FOOD PRESERVATION

Long Shelf Life Foods: Top-10 Food List for Emergency Situations

U.S. Food Banks Face Major Shortages As Holiday Season Arrives
David Dawson
Written by David Dawson

Preparing to store food for emergency situations or camping experience requires that you have some knowledge about which foods can still be edible after years. Of course, if a disaster strikes and your only food source is the basement where you keep it, you’ll want to find the food in good shape. You don’t want to see it totally gone bad. It should have preserved its qualities and provide you with nutrition, taste and nourishment. So, you need to know which those long shelf life foods are and how to store them properly to prolong their shelf life.

We’ll give you a detailed list of various foods, ingredients, etc., which have years of shelf life, while some can be stored indefinitely and be still edible.

Food in the jars

Product #1 – honey

One of the sweetest and most favorite foods with almost indefinite shelf life is honey. Once, in an Egyptian tomb, archeologists discovered some well-preserved honey and it was still edible, even after several thousand years. If you want to make sure your honey will still be edible when you need it, keep it in a glass jar with a tight lid on.

Honey

The reason why honey can last for centuries is that it has little to almost no water content. Bacteria and other microorganism thrive in moist environment, so as honey doesn’t give these microorganisms access to any water, honey can be virtually clean of bacteria. Not only that, but the sugar content is a natural preservative and adds further to honey’s shelf life.

On top of all that, honey can be used to treat wounds, since it creates a ‘seal’ around the wound, which microorganisms can’t penetrate.

Product #2 – sugar & salt

Sugar also falls in the long-term food storage list. In fact, any type of sugar will do – white, muscovado, raw, brown, etc.

Sugar types

Another such long term storage food is salt. It has preservative properties and is often used for packaged foods. The more salt is added in a meal, the longer it can theoretically last. Of course, you’ll need to keep it in the fridge (if you rely on salt for preserving foods).

Food storage infographic

Otherwise, salt itself can never go bad. Not only that, but you can use salt to treat wounds and use it for other medical purposes.

Product #3 – freeze dried food

Other foods, which have a particularly long shelf life, are dried and freeze dried foods. The list here can be indefinite – from dried fruits and vegetables, to freeze dried meat, etc. There are tons of recipes about drying or freeze drying foods, in order to prolong their shelf life. We also have a great article on how to freeze dry food where we explain the process in detail.

A good example of the dried/freeze dried foods is the pemmican. This is dried buffalo lean meat. This has been a staple food for the Native Americans. An identical food is the meat jerky. Although pemmican is dried above fire, treated with fat and sometimes mixed with some fruits, the idea is the same – drying the meat so that you can keep it almost indefinitely. Meat jerky is also either dried or freeze dried, preserving all the food’s properties and nutrients.

A variation to the meat jerky is the Salami. It’s cured meat, but can still last for a few years. if kept in a safe room. Although these foods can last for years, it’s still advisable to keep them in sealed plastic bags, jars with tight lids, etc.

Pemmican drying

Product #4 – oils and fats

Another type of food, which is popular for its long shelf life is oils and fats. They are often used for preserving other foods and they themselves can last for years (if properly stored). It is true that refined oils sustain oxidative damage over time and can go rancid with a few years, but if you keep the oil in a cold, dark place and with a tight lid on (ideally, the fridge), you can double the time the oil/fat can last. A good example is peanut butter.

Not only is it a food tightly packed with fat, but it also contains vitamin E, which is a natural antioxidant. There’s a lot of this vitamin in peanut butter, so it has two types of defense – fat and vitamin E. An opened jar of peanut butter may have up to a year of shelf life (due to exposure to oxygen).

Apart from peanut butter (and all other oils and fats), we must definitely mention the coconut oil. It’s the only one oil on the market (and in nature), which can last longer than any other oil or fat – up to 2 years without going rancid. It’s true it has a strong coconut flavor, which may not appeal to everyone, but it’s still a great idea to store some. People usually use it for frying, since coconut oil doesn’t go through an oxidative damage as easily. It needs much higher temperatures for the fat molecules to be damaged.

Peanut Butter

Product #5 – dried pasta

Other foods that can last almost indefinitely are dried pasta, like spaghetti, noodles, etc. The reason is again like with honey – they contain very little (no more than 2%) water and moisture, thus creating somewhat ‘vacuum’ around the content, letting no organism thrive in the food’s environment.

This is another reason why dehydrated or freeze dried foods can last for years and decades. It is usually moisture, temperature and light that may contribute to a food gone bad. This is why keeping any long-lasting food in colder and darker rooms is the best way to prolonging their life.

Dried pasta Spaghetti

Product #6 – canned food

Another type of food lasting for decades is canned food. The nice thing about it is that it’s usually ready to eat, but it is stored in vacuum thus removing any chances for bacteria or microorganisms to thrive. Without the moisture in the air, no bacteria can survive. Among canned food you can choose canned beans, meat, fruits (great when you need more freshness in your menu), canned corn, tuna, etc.

You have to know of course that even if canned food has moisture removed, these foods still have some expiration date (even unopened). They can be stored for up to 5 years and still be edible. For more details, you can check the label on the can – you will find more information about when the food was produced and sealed. The expiration date should also be printed explicitly.

You can read more about the expiration date and shelf life of canned foods in this article here.

Canned food

Product #7 – rice

Another purely natural food, which can last more than 25 years, is rice. If kept in a dry, dark and cool place, it probably can be stored for several more years or decades. Rice needs only water to be cooked and if you keep salt nearby and add a bit of canned food to a rice meal, you can sustain yourself for quite some time. Seeds also have very long shelf life. Almost any seed, e.g. alfa alfa, flaxseeds, chia seeds, etc. can remain edible for up to a decade, if properly stored.

Seeds have very strong outer shell, which protects the seed. This shell can withstand even to the powerful stomach acids and the seed can remain intact. This is how the seed preserves itself until it has fruitful environment for sprouting.

White rice long

In order for you to benefit from the seeds (if you decide to store them) is to have a way to grind them. Don’t grind them now and store them for later – once ground, they are exposed to the oxygen and the oxidative process will destroy the nutrients and diminish the seeds’ properties. Seeds can remain edible only if not ground. If you want to do so, use a grinder and eat them within a month. In the meantime store the ground seeds in a tightly sealed package, in cool, dark and dry place.

Product #8 – grains, nuts and dried fruits

In this same category we can also mention that grains and nuts can also be stored for quite some time. They should be kept sealed, isolated from moisture, and in a cool and dark room. If possible, keep them in thick plastic bags, so that they can’t be easily chewed by some vermin or bugs.

Nuts can be eaten straightaway with no special preparation, while grains will have to be cooked to be edible. Once cooked eat them quickly. Keep in mind that any nut or grain, which is broken and the inside area is exposed, must be removed. This area is exposed to bacteria and can go bad with time, compromising the entire nut/grain.

Let’s not forget all the dried fruits you can store. A good example is raisins and dates. These two are packed with sugars (especially the dates) and they can last for years. They have almost all nutrients preserved. Other dried fruits may have additional sugar, but after all storing food for emergency situations is more important than counting calories. And of course, sugar is both a great food preservative and energy booster, so that’s definitely a plus.

Sugar also has a soothing effect on the neurological system, so if you’re stressed sugar can relax you a bit. It’s been researched that sugar lowers the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the bloodstream.

If you want to learn how to dry fruits, we have a great tutorial here, where we talk about methods for different types of fruits.

Dried fruit and nuts

Product #9 – powdered milk, coffee and tea

If you feel like something above is missing, probably you’re right. You may wonder about the dairy products. Well, one such food you can store for many years is powdered milk. And if you want to store cacao powder (this one can also last up to a decade), you can have a nice cacao drink. You can also cook with dried milk.

You have lots of options with this food. If you store flour (5 to 8 years shelf life) and sugar, you can make a simple cake. Back to the powdered milk though – you will know that it’s time to cast it away is when it turns yellow and it doesn’t smell appealing. Get a new one and replenish your food store.

Coffee and tea may not be considered products, which can save lives during disasters or crises, but they can still be comfort food. We need this type of food or drink, to keep our minds soothed and relaxed. Many people, even in their normal daily lives, need to drink coffee or tea daily, and can’t imagine their days without these.

If you’re one of these people, you should have plenty of these stored. Always keep them well sealed, away from moisture and heat. Since teas are basically dried herbs, they can catch mold if stored nearby a moisture source. If you store instant coffee, it’s probably already in its own sealed package so no worries about those.

Coffee and tea on the table

Product #10 – chocolate

Another similar comfort food is chocolate. It can also have very long shelf life but the best way to keep it edible is for it to remain at room temperature. People may think that keeping it in the fridge may prolong its life, but that’s not the case. The shelf life doesn’t change, but if you keep it in the fridge and take it out later, it may ‘sweat’, that is, melt strangely. So, you don’t really need to keep it in a cold place. A normal room temperature is best.

Chocolate has also sugar in it, which acts as a preservative.  With time you may notice white areas on the chocolate, as it gets older with time. This is a process when the cacao butter rises to the surface of the chocolate, but doesn’t mean it’s inedible. It’s still fine, but the chocolate may have lost some taste and flavor.

Chocolate

Finally, if you prefer to store already prepared and cooked (and freeze dried) food, without you having to temper with it, one of the best food producers on the market (and among survivalists) is Mountain House. They sell virtually any type of meal, any flavor, etc.

Almost anything you can think of, they thought of as well. They make freeze dried food, which can almost literally, last forever. You can purchase in bulk amounts to fill in your food stores quickly. Other similar food manufacturers are Provident Pantry (mostly animal products), Honeyville Farms, Future Essentials, etc.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Dawson
David Dawson

David Dawson is a retired security specialist with over 20 years of experience. He worked for a secret manufacturing facilities and hospitals in Illinois. David's responsibility was to protect people in case of any disaster or cataclysm that might occur. Now he keeps on doing it through teaching others about how to prepare and survive flood, earthquake or even war.

  • Jason Perez

    This list is excellent. I agree with honey but the honey should be 100% natural, one way to find out is to check the expiration date If it has an expiration date then it’s not natural. Honey never spoils and it is a great source of energy.

  • Indeed, honey that is 100% natural doesn’t spoil – if stored in proper conditions. However mot of the honey you can find in stores has added sugar and other elements.

    • starri

      Buy Local, you will know what’s in it.

  • Alex Lauther

    Yes, oatmeal! You can make a lot of healthy snacks with a bowl of oatmeal grains. It makes great with dried fruits too. You can add milk or honey for added taste. :) I would also like to recommend kimchi. It is one of my favorite Korean side dishes and definitely will store up to your fridge for a long time.

    • David Dawson

      You are certainly right! Oats are unbelievably nutritious, rich in antioxidants, contain powerful soluble fiber, and they can significantly lower cholesterol levels.

  • Josh Bolton

    I love canned food for some reason ,and always keep a steady stack of them in my cellar.
    Do you have any advice regarding keeping drinks fresh in the case of no electricity?

    • David Dawson

      You can use a MittiCool refrigerator or Wakati Solar powered device

  • Ner Yordan

    what are the ingredients or preservatives for the longest shelf life for homemade spanish sardines?

  • David Dawson

    The following ingredients should do it :
    • 1/2 k. sardines
    • 1 pc. carrot
    • 3 pcs. pickled cucumber
    • 2 pcs. bay leaf
    • ground pepper
    • salt
    • 1/2 cup olive oil
    • 1/2 cup water
    • fish sauce
    siling labuyo

  • leveraction

    Be careful with Pasta.Most if not all Pasta will have tiny larvae/eggs in them that will form little bugs and Pantry Moths if just taken home and stored. I put all my Pasta in the Freezer for a minimum of ten days and then seal it in airtight containers before storing on the shelf. This freezing process kills any larvae/eggs once frozen. You can use 1/2 gallon Ball Canning Jars which have good height and a lot of space for Pasta storage.

  • David Dawson

    What an amazing idea! Personally, I would have just stored my pasta without considering the possibility of larvae interfering with the shelf life. Thanks for your views.