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Check Your Hurricane Food Stash! How Long Do Non-Perishable Foods Really Last?

Posted in Our Blog on July 2, 2024

With more and more tropical activity developing and hurricane season in full swing, you may be thinking about your hurricane food stash. How long do these non-perishable foods really last?

Here’s your cue to inventory your hurricane food items and other non-perishable foods in your home.

Experts Suggest Having a Supply of Food and Water on Hand in Case of Emergency

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends at least a two-week supply of both food and water.

“Even though it is unlikely that an emergency would cut off your food supply for two weeks, consider maintaining a supply that will last that long.”

Plan for a gallon of water per person per day.

If you lose power, use your available food wisely.

First, consume perishable food from the refrigerator, pantry, garden, etc. These foods will be the first to go bad. Maximize your hurricane food stash by selecting from these items first.

Then, use foods from the freezer. FEMA recommends reducing the number of times you access the freezer and know exactly what is in it by posting a list of the contents on the door.

“In a well-filled, well-insulated freezer, foods will usually still have ice crystals in their centers (meaning food are safe to eat for at least two days).”

FEMA also recommends checking that the seal on your freezer door is in good condition. A leaking seal will not hold temperature as well.

Then, move on to the non-perishable foods in staples on your hurricane food stash.

Has Your Hurricane Food Stash Made It Through a Few Seasons?

Thankfully many areas have not seen a major hurricane for a few seasons. Some of your non-perishable hurricane food items may have been sitting for a while.

Now is a good time to inspect them and check those dates.

But how long do those foods truly last???

How Long Do Non-Perishable Foods Last?

There are a variety of non-perishable food or “shelf stable” foods that are great to keep on hand in case of an emergency.

These include:

  • Jerky
  • Canned ham
  • Canned and bottled foods
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Spices
  • Oils
  • Foods processed in aseptic or retort packages

Foods labeled, “Keep Refrigerated” are not shelf stable.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), shelf stable foods must be in some way to destroy foodborne microorganisms known cause illness or spoil food. These foods are generally packaged in sterile, airtight containers.

Infant formula and some baby foods are the only federally regulated food requiring a “use-by,” “sell-by,” or “best-if-used-by” date. Though at least 20 states require it. Even those with these dates, the concept applies only to quality – not safety.

In most cases, products with a “sell-by” date can be safely consumed after the indicated date. For products with a “use-by” date, it is generally an indication that quality beyond that date may suffer.

Canned Foods

Canned foods are great for long-term storage. This method involves placing food in airtight, vacuum-sealed containers that are subject to heat processing at 250° F to destroy microorganisms and inactivate enzymes. The cooling process creates a vacuum in the container, preventing new bacteria from entering the container.

Commercially canned items, as seen in items you buy from the grocery store, are subject to tightly controlled conditions. However, they are not foolproof.

Canned goods may rust over time, become dented, or otherwise compromised.

Sometimes, you even have internal corrosion. High-acid foods like canned tomatoes contain natural chemicals that eat at the can from the inside.

Canned goods are also vulnerable to heat. Temperatures of over 100° F can increase the risk of spoilage, so store them in a cool, dry place. Never near the stove, under the sink, or in potentially damp areas like the basement or garage.

Things to Look For

Discard rusted cans. If it rubs away with a paper towel or finger, it is likely surface rust and still okay to consume. Otherwise, they can have tiny holes that allow bacteria to sneak inside and spoil the food or make you sick.

Cans with small dents but in otherwise good shape are likely safe. If they are deeply dented (a dent so large that you can lay a finger into it), discard it. Dents with sharp points can have small holes. Those near the seam can compromise the seal. Better to be safe than sorry.

USDA Recommended Storage

Low-acid canned goods like canned meat and poultry, stews, soups (except tomato), spaghetti, potatoes, corn, carrots, spinach, beans, beets, peas, and pumpkin can sit on the shelf for 2 to 5 years.

High-acid foods like juices (tomato, orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit), tomatoes, grapefruit, pineapple, apples and apple products, mixed fruit, peaches, pears, plums, berries, pickles, sauerkraut, and foods treated with vinegar-based sauces can sit on the shelf for 12 to 18 months.

Canned Ham

Some canned hams are shelf stable. These hams are usually smaller than 3 pounds and have been processed to kill potentially harmful microorganisms.

Some canned hams, on the other hand, are sold refrigerated and include “Keep Refrigerated” on the label. These items are not shelf stable at room temperatures.

Things to Look For

Certain thermophylic bacteria that may be found in canned ham can begin multiplying if stored above 122° F, resulting in swelling or souring of the product. If you notice this, do not eat it.

Additionally, canned hams that indicate “Keep Refrigerated” on the label have a shorter shelf life. These items may contain spoilage bacteria or those that can cause foodborne illness.

USDA Recommended Storage

Shelf stable canned hams can be stored in the pantry for up to 2 years at room temperature. Those requiring refrigeration can be stored for up to 6 to 8 months.

Dried Foods

One of the oldest forms of food preservation is drying. Our methods have come a long way from sun-drying and salt-drying. Tools such as dehydrators and freeze dryers are a game changer in food preservation technology.

Jerky, powdered milk, dried beans and peas, dried potatoes, fruits and vegetables, pasta, and rice have extremely high shelf lives.

Prior to canning, salt was used as a food additive. For thousands of years, cultures across the world applied salt to foods to bind or remove water, which reduces the growth of microorganisms. This helps prevent spoilage and reduces foodborne illness.

Things to Look For

Dried foods should be stored in sealed containers and kept away from moisture. For best results, they should be in vacuum sealed bags to maintain freshness.

USDA Recommended Storage

Individual dried food items have recommended storage periods.

A few examples include:

  • Jerky, commercially packaged: 12 months
  • Jerky, home-dried: 1 to 2 months
  • Hard, dried sausage: 6 weeks in pantry
  • USDA Dried Egg Mix: refrigerated, 12 to 15 months
  • Dried egg whites: no limit as long as cool and dry; refrigerate after opening
  • MRE’s (Meal, Ready to Eat): between 1 month (stored above 120° F) and 7 years (stored below 60°F) depending on temperature.
  • Tuna and other seafood in retort pouches: 18 months
  • Meat or poultry products in retort packages: refer to manufacturer details on package
  • Rice and dried pasta: 2 years

Have a Plan

Now is a great time to go over your hurricane. What is your threshold for evacuation. Do you have a good supply of medications. Is your first aid kit stocked?

It is better to have a plan and not need it than to need a plan and not have it.

Stay in Touch with Make Food Safe!

If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like Check Your Hurricane Food Stash!, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)