Friday, March 18, 2016

Food Storage vs Shelf-Life*

Revised 3-18-16

When I began storing food just before Y2K, there was much controversy and uncertainty about this subject. Most who wrote about it were new at it themselves and had no long term experience to draw upon thereby what they were writing about was just a guess. Because of their guesses I made some mistakes in the beginning but, through my own trial and error and not giving up, got me on the right track.

It's not as difficult as you think, just two rules for food storage.

Rule #1,  Keep it very simple with minimal varieties!
Rule #2,  Store only what you've already tested, eat and know how to prepare.

Another confusing area about food storage is we’ve all heard about long term and short term but. What are they and how long is each and generally what kind of food is stored in each? Here’s what worked out for me:

Short Term Storage:
  • Up to 2 years shelf-life.
  • Virtually all foods in your supermarket fit this 2 year time frame.
  • This is the food that's in your everyday pantry, just more of it.
  • It is can, pouched, bagged or boxed foods including your home canned food.
  • The source for this food is your everyday supermarket.
  • There should not be any foods in Short Term Storage that requires freezing or needs refrigeration because you cannot ever count on having dependable grid electricity in troubled times.
  • For Short Term storage there's no need for buying kit buckets of food, MRE's or other specialty survival foods.
  • All can or home canned foods needs to be protected from freezing.

Mid-Term Storage: 
  • Up to 10 years shelf-life.
  • Most all #10 cans of dehydrated or freeze dried foods.
  • Most all pouched foods/meals like the Mountain House brand.
  • MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat).
  • Kit Buckets of food, like the Mountain House 72 hour kit/bucket.

Long Term Storage:
  • Up to 30 years shelf-life.
  • Any purchased foods with a declared shelf-life of up to 30 years.
  • Typically this is all bulk purchased dry foods like; wheat, beans, lentils, rice, barley, pasta, etc.
  • It requires being sealed in Mylar Bags with Oxygen Absorbers.
  • Included are ‘some’ #10 cans of dehydrated or freeze dried food, verify shelf-life before storing.

Additional Information:
Stocking commercially canned foods, long term food storage and home canning always raise the same question. What is the shelf life? I look to University Extension Services for the most accurate research and tested methods. The links below will help answer this question with tested fact. Enjoy and be safe with your food storage and canning!

The shelf life paragraph below is from the Utah State University Cooperative Extension

Shelf Life:
As a general rule, unopened “Home canned foods” have a shelf life of one year and should be used before 2 years. “Commercially canned foods” should retain their “best quality” until the expiration code date on the can. This date is usually 2-5 years from the manufacture date. High acid foods usually have a shorter shelf life than low acid foods.

For emergency storage, commercially canned foods in metal or jars will remain safe to consume as long as the seal has not been broken. (That is not to say the quality will be retained for that long).

Foods “canned” in metal-Mylar®-type pouches will also have a best-if-used by date on them. The longest shelf life tested of this type of packaging has been 8-10 years (personal communication U.S. Military MRE’s). Therefore, storage for longer than 10 years is not recommended.

Here’s a few very good links for more qualified canning information.

Utah State University Cooperative Extension

39 Food Specific PDF’s about canning are at this link plus other informative topics.

National Center for Home Food Preservation. Lots of trustworthy information at this site.


  1. another excellent post! as a reminder for already storing foods for long term types of people...and a great bit of info for newbies! thanks Mike!

    your friend,

  2. I probably should have added some jello just for you, while you're getting rebuilt! HaHa

  3. ugh. no way. i absolutely detest jello....something just not right about food that jiggles!i haaaate jello.

    but i am really starting to get sick of mashed potatoes. imagine - me sick of mashed potatoes??? but between mashed potatoes and smoothies and juices and the like - i want a hamburger with all of the fixings!!!

    a good post Mike...and i hope people learn from it!
    your friend,

  4. As far as the home canned goes, we canned Tuna up in Washington State where we lived on a boat. We also stored our provisions in a storage unit. when we decided to move to Florida everything had to be downsized. In with a stack of empty jars I found a case of 1/2 pint jars of tuna. They were dated nine years prior. It was awesome. Mind you I am particular about cleanliness when I can, but the tuna was still good. So, I wonder if the same could hold true with all home canned?

    1. Hi Christine,
      I have read many stories just like yours where they discovered old home canned and supermarket can goods years past their best by dates. They ate it and said it still tastes and smells good! I would think that there are many foods that will be good long past best by date and other, possibly liquid dairy etc that may not do well long term. I can not recommend consuming old foods because if someone became seriously ill from it I would be facing a gaggle of lawyers trying to hold me responsible.

      I know it is hard to toss old food that appears to be good but it is a decision only you can make.

      I’m planning a future article dealing with ‘food poisoning’, how to diagnose it and home treatment for it (if there is any)! Undoubtedly, sooner or later it’s going to show up at our houses and it would be important to know what steps can be taken to minimize the illness before you must have your stomach pumped and a few days in the hospital.

      At the end of this link are a number of trusted sites sharing information about safety of canned foods.

      If you don't mind, what part of Florida did you relocate to?

  5. I like how you added "mid-term" food storage. I always hear people relate to short and long term, but there is a larger variety then that.

  6. Thanks, the longer I am at food storage the more I see people doing it wrong. It needs to be kept simple while duplicating your everyday eating habits.