Old food: A fact of food storage life

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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.

6 thoughts on “Old food: A fact of food storage life”

  1. I realize that there are hundreds of articles out there on storing food, but I'm still gonna throw in my method: I take a food grade plastic barrel, 3-5 gallon size, and clean it well. When it's dry, I will wipe the inside and the lid and seal, with a cloth moistened with a water/bleach solution.I then place a plastic trash bag, unscented, into the barrel. I then place a piece of dry ice in the bottom of the bucket, or if using nitrogen , the tube from the tank goes into the bottom of the bucket.The product to be stored then goes into the bag: rice, beans, packaged flour, pancake mix, etc. The top of the bag is then loosely closed and the lid of the bucket is put on. When the plastic blossoms or the lid moves, I know the inside is purged. I remove the hose, pinch the bag and seal it and put the lid on. I have used this method for over 25 years, I have products that are still totally palatable, such as 20 year old mac/cheese, cake mixes, etc. They may be down on nutrients, they are filling and still have calories, and no one complains about the taste.I checked some items yesterday, 2-24-12, that were packed in 1993, they were still great looking, and I would not hesitate to use them. I know my rotation schedule sux, but breaking things down and repacking is not an option right now, plus I don't see the need. Water? I fill bleach bottles without washing them out. I have drank water that is over 20 years old. Good color and taste, shake to aerate and enjoy! Just a few random thoughts from an old time prepper!

  2. oh my gosh—I must send the paramedic right away for you…sarcasm.
    I have a California bred neighbor that retired from the Caly water dept…he still tells me I can't drink water over a year old..even after boiling, AND a Berkey. I have 20 –food grade 30 gallon drums filled.
    I just look and 'smile'; yep…they walk among us!!
    So beware.


  3. Two weeks in the freezer? Other sources I've read or watched said two days, some, just overnight. Isn't frozen, frozen? What do I do now? Is it safe to put my 'already sealed in mylar' bags into the freezer? It will take me a year to freeze everything I've packaged.

    1. LP, this topic is like the topic of which plastics are safe for food storage. There is a lot of conflicting info out there. When I was researching for my book, I came upon a couple of websites that addressed specific insects in specific foods, and the recommendation was 2 weeks. Therefore, I'd rather err on the side of caution. The lack of oxygen will also kill insect eggs, so if your food has been stored with an appropriate amount of oxygen absorbers, that will likely take care of the problem. As far as your mylar bags go, by all means, pop them in the freezer if they haven't already been frozen, packed with oxy absorbers or dry ice.

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