The main difference between the commercially prepared foods you buy in the grocery store and the specially prepared “survival” foods is the shelf stability. You can’t store grocery store items for five to ten years, as you can with special nitro-packed cans or vacuum sealed pouches. As a result, if you have a month’s worth of grocery store items as part of your survival stash, you need to rotate your stock, either on an ongoing basis or every two to three months. This will ensure you have fresh food (if you can consider canned and dry food “fresh”) and do not waste your food and money.
There are many systems for rotating your stock:
- Captain Dave finds the easiest is to put newly purchase foods at the rear of the shelf, thus ensuring the oldest food, which will have made its way to the front, will be consumed first.
- You can also number food packages with consecutive numbers (a “one” the first time you bring home spaghetti sauce, a “two” the next, etc.) and eat those with the lowest number first.
- He currently relies on manufacturer’s expiration dates and cans or boxes without dates get the purchase date written on a piece of masking tape stuck to the package.
At a prior home, Captain Dave constructed low shelving that was slanted. Cans added to the back of the shelf rolled down to the front as the cans purchase earlier were consumed. This gravity feed system also had the benefit of physically rotating the cans (as they rolled, they turned) so that the contents stayed mixed and nothing accumulated at the top.
The need for rotation is why you should store your grocery items in your home or at a retreat location that you frequently visit. If you store your survival stash in a special location, you’ll need to physically remove and replace 20 to 25 percent of it every few months (thus ensuring nothing sits for more than a year). The materials you remove should be placed in your kitchen for immediate consumption.
As a general rule, traditional canned foods should be consumed within a year. For cans with expiration dates, such as Campbell’s soups, you may find you have 18 months, two, or even three years before they expire. But for cans without a date, or with a code that consumers can’t translate, Captain Dave recommends that you eat them before a year passes. Based on personal experience, he recommends eating canned fruit and canned fish first.
Generally, canned foods will not “go bad” over time, unless the can is punctured. But canned food will loose its taste, the texture or color may deteriorate, and the nutritional value may drop over time. Food may separate, oil may rise to the top, flavors may blend together or the contents may even taste like the can. Food engineering and technology continues to expand shelf lives, and plenty of folks have eaten canned food that’s three to five years old with no ill effects, but why do so if you don’t need to? Rotate your food supply by consuming it or donating it to charity and you will always have a good supply of fresh, recently canned and dried food on hand.
Let’s say that you bought a case of 12 cans of peas on sale. You over-estimated the demand for peas in your home, and nine months later you still have 10 cans. Dave recommends donating them to a soup kitchen, Boy Scout canned food drive or similar charity. This will keep them from being wasted and give you a tax deductible donation. Then make a note to buy green beans or lima beans instead of peas.
Cooking oil must also be rotated and should not be stored more than six months. If you do not consume it in a year or less, you run the risk of it getting rancid. While fully rancid fats can be identified by smell, it may start to go rancid before your nose can detect it. Shortening in a cardboard can should not be stored more than a year. Shortening in metal cans can be stored much longer and is reputed to have a shelf life of up to 10 years. Even if you do not regularly cook with shortening, you should consider it a survival staple.