It’s the ultimate emergency food quandary: what to do with those #10 cans you’ve opened but haven’t finished? That precious shelf life—sometimes as much as 30 years—has now been cut to just a few months!
Unfortunately, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle when it comes to opened emergency food. However, after nearly 35 years of making the stuff, there is one trick we’ve learned that’s pretty darned effective at preserving your food.
It’s as simple as can be, costs almost nothing, and can add about a year of shelf life.
The Bag-It Method
To help illustrate, we’ll walk you through an example—with pictures! This little technique isn’t rocket science, but since we do it all the time, we figured we might as well photo-document the process to help make it as clear as possible.
At least once a month, our team at Emergency Essentials does a company-wide taste test here at the office. Our most recent test subject was this can of freeze-dried cinnamon apple slices. YUM!
Freeze-dried and dehydrated foods in #10 cans can last up to 30 years. But what about after you open them?
However, we only used about half of the can for our test. This happens almost every time. The problem is, it may be a very long time before we need these apples again, and they probably won’t last more than a few months out in the open. What’s a prepper to do?
An opened, unfinished can of freeze-dried apples. As is, these won't stay fresh as long as we'd like.
Here at Emergency Essentials, we’re firm believers in the old adage “waste not, want not,” so of course we’re going to do everything we can to squeeze extra life out of these apples. Here’s how we go about it.
START WITH THE RIGHT BAG
It starts with a one-gallon ziplock bag.
We like to use the double-sealed variety. If you can find one with a slider, even better. It helps ensure a complete seal.
Start with a quality ziplock bag. Double seals and sliders are helpful.
TRANSFER THE FOOD
At this point, we’re going to pour the apples from the can into the bag.
Pour the contents of the can into the bag.
DON’T FORGET THE OXYGEN ABSORBERS
Next comes the oxygen absorber.
If you’ve done much prepping, you’ll know that most emergency foods in #10 cans should come with an oxygen absorber. All of ours do.
One thing to pay attention to is the size of the absorber. As a rule, our #10 cans come with two 200 cc packets—more than they technically need, but we’re SUPER fastidious about shelf life. For more on the oxygen content of emergency food, check out this article.
Some emergency supply companies will actually go cheap and package food without an oxygen absorber. It’s true! Others, to cut costs, will insert 50 cc or 100 cc absorbers—too small to achieve the stated shelf life in most #10 cans.
This is all to say: keep an eye out for your oxygen absorber. Make sure it’s there, for starters, and make sure it’s large enough.
KNOW YOUR ABSORBERS
As long as you’re using oxygen absorbers, it’s important to know about the different types available. Each has its unique perks…
- Iron-based Oxygen Absorbers - These bad boys are the most popular choice for preserving dry foods like grains, nuts, and dried fruits. They have iron powder inside that reacts with oxygen, forming iron oxide and removing oxygen from the package. The best part? They're super effective and budget-friendly!
- Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) Oxygen Absorbers - Vitamin C isn't just good for your immune system; it's also a fantastic oxygen absorber for food preservation. Ascorbic acid reacts with oxygen, reducing its presence in the packaging. These are especially great for fresh fruits and veggies that have a higher moisture content.
- Activated Carbon Oxygen Absorbers - If you're dealing with foods that are sensitive to both oxygen and moisture, activated carbon absorbers might be your new best friend. Activated carbon, or activated charcoal, is a highly porous material that can adsorb gases, including oxygen. Its moisture-absorbing properties make it an excellent choice for preserving a variety of food items.
Once you’ve got a properly sized absorber, place it in the ziplock bag. For this demonstration, that’s easy. We just take the two 200 cc absorbers already in the pouch and drop them into the now-full ziplock.
Drop the oxygen absorbers into the ziplock bag.
But wait, we’re not done yet!
Next, we’re going to squeeze out any lingering air in the bag. This is not a scientific maneuver by any means (and vacuum sealing it isn’t), but we find that it helps. Once that’s done, go ahead and seal the bag.
Squeeze the air out and seal the bag.
SAFE AND SECURE, BACK IN THE CAN
With your bag all prepped, you’ll want to place it into the #10 can and close the lid. This provides much better protection against a few of the key elements that spoil food: water, sunlight, and pests.
Place the squeezed, sealed bag back into the #10 can.
Just one step left, and that’s deciding where to store your can for maximized shelf life.
At the very least, keep it in a cool, dry place that’s doesn’t get much hotter than 70° Fahrenheit. If you’re able to fit it into a refrigeration unit, that can help as well. If not, don’t get too worried. By taking the steps above, your food should keep its taste, texture, and nutrition for up to another year.
SOUND OFF BELOW!
So there it is! Simple, yet surprisingly effective. Has anyone tried this method before? How did it work for you? What kind of extra life did you get out of your food? Sound off in the comments and let us know!
What I want to know is what kind of can opener can you use to open these cans I’ve got nine of them and my regular can opener that I’ve had for 20 something years will not open the damn can from emergency essentials it opens the cans from Augason Farms number #10 cans of freeze dried food it opens cans of black-eyed peas green beans all the regular cans from the grocery store. It’s just a regular metal can opener and it will not work on this emergency essential cans of food and the reason it won’t work is the rim on those cans is a little bit higher than on the other cans of food from different places. And the groove between the rim and the can is a little bit deeper than it is on regular cans of food and that’s why the regular can opener will not work. So what kind of specific or special can opener do I need to open my damn food from emergency essentials. I called them and they told me they never had a problem with this before. Which has got to be a damn lie I know I’m not the only person in the United States of America or the world that’s had a problem opening these cans with a regular can opener. Maybe it’s a special kind of electric can over that one needs I don’t know. But I do know when the power grid goes down and the s*** hits the fan electric can opener is not going to but not going to be worth a damn.
When ever I open a #10 can of something I divide it into 3 containers, 2 mason jars and a container for immediate use in my pantry. I reseal 2 mason jars with my food savor and I use the 3rd. I also reuse my Mylar bags using the food savor to seal it and take out the air or just to seal the bag using new oxygen absorbs. I also put stickers on all of the jar to let me know that it is 1 of 3 or 2 of 3 etc. And when the 3 of 3 is used I know that it is time to open a new can of something. This saves me the storage problem of having to put the open # 10 cans somewhere (no open cans in my freezer) and my pantry is way to small for that. It also gives me the added benefit of being able to experiment/play with my food storage so that I am comfortable using it and being able to rotate my food storage.
The other trick that I do is if food smells flat/off, it is usually not rancid but it does smell funky. I put it in a container on my counter and stir it several times a day for several days. I used to think that the food had become rancid but it was just flat and needed air, I have lost almost no food using this method. Yes, sometimes the food is rancid but most of the time it is not it just needed some air circulation. I do try to use the item in a timely manner after treating my food thusly because even after being aired out if you put it back into a container and leave it for a period of time it will become air deprived again and you will need to start the airing out process over again.
Moist Coastal regions are killer on the freeze dried foods. The Freezer does not work either. It simply makes freezer tasting foods. Help! I one time had seen a lid that vacuums in the #10cans but they are 25 dollars and as much a a fresh can.. Other ideas? Thanks!
Oxygen absorbers should not be reused (and should never be used with food that isn’t absolutely dry, or that is oily, such as brown rice). A desiccant packet can be added to combat moisture, though. Putting dry goods in a jar helps keep out critters and moisture, but will not keep food for 25 years! Dry pack cans are good for long-term storage; leftovers or store-bought goods should be rotated often to stay fresh.
Gina, oxygen absorbers are actually quite effective on their own, without vacuum sealing. It’s very hard to say how much opening and closing your packaging will impact shelf life—it certainly won’t help it. If you know you’ll be opening and closing a can often, you might consider divvying up the contents into smaller portions, each in its own container. Then place an oxygen absorber in each separate container. Do your best to open each as little as possible. Hope that helps!
Diane, regarding the flour, try using the method in this article and see if you get better results.
Randall, you should find a “print” button at the top of this page and every article we publish. You can print the article out that way. Thanks for your comment!
Great suggestion, David. We have sold items like this on our site.
At the moment we carry this: https://beprepared.com/products/z_legacy_76_black-bean-burger-mix-case-pack?pos=1&_sid=9f55f603b&ss=r
I do this often….but to suck the air out of the bag, use a straw with the bag closed except for the straw spot. Start sucking out the air and you will be amazed how much you can collapse the bag. Quickly pull straw and close at the same time… you just became a “Space Saver” bag lady!! FYI i am 79 yrs young!!
David R. Shorten
I suggest that having an option of smaller cans, or several re-sealable mylar bags, might also solve the problem. #10 cans are nice to look at and store on shelves but as your article said, can lead to waste.
Some of us with smaller households might pay the difference in cost for the convenience. Just sayin’.
I would suggest one more important step: label the can with the date that the food was re-packaged.
James F Mundy Jr
I just use my vacuum sealer with all listed above. Just leave the bags long so when I use more I can reseal the bag.
Great tip, particularly for low consumption groups (couples, small family) that like variety thus potential for multiple open cans.
May I suggest using freezer bags? They are thicker and offer more protection, particularly when using an oxygen absorber as the bags better retain a vacuum.
If you have not used oxygen absorbers, they come in bulk so remember to put the unused ones in a sealed container, a mason jar works great. Just remember, the less residual air, the longer the life of the absorber.
Jerry D Young
Great article! Great tip!
I will add one thing. Since the cans usually come with a plastic lid, and if not there is usually one from another can handy, I suggest the method I use, which will not include the bagging of product, as well, and that is to always use a side seal can opener. This way, the original lid can be set back on the can, and the plastic lid then snapped into place.
This adds a bit more security to the can from rodents that can chew through the plastic lids.
An additional general note:
I use the side opener for pretty much all can opening, except when I do not have one available. This allows me to make stoves, cooking pots with lids, storage containers, and a variety of other items since the original lid will fit nicely back on the can.
No seal of course, and any disturbance can knock it off if not secured, but still, a tin can is a very versatile piece of gear that is included as part of another product.
Just my opinion.
I’ve put my freezedried remaining foods in a mason jar and vacuum seal it with a canning lid. I cover the jar with aluminum foil to prevent light getting in. I had some freezedried veggies I bought from you several years ago, had used a portion of it in a recipe, and store the unused portion as said above. I just used that remaining veggies now and made a wonderful beef vegetable soup.
I very much appreciate articles of this type. I would be nice if you provided a pdf link, so that I could easily print it or download it to my computer.
Thanks for the easy idea! I’ve also thought about using my vacuum sealer lid with half gallon mason jars.
Great tip, thank you!
How about using dry ice chips in bags to drive out oxygen? An blowing your own exhaled air into a bag puts in more carbon dioxide than oxygen. Have you experimented with either of these?
Paul A. Bassett
Thank you for this information. Just wanted to add - just before closing the zip lock all the way - I leave just a bit unlocked and literally suck the air out. While continuing to apply suction, I finalize the closure of the zip lock. If you feel “unsterile” about this procedure, you can wipe the contact area with a disinfecting wipe - or suck through a straw so that you’re not close to the product.
Great tip thanks. Nice to know you add the extra oxygen absorbers. I have been doing business with you for years and knowing the extra steps you go to just improves my confidence in you that much more. God Bless.
Bottom shelf of my Freezer is full of open #10 cans. And they stay fresh.
Oh yes this method works great. Years a go I had to open a few cans during storm season,
and was left with two cans half full. I did the sealed bag thing and about two years later
needed them again as I had forgotten about them. Well they had stayed good. I didn’t notice to much difference other then they needed a little more time to absorb the water. And just a touch not as tender. I truly believe this method saved my stock.
Do you know if you seal it using a Food Saver will it work as well as the Ziplock with the oxygen absorber?
And, what if you keep opening it to use it again? Same technique? I’m assuming shelf-life goes down each time you open it, but I have some items I use in “emergencies,” such as if we want to make chocolate chip cookies, and we run out of essential eggs or butter, and we can’t make it to the store as it’s closed.
Thanks so much for this tip on how to preserve and opened #10 can. It has been a concern of mine. This helps!!
I have a can of broccoli cheese soup that the two of us wouldn’t be using within just a few weeks. I hadn’t thought about the oxygen packs, but did divide it into smaller quart sized bags. I removed as much air as possible, put them back in the can with the lid and into the freezer. It is still as good two years later as day one. Using the smaller bags makes it possible to use smaller amounts and not reopen the bag.
Aren’t the oxygen absorbers “spent” by this point? How are the used absorbers effective? I could understand putting a new one or two in the ziplock.
Also what about bagging then freezing or refrigerating the extra dehydrated/freeze dried food?
Question: when I open a #10 can of flour before I’ve used all of it, it gets rancid. I tried refrigerating it and no luck. Would the absorbers work so the flour lasts longer?
Better yet…put them in a mylar bag and seal them with a new oxygen absorber!
I use quart and 1/2 gallon ball canning jars and vacuum pack with oxygen absorbers. Meats I keep refrigerated in addition, but everything else goes back in my storage pantry. Works great.
Did you put new oxygen absorbers into the bag?
If you used the ones that came in the can originally, I would think once the can is opened & air hits the absorber it would no longer be any good!!
Thanks for the reminder! And thanks for doing a great job. I have been a customer for about 20 years.
Best to use a plastic freezer bag instead of a plastic storage bag; it is a slightly heavier plastic. You can also do as written above but then put into a second plastic bag, squeeze air out and then can. Try and do on a dry day if possible instead of a humid day.
We have a kitchen type vacuum sealer machine. It works great as long as you have power. We will keep your method in mind for times when there is no power. Thanks.
I agree with everything you describe but with one additional step. After inserting the oxygen absorbers and folding out as much air as I can I insert a straw, close the ziplock as much as possible, suck out whatever’s remaining air is left and simultaneously pull the straw and seal the bag.