We talked last week about the importance of having food stored that is not going to go bad after only a few years of shelf time. Specifically, we tried to stress the importance of having emergency food that would last 25 years or more, not only for your safety and peace of mind but also for the convenience of storing foods that you won’t have to frequently rotate and replace.
This week, we’d like to talk about how you can be sure that emergency food is going to last as long as it is advertised to last. In order to do this, you need to be equipped with some basic knowledge about what affects the shelf life of any food. There are four main players in this game: food type, preservation method, packaging, and storage conditions.
Type of Food
My sixth-grade science experiment was to put milk in a pie tin and let it sit on the counter for weeks and then see what happened. I don’t think I have to tell you the results of that experiment. Suffice it to say that it’s a simple fact of nature—some foods have the ability to last a long time, and some do not. It’s important to keep this in mind as you build up your store of emergency food and be aware of the ingredients that are inside.
Researchers at Brigham Young University have been busy conducting testing on food storage that has been stored for long periods of time and examining which types of foods are still edible and have nutritional value. Their findings up to this point are that salt, baking soda, and granulated sugar have no known shelf life when stored in their original containers. Wheat and rice, when stored in cans, foil pouches, or buckets, can last 30 or more years. Powdered milk, oats, instant potatoes, beans, dried apples, and macaroni, when stored in a can or foil pouch with oxygen absorber, can last 15-30 years and still be edible and sustaining.
Other foods do not last as long, even when stored under ideal conditions. Wet-pack canned foods, for example, are only good for a few years, especially if they contain acidic foods like tomatoes, which can cause the cans to corrode and go bad much more quickly. Yeast and cooking oil only last 1 ½ years, and powdered eggs only 1 year.
The most important thing to remember is not to take food storage companies’ shelf life claims at face value. Doing your own bit of research and finding out what is in the emergency food and how long it will last will be worth it when the time comes to eat your food.
Type of Food Storage and Packaging
Not all methods of food storage are equal in their ability to keep a food good for a long time. As mentioned in the last section, wet-packed canned foods typically do not last as long as other types of food storage (usually five years at most, and this is an optimistic estimate). Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) have grown in popularity recently as a food storage method, but typically they have a shelf life of only around three years. In contrast, canned dry foods like bulk grains tend to be a long-lasting food storage type, and freeze-dried and dehydrated foods similarly have the potential for a very lengthy shelf life.
Of course, we are a little biased toward the freeze-drying and dehydrating process when it comes to preserving long-term food, but only because we have done our research and know what works. The process of freeze drying is particularly suited for long-term food because by manipulating the surrounding pressure of a food as is done in freeze-drying, an incredible amount of water can be removed from the food, leaving it in a condition that will not allow microorganisms to grow. Dehydration similarly removes moisture from the food by putting it through an intensive low-temperature drying chamber to remove water. Both of these methods enable food to last for a very long time.
Packaging is another important factor in the shelf life of emergency foods. Just like moisture, oxygen causes microorganisms to grow. If emergency food is not packaged correctly, oxygen will get in and spoil the food. It’s crucial that residual oxygen levels be below 2%. Nitrogen flushing and the use of oxygen absorbers are key to achieve this goal. If your food storage is not packaged in these ideal conditions, your food is going to spoil long before those 25 years are up.
Perhaps one of the greatest influences on the shelf life of your food storage is its storage conditions. When considering where to store your food storage, keep in mind the four environmental necessities for a long shelf life: low temperature, low moisture, low oxygen, and low light. Exposure to too much of any of these can spoil foods or result in off-flavors and loss of nutrients.
Low moisture, oxygen, and light levels should be taken care of if your emergency food is packaged correctly. Temperature is the factor that is completely within your control. For maximum shelf life, food needs to be stored in a consistently cool place (at least below room temperature.) Temperatures over room temperature can cause proteins to deteriorate and can spoil the food more quickly. High temperatures can reduce the shelf life of different foods by as much as a decade. For this reason, it’s not a great idea to store food storage in the garage or attic. Basements or pantries are a much better option because of their consistent temperatures. As Oscar Pike, lead researcher of BYU’s Long-Term Food Storage Research team put it, “If you ever have to eat your food storage, you’ll wish you had stored the food in the house and the furniture in the garage.”
There you have it—the rules for food longevity. Knowing what you know now, you can go out and judge emergency food suppliers’ shelf life claims for yourself. We hope we’ve convinced you that there’s no reason to settle for anything less than emergency food that will last 25 years. And we think you’ll find that Legacy Premium’s shelf-life guarantee is much more than just a marketing scheme. We know our stuff—and now so do you.