Foods That Last Forever (Or Close to It)
You have buckets of beans and rice. Now let's take it to the next level.
Many of you have started your emergency food buckets filled with cheap beans and rice. But with the President of the United States warning of coming food shortages, we’re getting a lot of questions about what else you should stock in your pantry.
Canned goods are a given (most last up to five years, more-acidic foods like tomatoes only last a year and a half), but we wanted to point out foods that can last for eternity or at least a few decades if stored right — without any refrigeration. If you’re looking for a hedge against inflation, it’s hard to beat food that will be there when you need it.
We can’t tell you exactly what to store. We don’t know your unique tastes and health requirements. But what we can do is give you a list of foods that last a really long time, along with some basic nutritional metrics so you shop smart.
However, there are caveats to that shelf life. It’s your responsibility to make sure that your foods are properly packaged and stored. Wheat berries might last a few thousand years in a pyramid, but not if you keep them in an open bin in your backyard.
Speaking of wheat berries, only buy foods you will actually eat. This seems obvious, but some preppers buy bags and bags of things like wheat berries but never cook with them, which means in an emergency they’re also going to have to pick up all-new cooking skills. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new foods, but don’t buy 10,000 pounds of something you’ve never cooked or eaten.
(I’ve added product links throughout. I usually recommend smaller packages because they’re easier to handle, but buying in bulk can save money and help you stock up faster.)
The Enemies of Shelf Life
When storing any food for long-term use, keep the following enemies of shelf life in mind:
Heat: You want to keep your food in a cool place, no matter how well-preserved it is. Don’t store your food in a hot shed, for instance. The one exception is salt because salt is a rock and doesn’t care how hot it gets.
Light: The fancy term for this is called photodegradation. Always keep your food in opaque containers. Clear plastic bags are fine as long as you throw the bags in a bucket or other container that blocks light.
Moisture: Keeping your food dry is a big one. Moisture gives bacteria a chance to grow, dissolves salt and sugar, and can cause spices to clump together.
Pests: When we think of pests, many of us imagine mice, which are easy enough to stop with a sturdy container. But some dry goods, like flour, harbor insect eggs that can hatch and devour your food. A good way to prevent that is to remove all of the oxygen from the container.
Oxygen: The process of oxidation ruins food. Two commons ways to prevent that are disposable oxygen absorbers or vacuum-sealing food to suck all the air out. I much prefer the latter option, because it’s more sure. O2 absorbers don’t remove all the air, so you really don’t know if they worked until you open the package.
Understanding Expiration Dates
Food isn’t necessarily inedible just because it’s past its expiration date. There are three common expiration dates you’ll see on packages. “Use By” is an absolute date. Do not eat the food after that date. “Sell By” is usually used on fresh foods, and food past that date may or may not be edible. “Best By” is more of a suggestion and is usually found on dry goods. Food past its “best by” date may not taste great but is probably safe to eat.
Always use common sense when eating foods that have been stored for a long time. Be aware of off smells and flavors, mold, or any sign of contamination. If in doubt, throw it out!
The Forever Foods
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