If you’ve been into food storage for more than just a few weeks, you know that shelf life and storage conditions are key. In spite of everything we do to maintain a cool, dry, and dark storage area, the fact is, food gets old. Just like you and me.
No, it doesn’t get wrinkly and gray, but it does change in some important ways, and you should know about them.
Old food loses its flavor. In a future world where food may be scarce, flavor may not matter.
It loses its texture. I had a few jars of pickles stored for 18 month or so, and when I opened one of them, I noticed the pickle slices were somewhat mushy. Still edible, still had most of their original flavor, but no longer even slightly crispy. Somewhere there must be a recipes that call for mushy pickles, but I chopped them up and added them to egg salad and tuna mixtures. They didn’t go to waste, and at least the flavor was still there. By the way, old tuna also gets mushy-ish.
Nutrition is depleted. Over time, old food may look the same and might even taste the same, but it won’t be nearly as nutritious. You won’t be able to tell by just looking or smelling, but you can count on it being less nutritious.
Foods you wouldn’t expect to, become rancid. I was stunned the first time I opened a box of old saltines, expecting to serve them with a batch of homemade soup. They smelled horribly rancid. Stomach turning, actually. Rancid foods are unhealthy and should be tossed out. Protecting them from oxygen, heat, moisture, and light can help extend their shelf life, but foods that contain oils will eventually go bad.
Insects can show up. My daughter is paranoid about having any tiny black specks with legs in her food. Who wouldn’t be?? The longer your food is stored, the more likely it is to become infested with insects. These appear either because microscopic eggs in the food have hatched or insects have been able to get through the packaging. You can avoid this by placing dry foods, such as flour, oats, and rice, in the freezer for two weeks. Be sure to cap them tightly. The cold temperature will kill any insect eggs in the food.
Old food changes in appearance. Picture limp, slightly mushy peach slices or discolored pasta, and you’ll have an idea of what old food looks like. In a starvation scenario, it’s still edible, but it won’t look very appetizing.
All of these provide plenty of motivation for storing food under the best possible conditions and then rotating it by using the oldest food first. Some people swear by Shelf Reliance’s food rotation systems to keep track of food before it goes bad.
Join the Facebook discussion: What’s the oldest food in your food storage pantry?
Note: I am affiliated with Shelf Reliance. You can read more about the company and their line of food products here. Originally published February 24, 2012.