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Food

When Does Food Expire?

The actual shelf-life of food is typically longer than the stated “Best Before” dates on its packaging, but how much longer? What about foods that don’t have some kind of “Eat by” date? We had the same questions, specifically about the foods in Inventory Wolf’s recommended shelter-in-place food plans.

Something to keep in mind is that food does go bad (with a few exceptions noted below) so an economical approach is to rotate food from your disaster preparedness stores into your daily meals, before it goes bad. Inventory Wolf’s Expiring Items report can help prioritize which foods to rotate in.

Here are the expiry times for foods in Inventory Wolf’s recommended shelter-in-place food plans. How we arrived at this data is explained below the table. Some items that can last indefinitely, such as dried lentils, lose their optimal nutrition after a couple years, so we advise rotating them out before then.

FoodShelf-life            
Commercially canned, low-acid foods such as canned meat, poultry, fish, stew, soups, green vegetables, beans, carrots, corn, peas, potatoes2-5 years
Commercially canned, high-acid foods such as canned juices, fruit, pickles, sauerkraut, tomatoes, tomato soup, spaghetti sauce12-18 months
Lentils, Dried1-2 years
Mashed potatoes, Instant12-18 months
Fruit, Mixed, Dried6-12 months
Crackers6-9 months
Oats2 years
Rice2 years
Breakfast cereal1 year
Pasta2 years
Macaroni & cheese mix2 years
Pancake mix1 year
Powdered milk2 years
FoodShelf-life
Freeze-dried foods10-30 years
Peanut butter, Jar1-2 years
Mixed nuts, Jar1-2 years
Oil, Corn1 year
Oil, Olive2-3 years
Coffee, Instant2-5 years
Cookies, Packaged6-9 months
Cocoa powder2 years
Whiskeyindefinite
Candy, Hard2-3 years
Sugar, Granulatedindefinite
Saltindefinite
Spices, Ground2-3 years
Food bars1-2 years
Multivitamins2 years
Shelf-lives for foods in Inventory Wolf’s recommended shelter-in-place food plans

USDA

We headed to the USDA website for answers. Three pages in particular gave some answers:

The key things we learned there were:

  • Canned foods
    • You can safely keep commercially canned foods longer than their dates. Low-acid foods (such as canned meat, poultry, fish, stew, soups, green vegetables, beans, carrots, corn, peas, potatoes, etc.) can be stored for two to five years; high-acid foods (e.g. canned juices, fruit, pickles, sauerkraut, tomatoes, tomato soup), for 12-18 months.
    • Store canned foods and other shelf stable products in a cool, dry place.
    • Don’t purchase or keep bulging, rusted, leaking, or deeply dented cans.
  • Rice and dried pasta lasts 2 years
  • Dried beans are considered non-perishable. Meaning no matter how long you have them, they will not spoil. For freshness and quality however, this item should be consumed within 1-2 years if kept in the pantry.

Internet

Unfortunately, that was all the guidance we could glean from the USDA, but what about our mashed potatoes? Surely our cookies must be rotated back in soon? So we turned to the Internet, and these two sites had the most credible information (I’ve no affiliation with them, BTW):

Freeze-dried Foods

For freeze-dried items, we turned to the manuafacturers’ sites (such as Mountain House, Saratoga Farms, Honeyville, etc) and learned that various of their foods had shelf-lives ranging from 10 to 30 years. So for those items, you’ll also want to simply use the shelf-life recommended by its manufacturer.

By Mojave Crow

Mojave Crow is Brian Helfrich, creator of Inventory Wolf. Brian is an engineer professionally, and a prepper at heart.

See www.helcorp.com/bhelfrich for more.

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