The idea of stockpiling a reserve of food in case of a disaster has become more prevalent thanks to new Doomsday Prepper tv shows. With talk about nuclear war, solar flares, terrorist attacks, financial and societal collapse, it all seems a bit extreme. However, it also makes good common sense to think about having supplies on hand. If not for a full-fledged catastrophe, it still pays to be prepared even for smaller-scale emergencies.
When it comes to storing foods for the long-term, many Americans have forgotten the ways of their ancestors. As recently as 50 years ago, chances are most of your relatives had a thorough understanding of which foods have the longest shelf-life. Before the invention of refrigeration and electricity, these skills were essential to survival.
The first colonists grew their vegetables and raised their food. In the winters, they depended on stored preserved food. Then the depression era of the 30s hardened survival skills as food supplies were rationed and hard to come by for many. Today, most people are dependent on reliable supplies from grocery stores. However, learning how to be prepared like our ancestors remains a smart idea.
When you research the best foods to keep indefinitely, it's apparent these items are also the most affordable. So, why not have some of these items stored away, just in case? It won't hurt your wallet, though they will take up some room in your home.
The College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia recommends these items for a nearly indefinite shelf-life (if stored in optimal conditions):
Instant coffee, tea
Non Carbonated soft drinks
Powdered milk (in nitrogen-packed cans)
Of course, these items will last longer in air-tight containers kept at cool temperatures. Preppers keep their stores in sealed mylar bags with oxygen absorbing packets. Even better, put the bags inside plastic storage containers with tight-fitting lids. This method can greatly extend the shelf-life of many products for years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is a wealth of information on which foods to store and shelf-life and safety concerns. The USDA notes that dangerous bacteria responsible for food poisoning can't grow in a freezer. Therefore, frozen foods are safe for months, although the quality will decrease over time.
According to the USDA, these frozen foods can last a few months up to a full year. Notable exceptions that aren't safe are canned food and eggs in the shell.
Uncooked steaks or chops
Uncooked whole poultry
Uncooked wild game
Egg whites and egg substitutes
Yes, freezer burn and ice crystals can mean your food won't taste the greatest, but it may taste a whole lot better if there aren't other options.
Storing canned foods in the pantry is a smart idea that might remind you of your grandmother. Chances are, she knew these items could last well beyond the expiration dates. Those “best by” dates often refer to quality, not safety, according to the USDA.
On the other hand, keep a lookout for cans that have rusted or show strange bulges, cracks, or dents. In those cases, dangerous bacteria may have penetrated the can. Rarely, botulism can produce lethal toxins in canned, preserved, or fermented foods. You can't see it, taste it, or smell the bacteria.
The CDC reports these conditions that low-acid foods can lead to highly dangerous botulism. These are foods that fall into that category:
Fish and seafood
Home-canning is the most likely cause of botulism, so if you plan to store food this way, follow the guidelines for safety.
Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE)
Although they are not as affordable as staple foods, MREs are great to have on hand in case of an emergency. The military has used these tri-laminated retort pouches since the 70s. When fully sealed, this commercially sterilized food is safe from bacteria contamination. The maximum shelf-life is seven years, but only if kept cool at around 60 F. Otherwise, an MRE may only last a month.
MREs are great for taking in a “bugout bag” because they are so lightweight and convenient. Many hikers and campers like to take these pouches along into the outdoors.
Skilled Survival ranks the Western Frontier 12 Meal Case as the best deal. This case includes meals in the following flavors:
The above MRE variety pack includes a variety of accessories and can last well past the 2019 expiration date.
Not all of us have ample room for storing food in the pantry to be used years from now. However, if you do, it makes sense to stock up on the basics. Items with longest-shelf lives come in handy anytime. What's more, it can be a fun process to organize and store your items. Even better, having a backup plan in case of an emergency could give you a little peace of mind in an unpredictable world.
For more information about shelf-life for almost any type of food, check out The FoodKeeper App from the Food Industry Association.