Shelf Life

Can on Shelf
Bottom of Can

The question is regularly asked, "What is the shelf life of my food storage?"

It is important to first identify what is meant by food storage and shelf life.

Food storage that is intended to be held long-term is generally considered to be low moisture food packed in either #10 cans or in metalized bags placed within large buckets.

Shelf life can be defined in the following two ways:

  • Best if used by shelf life - Length of time food retains most of its original taste and nutrition.
  • Life sustaining shelf life - Length of time food preserves life, without becoming inedible.

There can be a wide time gap between these two definitions of shelf life. For example, most dated foods available in the grocery store have a best if used by date that ranges from a few weeks to a few years.

On the other hand, scientific studies have determined that when properly stored, powdered milk has a life sustaining shelf life of 20 years. That is, the stored powdered milk may not taste as good as fresh powdered milk, but it retains some nutritional value and is still edible.

It’s also important to understand food constituents. Food is composed of the following:

  • Calories: A unit of measurement of energy derived from fats, carbohydrates and protein.
  • Fats: A wide group of soluble compounds in organic solvents and largely insoluble in water.
  • Carbohydrates: Simple sugars as well as larger molecules including starch and dietary fiber.
  • Proteins: Large organic compounds essential to living organisms.
  • Vitamins: A nutrient required for essential metabolic reactions in a living organism.
  • Minerals: The chemical elements required by living organisms, other than carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen.

Minerals and carbohydrates do not change much during storage. But proteins can denature and deteriorate in quality. Fats can acquire off odors and off flavors known as rancidity. Vitamins are susceptible to destruction by heat, light, and oxidation. Importantly, even if some components deteriorate, the fat, carbohydrates and proteins still contribute calories. To prevent starvation, the most important component is calories.


Freeze dried food is excellent for long-term food storage. Mountain House® has tested some of their freeze dried foods and the results were excellent! Because of this research, they have a best if used by shelf life of 30 years. As an added benefit, freeze-drying fruits, vegetables, and meats helps maintain the foods' original shape, color, and taste.

Freeze-Dried Fruits Up to 30 years*
Freeze-Dried Vegetables Up to 30 years*
Mountain House Freeze-Dried Foods Up to 30 years*

*Stored in Ideal Conditions


Recent scientific studies have shown that dehydrated food stored properly can last for a much longer period of time than previously thought.

Dehydrated Fruits and Vegetables Up to 25 years*
Dehydrated Grains, Rice and Oats Up to 30 years*
Dehydrated Beans Up to 30 years*
Dehydrated Powdered Milk Up to 20 years*

*Stored in Ideal Conditions


Temperature Sheet
  • Oxygen: The oxygen in air can have deteriorative effects on fats, food colors, vitamins, flavors, and other food constituents. It can cause conditions that will enhance the growth of microorganisms.
  • Moisture: Excessive moisture can result in product deterioration and spoilage by creating an environment in which microorganisms may grow and chemical reactions can take place.
  • Light: The exposure of foods to light can result in the deterioration of specific food constituents, such as fats, proteins, and vitamins, resulting in discoloration, off-flavors, and vitamin loss.
  • Temperature: Excessive temperature is damaging to food storage. With increased temperature, proteins breakdown and some vitamins will be destroyed. The color, flavor and odor of some products may also be affected. To enhance shelf life, store food at room temperature or below; never store food in an attic or garage.


Emergency Essentials has extended every effort to pack quality Emergency Essentials Brand dehydrated and freeze-dried foods in #10 cans and Super-pail buckets, all with state of the art oxygen removal technologies. The most critical step one can take to preserve their long-term food storage is to store it at a cool and steady temperature (below 75 degrees but not freezing). When done, food storage can last 20-30+ years!