In the emergency preparedness and food storage industries anything that can be swallowed has a shelf life of 25-30 years, or so some food storage companies claim. Businesses that have been around for a few months or years are marketing their own freeze-dried line of meals with up to 3 decades of shelf life. How can that be?
The truth is there is a lot that goes into making a food storage entree last 20-30 years (not talking about individual food items like strawberries or corn but meals/entrees like Beef Stroganoff or Chicken Stew).
Below is a list of the procedures and processes that must go into long term entrees:
1. Packaging, you need an airtight enclosure that keeps out light and moisture. The tried and tested packaging within the industry is the steel can. Found in various sizes, the #10 can size if the most popular. It holds about 12 cups of product assuming a 1″ headspace at the top. While metalized pouches are relatively new there is some skepticism out there with their shelf life performance. Some thinker pouches have shown to hold up well. Mountain House has tested freeze dried meals in their high quality pouches after 30 years and found the food safe and enjoyable to eat. Some companies skimp and offer a really thin mylar type bag. Only time will tell how those products fare but if it were me I’d make sure that my pouch was a 4-5 mil thick or more.
Aside from the container you need to get rid of the oxygen left in the can or pouch after the food has been put it. Most companies drop in 02 absorbers, while some still use a more inefficient and outdated technique called nitrogen flushing. Both aim to remove oxygen in the package so bacteria cannot grow. Look for companies that use 02 absorbers (dessicants) as they are the best way to get residual oxygen levels down to the acceptable level of 2%.
2. Food Ingredients. For a meal consisting of various components to really last 20-30 years in a can, you need to include only ingredients suited for the long haul. Certain foods fare MUCH better than others over time. Making a shelf stable meal isn’t as simple as grabbing any ol’ family recipe and putting it in a can with an 02 absorber. In fact, legitimate companies hire food scientists with experience in long term food to help design the meals to assure that the ingredients that are in the meals will stand the test of time.
3. Testing. Accelerated shelf life studies are the only way to theoretically test shelf life claims without waiting the entire 30 years to pass. Unfortunately these tests still take a long time to conduct. About 1/4-1/3 of the time, so if you want to test for 30 year shelf life it can take up to 10 years to conduct this test.
For any company that has been in business for a short period of time you can safely assume that they haven’t finished the testing, let alone paid for it to be done in the first place as it is VERY pricey. Instead many of these companies make their best effort to copy the proven leaders and hope for the best while other companies know full well that they don’t plan to be around in 20-30 years to have to answer to their shelf life claims so they don’t care.
1. Storage Conditions. Storing the food in the right conditions are vital. Sadly, the ugly truth is that many companies put an unreasonable storage condition stipulation in fine print so they can easily absolve themselves from responsibility and liability when the product doesn’t last as long as once claimed.
I was at Costco the other day and came across this kit seen to the right. It is from Food For Health International, another company that has jumped into the food storage arena in the past few years. They claim 20+ years if stored in a 50-60 degree setting. I don’t know about you but how often do you think that is happening? Most people are storing their foods in 70-80 degree temps. Want to know what this food will look like in 5-10 years in normal storing conditions? Spend $70 and get back to me in a few years will ya?
In summary, as you look at adding entrees to your reserves do so with some due diligence. Question the seller and find out before laying down your cash for something that might just be fools gold.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
With so many brands that haven’t had the chance to stand the test of time it is a good idea to employ the following tips to make sure your money is going to products that are likely to perform as advertised:
1. Buy food brands that have been around for a long time.
Mountain House and Apline Aire who have been around long enough to show that their food stands the test of time. Many people have tested the food 30 years later and had positive experiences. Others such as Provident Pantry have been around for over a decade and some other brands like Saratoga Farms are quickly approaching that milestone.
2. Buy product packaged in was way that is known for long shelf life.
As we mentioned above steel cans have shown to help entree meals stay good for a long time. Higher quality metalized pouches have shown to be capable as well but there are still plenty of companies such as Food for Health and Wise Food Storage that is using thin pouches that over time will not perform as well as others. Like the addage says, you will get what you pay for.
3. Store in as cool of a storage place as possible.
As mentioned above this is the most important thing you can do to help your food last a long time. Whether it’s a mylar pouch or steel can the lower temp you can go the better.
That concludes our post on What is the True Shelf Life with Food Storage.