Foods with a Long Shelf Life (and will actually get you through a disaster)

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The Red Cross and FEMA now recommend having at least a 2-week supply of food and water at home.  They recommend non-perishable foods with long shelf lives.

This list of foods with long shelf lives — most of which can be found at your local supermarket — is a good place to get started.

Important Note about Long-Shelf Life Foods

All of the foods in this list have long shelf lives even without special storage.  However, almost all foods will start going bad if they are stored in hot, humid conditions.  To beat these conditions, you will need to package the foods in a special way.

Further, if you have packages of grains, flour, pasta, etc. sitting around in your pantry, insects will eventually get to them.  Those damn weevils and pantry moths can somehow even get into sealed packages!

Plus, foods like rice often already have insect eggs in them (you just can’t see them) and those insects will hatch in the packaging if you let the food sit long enough.

For foods to last a long time, you will need to:

pantry moth
If you keep foods in your pantry long enough, you are sure to get infested with these moths.

List of Long Shelf Life Foods

1. Commercially Canned Foods

canned foods shelf life

For people just getting started with emergency preparedness, canned foods are the best way to go.   You can get them in the supermarket, they won’t break like glass jars, and there are tons of options.

As for shelf life, canned goods do have a “use by” date on them.  However, studies have shown that canned foods actually are good for decades and potentially forever.  They might have some nutrient breakdown or get mushy, but they will still be safe to eat.  Learn more about canned food shelf life here.

Canned foods aren’t perfect for emergency preparedness though.  They are usually loaded with sodium or sugars.  And a lot of canned foods simply taste gross.  So, try to include other foods in your stockpile as well.

*Don’t forget to stockpile a manual can opener with the canned goods! In a pinch, you can use one of these methods for opening a can without a can opener.

2. Sugar, Honey, and Other Sugars

Archaeologists have found honey in Egyptian pyramids that is 3,000 years old and still edible. Likewise, refined sugar can last forever.  It might become rock-hard or lumpy, but will still be edible.

Here’s what you can expect of shelf life from sugars: 

  • Maple syrup: About two years in an unopened glass jar.
  • Corn syrup: Forever shelf life, though the color might change.
  • Molasses: Lasts 10 years in a sealed, unopened jar in the pantry. Once opened, it will last 1-5 years in the pantry.
  • Powered sugar: Forever shelf life
  • Stevia: About 4 years

3. Freeze Dried Foods

Freeze Dried Strawberries

Freeze drying is a process where the moisture is removed from food while leaving the nutrient contents intact.  The resulting foods are delicious and crisp.  You can eat them as-is or soak them in water to rehydrate.

All sorts of foods can be freeze dried.  These include: meat, cheese, dairy, fruits, veggies, and even entire meals.

Almost all the “emergency food” you see sold is freeze dried.  When packaged properly (meaning in an airtight package with oxygen absorbers), freeze dried foods can last for 25+ years.

4. Dehydrated Fruits and Veggies

dehydrated vegetables

Dehydrating uses heat to remove approximately 75-95% of moisture from foods.  Without moisture, the rate of spoilage decreases drastically.  Dehydrated fruits can last a particularly long time because their sugars act as a natural preservative.

Without any special packaging (such as storing dried fruits or veggies in Tupperware), they will likely last 6 months to 1 year.  If you take the extra step of packaging them in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, then dried foods can last 5-15 years.  This is how emergency food brands package their dehydrated foods.

For more, read the Expert-Level Guide to Dehydrating Every Type of Food

5. Jerky

Jerky is also made with a dehydrator.  However, it’s a bit trickier to dehydrate at home because you need to get the temperature up high enough to kill any bacteria.

The jerky you buy in the supermarket can last 1-2 years unopened in your pantry.

With homemade jerky, the shelf life is much shorter: anywhere from 1 week to 4 months. The variation in shelf life has to do with how much fat is in the meat, storage conditions, and the amount of moisture remaining in the jerky.

6. Dried Beans

USAID says that dry beans have a shelf life of at least 1 year when stored in a cool, dry place but can last indefinitely.  Beans will start to lose vitamins at around 2-3 years.  But, so long as they stayed dry and didn’t begin to grow mold, they will still be fine to eat.

Just remember that dry beans take a long time to cook.  If you plan on eating them during an emergency, make sure you have a way to cook them.

7. Jarred Food (Commercially-Made)

The food that you buy in jars in the supermarket is preserved by canning.  It’s the same method that preserves food in cans.

In general, food in cans will last longer than in jars.  The jars are more likely to have issues with their seals, breakage, or deterioration from light.  However, you can still expect jarred food to last at least 5 years.

Remember, that  “Best By” or “Best Before” date is not a safety date.  It’s the manufacturer’s estimate of how long the food will remain at peak quality.

Here are just some jarred foods to consider for your emergency stockpile:

  • Jams
  • Applesauce
  • Pickles
  • Peppers
  • Pasta sauce
  • Baby food

8. Home Canned Food

canned food in jars

Canning is a way to preserve food at home, and it is actually pretty simple with a good pressure canner. Home canned foods won’t last as long as commercially-canned ones, but you can still expect them to last 2-5 years.

9. Pasta

Pasta generally has a “best by” date of 1-2 years.  It will easily last 2 years past this date in your pantry without any special storage. When in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, pasta will last 20 to 30 years!

10. White Rice

If stored in a cool, dry place, white rice can last forever.  This is not the case with brown rice though.

Unlike white rice, brown rice hasn’t had its bran removed. The bran is actually quite high in oils, which go rancid fairly quickly.  That’s why brown rice will only last up to 1 year in your pantry.

11. Whole Grains

Whole grains still have their outer shell (hull) intact.  This acts as a natural preservative, keeping out air and light that would cause degradation. The grains with harder hulls (hard grains) will last longer than those with soft hulls (soft grains).

Like with virtually every food on this long shelf life list, you should store whole grains in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. They will still last a long time in a sealed container in your pantry though.

Expected shelf life in a cool, dry pantry:

  • Wheat: 2 years
  • Barley: 2 years
  • Kamut: 2 years
  • Millet: 2 years
  • Rolled oats: 2 years
  • Rye: 2 years
  • Spelt: 2 years
  • Alfalfa: 4 years
  • Buckwheat: 2 years
  • Quinoa: 3 years

Shelf life when stored in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers:

  • Soft grains (such as barley, quinoa, and rye): 8 years
  • Hard grains (such as wheat and buckwheat): 10 to 12 years

Just like with dry beans, whole grains can take a very long time to cook.  Remember to plan a way to cook without electricity for using them.

12. Seeds

Seeds are an excellent source of nutrients.  They are loaded with protein, iron, magnesium, healthy fats, and lots of vitamins.  They also are one of the foods with the longest shelf lives without you having to do much of anything.

In a cool, dry pantry, you can expect most seeds to last 2-5 years.  Bear in mind that temperature really matters for seed shelf life because they have natural oils that go rancid from heat.  The USDA states that “Each 5.6oC. (10.08oF) drop in temperature doubles the storage life of the seeds”.

13. Nuts

walnuts shelf life

Like seeds, nuts are loaded with nutrients and naturally have a long shelf life (especially if they are kept in their shells).

The difference is that nuts usually have a much higher fat content than seeds.  This fat will eventually go rancid, especially in hot, humid conditions.   Fattier nuts like pistachios will go bad very quickly.

Because nuts are so expensive, I wouldn’t try to store them for years as part of a long-term food storage plan.  However, if you keep them cool and remember to rotate them, they are a great emergency food.

Notes:

  1. Nuts in their shelf will last 25-50% longer than shelled nuts.
  2. Whole nuts last approximately 50% longer than nut pieces.
  3. Some roasted nuts may only have ¼ of the shelf life of raw nuts.
  4. The shelf life of peanut butter depends on whether it is “natural” or has preservatives.

Shelf life of nuts in months

 In pantry at 50FIn pantry at 68F
Almond, shelled84
Almond, in shell166
Macadamia, shelled125
Peanut, shelled94
Peanut, in shell96
Pistachio, shelled31

14. Powdered Milk

Powdered milk is made by freeze-drying milk.  It is then stored in sealed packaging which doesn’t allow air or moisture to pass through.

If you keep the powdered milk in its packaging, it is a forever shelf life food.  Even after it has been opened, it will still probably last 2-10 years, so long as you keep it away from humidity and heat.

15. Salt and Bouillon

Salt is used as a preservative for food, so it is no surprise that it lasts forever.  Instead of just stockpiling salt, you might want to stockpile bouillon in your emergency supplies too.  It also has a forever shelf life but has more flavor than salt alone – which can do wonders for spicing up bland emergency meals.

16. Instant Mashed Potatoes

Instant mashed potatoes are one of my favorite backpacking foods and they are also great for emergency prep.  The flakes come sealed in packages, usually with 2-4 servings per package.  This makes them very easy to ration.

I also love that instant potatoes can be made with straight-up water – no heating required.  If you don’t have an emergency stove or are unable to use it for whatever reason (or, it’s raining while camping and you don’t feel like cooking), you can just add water to the flakes and stir.

In sealed packaging, instant potatoes have a shelf life of 5-15 years (despite what the “Use by” date says).  Once opened, you can expect them to last 6-12 months in a cool, dry place.

17. Cocoa and Cacao Powder

Unsweetened cocoa powder can last 6 years past its expiration date, though it will lose some of its taste over time. Just don’t eat it if it has a moldy, unpleasant odor.

Cacao is a less-processed version of cocoa.  It won’t last as long, but you can expect a shelf life of 2-3 years if stored in a cool, dry place.

18. Flour

Flour is made from ground-up grains.  Because the hulls have been removed or destroyed, flours won’t last as long as whole grains.  However, you can still get a very long shelf life.

In a cool, dry pantry, you can expect a shelf life of approximately 1 to 2 years for white flour.  Whole wheat flour has more oils in it, so will only last a few months.

In a Mylar bag with oxygen absorbers, white and whole wheat flour will last around 10 years.

non perishable foods
TIP: It’s a lot easier to rotate through your food if you keep it organized!

19. Cooking Oils

In a cool place, most cooking oils will last at least 2 years and probably a lot longer.

Heat is the biggest enemy of oils.  In hot temperatures, some oils – like coconut and olive oil – will go bad very quickly.  You will notice a nasty smell.  For emergency preparedness, it’s better to stick with sunflower, soy, and canola oils.

20. Herbs and Spices

shelf life of herbs and spices

Herbs and spices are generally dehydrated.  Without much moisture in them, most will last 2-5 years without any special storage.  These are great to include in your emergency food storage to add flavor to bland survival meals.

21. Crackers

Many supermarket crackers will easily last 6-9 months in the pantry with no special storage. Some types of crackers have even longer shelf lives.  Hardtack biscuits, for example, have a forever shelf life and were a main food for sailors over the centuries.

22. Jell-O Mix

In its unopened package, Jell-O mix can potentially last forever.  Once you open the package though, you’ll need to use the powder within 3 months.

23. Vinegar

The acidity in vinegar acts as a natural preservative, giving it a forever shelf life.  You don’t even need to refrigerate vinegar to get this long shelf life.  Just make sure you avoid vinegars with herbs in them as those herbs might go bad eventually.

24. Some Condiments

Soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce will last forever in your pantry.  Ketchup also has a long shelf life and will last for around 2 years past the expiration date.  So take a stroll down the condiments aisle and look at the shelf lives.  You’ll find lots of good options for your emergency food storage.

25. Baking Soda, Powder, and Yeast

There’s not really much point in stockpiling flour if you don’t have a way to make things out of it.  So remember to including some baking soda, baking powder, and/or yeast in your emergency food stockpile.

These are all long shelf life foods, even without special storage methods.  You’ll also want to look up some recipes for solar ovens for making bread loafs, or learn how to make flatbread in a skillet.

  • Baking soda, unopened: Indefinitely (but will lost potency after approximately 3 years)
  • Baking powder, unopened: 6-12 months
  • Dry yeast, unopened: 2-4 years past its expiration date

26. Instant Coffee

Coffee isn’t really a food, but it’s something that a lot of us wouldn’t want to live without.  The good news is that instant coffee (which is made with freeze drying) has a forever shelf life.

Before You Begin Stockpiling these Foods…

All of these foods can last a very long time. Some even have shelf lives of “forever.”  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will last through a disaster.  Nor does it mean you’ll be able to eat them during a disaster.

For example:

  • Honey lasts forever. But it will be useless if you stored it in a glass jar which smashed during a hurricane.
  • Pasta can last 5+ years, but is useless if you don’t have water and an emergency stove for cooking it.
  • Dehydrated foods don’t require cooking, but will be useless if rodents or pests get at them…

Making an emergency food stockpile requires careful planning. You’ll need to consider things like:

  • Where you will keep your emergency foods
  • How you will package them
  • Nutritional value
  • Ways to cook the foods without power
  • Water required for cooking food…

These are things we talk about in our mini eBook guide How to Build Your 30 Day Emergency Food Supply. You can buy it here.

I’d also recommend getting our eBook How to Go from Zero to Prepped in 7 Days.  You can get that book, the food book, and 5 more titles as part of our eBook bundle here.


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