Part of preparing foods for an emergency situation - or even stocking up to make the best use of your money, storage, and time - is understanding the shelf life of various foods. People are often surprised to find out how long food can be safe for, when properly handled and stored. Shelf life varies widely amongst types of foods, but one question we often get is which foods last the longest? To answer that question and aid you in your long-term food storage plans, here is a brief guide to foods with the longest shelf lives.
First, a few notes: the estimated shelf life of foods is based on being stored at room temperature or slightly below. Storing items in the refrigerator or freezer can greatly extend the life of foods. Furthermore, you can buy many foods already frozen through more advanced technology. Moisture and high temperatures are the enemy of a food lifespan (which is what makes mylar bags so ideal for longer storage). Just because a food is deemed safe to eat doesn’t mean it won’t change in color, texture, or appearance. Many foods won’t be at their freshest at the end of their highest shelf life, but are still perfectly edible. Now that those disclaimers are out of the way, let's review the lists of foods!
- White rice - Research has shown that white rice (also called polished) will retain not only nutrient content but flavor for 30 years when stored in oxygen-free containers in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s important to know that brown rice won’t last nearly as long because it contains more natural oils.
- Honey - Some people call this substance the food “that lasts forever”. Because of its natural chemistry and the science in how it’s made, honey is inhospitable for bacterial growth. As it’s processed and sealed, honey is made even more shelf stable. There are jars of honey in existence that are hundreds of years old (the oldest is believed to be over 5,000 years old).
- Salt - Sodium chloride is a natural mineral taken directly from the Earth. Not only does salt last pretty much forever, it’s often used to preserve other foods. Because it removes moisture from content, salt has been used for centuries to make meat and other foods last longer. However, the simple salt on your table may not last as long. Adding iodine to table salt reduces it’s shelf life. You can expect iodized salt to last about five years.
- Soy sauce - This salty condiment can last years in your refrigerator even after it’s opened. Unopened containers can last up to a decade in a cupboard. However, this is highly dependent on the type, brand, and additives. If you are setting items aside for an emergency stash, this is a good substance to keep on hand for flavoring other foods.
- Sugar - How you store this substance will dictate how long it lasts. Powdered and granular sugar can be stored in airtight containers or mylar bags. When you buy sugar, you’ll notice “best by” dates on the packaging, but most manufacturers admit that the contents can last much longer. Even hardened brown sugar is edible once it’s been softened.
- Dry beans - This is another area that has real research to back it up. Studies show that after 30 years, the overall quality of beans may decrease, but they will still be considered acceptable for use in an emergency situation. This research also found that protein digestibility was found to remain stable over time. Though this particular study was conducted on pinto beans, general wisdom dictates that other varieties of beans can also remain shelf stable for decades when stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry space.
- Real maple syrup - Similar to other items like honey or sugar, pure maple syrup has an indefinite shelf life. Truly pure maple syrup is naturally resistant to microbial growth, including mold. Unopened syrup will last forever, but there are even ways to remove mold from open containers by boiling the syrup in a pinch. Note that these guidelines don’t apply to typical commercial brands, only unadulterated maple syrup.
- Powdered milk - Though you aren’t likely to enjoy the taste as much as regular milk, powdered milk will last much longer. In fact, one of the reasons powdered milk was invented was to tide people over during emergencies. It’s easy to transport and to store which makes it a popular item to include in long-term food storage scenarios.
- Pemmican - This food is a favorite among survivalists and has been around since it was invented by Native American tribes. There are a lot of recipes and preparation methods, but basically it's made by taking dried meat from big game animals like elk or buffalo, grinding it into a powder, and mixing with available berries and rendered fat. Pemmican can then be eaten raw, stewed, or fried. Because there is no official recipe, there are no real guidelines on how long this food can last. However, experts say that it should last a minimum of five years, and possibly longer depending on how it’s prepared and stored.
- Hard liquor - If you hope to have a cocktail in your bunker, you’re in luck. Hard liquor doesn’t really go bad, though it might change in taste or appearance due to oxidation. Also, an already opened bottle may lose a few ounces over time due to evaporation.
You can start with a stockpile of these long-lasting foods, and add in others based on your storage purpose, space, budget, etc. Here are a few other tips regarding longer lasting foods in storage:
- Canned fruits and vegetables are generally good for 1 to 2 years past any "best by" date.
- Dried pasta is typically safe for 1 or 2 years past its “best by” date.
- Bouillon cubes, peanut butter, and dark chocolate are all “nice to have” items that can last at least two years.
- Canned or vacuum-pouch tuna is especially helpful to have on hand, because these containers can last up to 5 years beyond the published expiration date.
Whether you are preparing for a true doomsday scenario or just want to be well-equipped for being snowed-in, losing power, or hosting unexpected meals, having a healthy supply of shelf-stable foods is a smart idea. To learn more about safe long term food storage (and the supplies that make it easy), browse our website.