on prices in exercising their
knowledge between freeze dried and dehydrated foods.

Using salt to make shelf stable foods
Salt is essential for life. Salt has been an essential preservation
tool for thousands of years. As a binding agent, salt removes
water and inhibits the growth of microorganisms from foods. Salt
aids in drawing water out of the food and dehydrating it.
makes it to #28 on our list of 37 Essential Foods to store and
with good reason:

  • Salt is life: Salt contains chloride and sodium ions, and all
    living things need these components in small quantities.

  • Salt can kill bacteria!

Iodized salt provides the added health benefits of eliminating
goiter (enlarged thyroid gland), preventing hypothyroidism
(neurological, gastrointestinal, and skin abnormalities), and for
pregnant women iodine is important during fetal and child
development in preventing brain damage (mental retardation).

The craft of salting, smoking, and curing is an art and a skill
many Advanced Preppers have already mastered. If you're looking
to use salt to cure meats, then you should look for meat curing
salt products, for example, Morton® Tender Quick® Mix,
available immediate left.

A person with a normal and healthy diet that includes seafood,
dairy products from animals grazing on iodine rich soils, and
vegetables grown in iodine rich soils, doesn't require iodized salt.
However, in a planning for a catastrophic event where foods
sources are compromised, Iodized salt becomes highly a
important nutrient.

  • How to store salt for 25 years or more: Salt will last
    indefinitely as long as you keep salt away from moisture. To
    store salt for the long term, you can keep it in sealed mylar
    bags, which you then place into five or six gallon buckets.

Want to know more about the shelf life of foods?
There's much to know about food shelf life! We defer to a Web site which offers a handy reference
guide to help you determine the shelf life of refrigerated,
unopened or opened foods.

Call to get information on the shelf life of food by calling the
manufacturer directly; however, do so well in advance as part of
planning for a disaster or catastrophe.

Foods famous for a long shelf life, include:

  • Twinkies. Twinkies are famous for having a long shelf life,
    but likely this is because these fluffy cake morsels of sponge
    cake don't have any dairy in them. (Dairy products generally
    don't have a long shelf life, unless in freeze dried powdered
    form.) It's true that Twinkies spoil more slowly than other
    bakery items, but they only last around 25-45 days and not
    25 years. Source: Science of Twinkies by NPR.

  • SPAM. Spam was invented for long shelf life and

  • Hard tack. A combination of flour, water and salt, hard tack
    is a survival food of our ancestors that's baked twice to
    remove water content. It has a history of military use and
    long voyages at sea. Argh, yes, the pirates ate them.
    Unfortunately, often times worms would nibble their way
    through the extremely hard substance, so

Now that you know a little more about foods with a long shelf
life, it's time to consider the next article:
Weird stuff with
expiration dates. Even Crisco has an expiration date!

Happy endings...
Get started with your emergency food storage plan right away!
Just store more of  your favorite foods. Later you can take some
time think a little more closely about expiration dates, and foods
that will last a long time in your refrigerator so that you can add
more variety to your food storage.

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