Here's a hot topic on the minds of many of our friends out there. With all these emergency directives going on around the United States, I keep seeing a particular claim pretty much everywhere – blogs, videos, podcasts, radio shows and even advertisements proclaiming how easy it is for you to store dry foods for up to 25 years. You will sometimes even see us talk about companies and products who state this. We have one link on our website to an affiliate program we enjoy for freeze dried foods that make this statement, too.
The question, though which needs to be asked, is not CAN you store dry foods for that long, but SHOULD YOU store foods for that long. Because the simple answer to the first question is: YES, you CAN or rather MAY be able to store some foods for up to 25 years - in a dark basement, root cellar, or closet, hidden away from the world, under controlled conditions.
You see, certain foods, when stored correctly, ARE shelf stable for as long as 25 years. Many people claim that grains of wheat discovered in Egypt, dated to over 4000 years old were tested and determined to still be edible, even after that length of time. I used to have some wheat kernels that came from a company touting the fact that containers COULD be stored for 35-50 years.
Notice the words I keep using – CAN, MAY, COULD, SHOULD. THESE are key.
The first thing to know here is that these claims are made based on the fact that the food would be stored under optimal conditions for storing. What ARE optimal conditions???
According to Utah State University, the optimal temperature for storing many foods for long term is 40-60 degrees. Over the years, I have seen variances on this going up to as high as 50 degrees F on the low end, and 70 degrees on the high end. BUT we will go by the current standard as this IS something that experts in food storage study on a regular basis. On their website, USU states, “United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, states that for every 10.8 degrees in temperature rise you decrease the shelf life of stored food by half.” Imagine that! BY HALF!
This means: If the proclaimed storage life of a food is 25 years at 40-60 degrees, yet you store it at 70.8 degrees, you could have already cut shelf life to 12.5 years.
We have seen how easily it is for higher temperatures to decrease the storage time, or even destroy the dry goods you have stored. This can happen very quickly without your knowledge - especially if temperatures rise extremely high. Many people do consider temperatures when storing foods, and they make certain they have a location that stays within this range. BUT, in many homes, that location is within the walls of the living structure! THIS can be an issue - Americans are so used to central air conditioning and heating in our homes. But what happens without power in the summer-time? Temps in the home can go up in no time at all, even with open windows and fans running.
In recent years there have been issues with rolling brown outs in cities and states out west, especially CA. Right now, Sept 2020, there are a lot of overwhelming forest fires in the west and many areas are told to shut off AC units and don’t open windows. Arizona is a great example this year. Many typical daily temperatures have been well above 100 degrees F!
What happens if you live in an area of the US where brown-outs and black-outs happen frequently? Or you have a power outage as we did in 2018 after a massive storm? What if you are storing your dry goods out in an out-building on your property and temperatures rise? How about in a room in the home that doesn’t have as good cooling as the rest of the home? You must take those times into consideration if the temperature of your storage facility rises above the standard optimal temps for food storage. This can apply to canned foods as well.
We had a personal experience with high temperatures when we moved to West Virginia. We packed up a lot of our storage items into large shipping crates to have them moved and delivered to our new home. We had some delays in settlement and ended up storing our foods and supplies in those crates outdoors, late June for over 2 weeks. Because of this, knowing the temperatures had reached well over 150 degrees inside our crates, as we opened foods from our supplies, I checked to ensure they were good and had not spoiled or gone rancid. Sadly, a few things, were spoiled. For example, white rice, brown rice and some pastas were completely inedible – you could SMELL how bad they were! The brown rice I could justify because it has a shorter storage time than white rice. But white rice has a much longer shelf life as does pasta. This was store bought pasta, which one might not think would go rancid quickly. Yet, it had.
Heat is just one environmental influence which can affect your storage time. The other end of the spectrum is dangerous, too – freezing. Freezing can compromise can and jar seals, cause jars to rupture as they freeze and thaw, and even affect the storage life of dry goods. This last one is especially true if as the temps change up and down condensation forms inside your wheat kernels, for example. This may be extremely rare, especially since the majority of dry grains have an extremely low moisture content when stored. But I have had it happen to a bucket of wheat. The moisture caused the wheat to be extremely bad when I opened that bucket – again, you could smell the stench.
ALL of these details MUST be taken into consideration when you are thinking you are putting dry foods up for LONG term storage – especially since, if only 10.8 degrees higher decreases your storage time by half, that temperature increase can happen way too easily for us to disregard it. You know, in our own home, during the SUMMER MONTHS WITH AN AC RUNNING, our house temperature during the day is set around 72 degrees F. That is already at the point of compromise for long term food storage calculations. We keep our thermostat a bit lower than many. You see, according to recent releases from the US Department of Energy reported by CNN, “The US Department of Energy also encourages homeowners to keep their thermostats at 78 degrees when they're home.” If you are keeping your food storage in the closet or a storeroom because it is the only place you have, then you may decrease your storage time dramatically - to roughly around 8.5 years or so.
So you see, when we go back to the initial question of CAN YOU store foods for 25+/- years? Yes, you MAY be able to under optimal conditions, but the REAL question is SHOULD YOU, and I would have to say emphatically – NO. You SHOULD NOT try to store foods for more than a few years at a time.
Some other reasons why I recommend not storing long term is this: In the 30+ years I have been into food storage, there have been several occasions where my household has had to live off stored food for periods of time. From experience, I have watched as both children and adults go through the process of transition as they go from eating regular daily meals to eating food stored for “emergencies.” Through those times I have learned a lot about different types of foods as well as how to use them.
Here are some tips:
1) One of the first principles I was taught decades ago is that a family needs to store foods they eat, then eat what they have stored through rotating your storage. What it means is this – whatever you currently eat on a daily basis is what you ought to store as food storage. But it also means that you need to learn NOW how to eat more basic foods and those foods which are more healthy for you and your family.
When someone first told me this, I had two young children. They ate a lot of instant cold cereals. I sat down, and watched how much they ate at one sitting, then I calculated how many boxes I would need. I was stunned! It was almost enough to fill one of their bedrooms in that tiny little house we were living in at the time! I would need one room just for breakfasts! So, I started making changes right then and there.
I can promise you that, if all we had for food storage because of space limitation was that instant cold cereals, our children living on Captain Crunch and Pop Tarts for several months or a year is not going to deliver a healthy family. Please know I am not picking on anyone – these happened to be some of the favorites of my kids when they were little! However, I do recommend you take the time NOW to teach your family to eat what you can easily store longer term in as small a space as possible. You will find by doing this, you will get more meals stored in a smaller amount of space!
You can make a lot of wonderful meals from the dry ingredients as well as canned foods you can keep pantry stable. I plan to go into more of these ideas in future videos..
2) If you are eating what you store, your food items will naturally rotate through and constantly stay refreshed. This will end up reducing the "threat" to your storage time from fluctuating temperatures. There is something else to consider, though, if you spring strange foods on family in an urgent need, the following is a strong possibility:
~ Complaining leads to conflict and a lack of peace in the home. If you are already under stress because of the drama of the situation, it is best to try to reduce as much stress as possible. This is done by changing the diet now, when life is more comfy. But remember to change somewhat slowly. An idea I used is to have the kids eat oatmeal once or twice a week. I also learned to make homemade granola. Doing this little by little helped my family move away from sugary cereals that were low in nutrition and into foods that were much healthier over all.
~ Family may not eat what you cook if it is foreign to them. You could end up with a lot of wasted foods. OR even more complaining ensues because they are HUNGRY from not having eaten. EVEN WORSE STILL, if people get “HANGRY” (hungry and angry all rolled into one unpleasant individual!) those yummy foods you stored for special treats could fall victim to theft as they try to compensate for their lack of comfort. When the disappearance of yummy foods is discovered it causes more conflict. A never-ending cycle.
3) Another issue I have seen over the years are those folks who store 500 lbs of whole grain wheat berries in buckets or cans, thinking they will use it to make breads, rolls, and such during times of trouble. All sounds good except your family eats only white bread. OR, they only eat store bought bread and have never had homemade.
Homemade breads are often quite different in texture and taste from store-bought. Instead, start now transitioning their taste buds.
4) FIBER! Often, the stored foods, especially whole grains, have a higher fiber content than what the average American is used to. If you suddenly start feeding high fiber foods to someone not used to it. . . let’s just say discomfort can happen. Let’s be as direct as possible, and yet polite as possible. Diarrhea, gas & gas pains, bloating, and over all illness can ensue. NOT something you want to face in an emergency.
Nutrition can also become a problem if bodies are not properly using foods they are ingesting. Especially when someone is expelling waste almost as swiftly as food is consumed because of intestinal disturbance. If your family is not used to eating what you are storing, you may find you suddenly go through your toilet paper storage a lot faster than anticipated, too! Changing a diet dramatically like that WILL CAUSE dietary distress.
To sum it all up –
CAN you store certain foods for up to 25 years? Yes, it MAY be possible to do so if ALL the conditions are optimal.
SHOULD YOU store foods for up to 25 years? I don’t ever recommend it when I talk with people about the topic. Because, a) the true storage time may have actually been reduced due to the storage temperatures, moisture, and other environmental conditions. and b) if you are storing it for 25 years, it isn’t something your family normally eats or is used to, and it may cause all kinds of conflicts should you suddenly need to eat it in a pinch!
Store the foods your family WILL eat, but do everything you can now while you can to transition them into a eating habits that are healthier and fit easier into the food storage lifestyle.
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Judith has over 30 years experience in food storage, herbs, essential oils, and prepping. She was a captain in the USAF-AUX, FEMA trained, Community Emergency Response Team member and NRA marksmanship award recipient. She shares her experiences with her readers offering tips and recipes.
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