Most of us build up our food storage with store bought canned goods, home canned goods, and dehydrated fruits and vegetables. And that is an excellent approach. It would be hard to eat a steady diet of bulk goods like corn, wheat, beans and rice without added flavors and textures. In fact, cooking with just staples can lead to what’s known as “appetite fatigue”, a situation where that same bland meal, eaten day after day, may lead people to choose to go hungry—especially the very young and the elderly. I’ll address appetite fatigue in my next post, but for now, I want to share some good news for those of you who have worried about the relatively short shelf life of canned goods.
For years, we have been told the average store bought can of food has a shelf life of two years, give or take. If you’re storing foods that you eat, the goal becomes to rotate through the food at a pace that allows you to eat it all before it goes bad.When we’re busy with hectic every-day lives, it is sometimes difficult to use a first-in-first-out (FIFO) food rotation method. For others, a rotation method, where you consume and replace canned goods before their expiration dates is flat-out impossible.
I could be the poster child for this situation, so I’ll use myself as an example. I have stored food for twenty-three people. These family members do not live at my homestead. How, then, can one person rotate food meant for twenty-three? And what about those who have a bug-out cabin and are only able to visit their property occasionally?
Up until now, most folks invested in relatively pricy dehydrated/freeze dried fruits and vegetables along with bulk goods because it seemed like the only answer. And don’t get me wrong; I believe dehydrated and freeze dried foods are great for food storage…as long as you can afford it.
We have all heard stories about someone bravely “testing” an old can of food or preserves decades after its advisable date and lived to tell about it. But for most, these stories were viewed more as an urban legend than a reality.
Dale Blumenthal with the Food and Drug Administration wrote an article a few years back that I only just discovered which had interesting facts on a study that was performed in 1974 by the National Food Processors Association. This study was done on 100 year old canned food that was found on the Steamboat Bertrand. It needs to be pointed out the Bertrand had swamped under its heavy load and sank in the Missouri River in 1865. It was later recovered in 30 feet of silt.
The canned goods that were tested from this recovery consisted of oysters, brandied peaches, plum tomatoes, honey and mixed vegetables. The contents of these 100 year old cans were tested for bacteria and also for their nutrient value. When tested, it was noted that the food had lost its fresh appearance and fresh smell, but it did not contain microbial growth, and was just as safe to eat 100 years later as it was when it was canned. Vitamins C and A were lost, but the foods still had high levels of protein and they contained all of its calcium and was deemed comparable to todays canned food.
As preppers, we are aware of how important it is to put food safety at the top of our priority list, especially when we can’t expect to get medical attention in the midst of catastrophe. On the other hand, I have long suspected the two-year sell-by date given by the food industry at the FDA’s insistence had given us a false sense of fear that is in direct conflict with our forefather’s wisdom.
I can tell you I’ve personally been the test-crash dummy for many an outdated can of food. While growing up on an Alaskan homestead, far from the grocer who sold canned goods at double the going rate, my sister, brothers and I were routinely subjected to testing this theory of consuming outdated canned goods and never once suffered ill consequences.
Although I will summarize this incredible report written by Dale Blumenthal, I highly recommend that you go to the following link and see for yourself. It is important when cooking with ANY food storage to know, without a doubt, it is safe to consume.
Included in Dale Blumenthal’s paper, the National Food Processors Association chemists didn’t stop with testing the canned food found on the ship-wrecked Bertrand. They also analyzed a forty year old can of corn from a California basement where it had been stored all those years ago. No contaminants were found, and the nutrient loss was not significant.
In another study, the U.S. Army stated that 46 year old canned meats, vegetables and jam were likewise tested and found safe to eat.
Watch For These Signs!
When storing long-term canned goods, check each can for dents before storing. Any dented cans should go in the kitchen pantry for immediate use, rather than taking chances with long-term food storage.
Before consuming canned goods, always check for these warning signs: cans with bulging tops or bottoms MUST be tossed out. It is an indication that it contains dangerous bacterial growth. A leaking seal found in canned goods should also be tossed out, as this is another indicator that the can may contain harmful bacteria.
***David’s note: It is just as important to store canned goods away from moisture and temperature extremes as it is for bulk storage foods. Temperature extremes, like what is regularly found in vehicles, garages, and attics can destroy 95% of the nutritional value of food within 5 years, making it possible to starve to death with a full stomach after eating improperly stored food.***
Consumers Fighting Back Over the High Cost of Eating
There is a new wave of consumers that’s worth mentioning. NPR reporter Serri Graslie wrote an article titled Willing To Play The Dating Game With Your Food? Try A Grocery Auction. The article describes that some consumers are purchasing food that has reached, or neared, its sell-by date. Surprisingly, there are no laws on the books with regards to selling food that has reached its shelf life and entrepreneurs have caught on to the need for affordable food and are now selling it at food auctions to the public for much less. Even if you don’t intend to store food that has neared its sell-by date, it may be worthwhile to investigate it for the kitchen pantry, leaving those saved dollars for long-term food storage.
Here is a quote from Ms. Graslie’s article:
“Every year, U.S. grocers discard $10 billion to $15 billion in unsold products. The items might be damaged, discontinued, seasonal or food that’s just close to its sell-by date.
Some of those products might be sent to a landfill, contributing to the massive food waste problem. Some go to a food bank or even get delivered to shelters, as with this company in Boulder, Colo (the food auction which is described in the article—my words). But increasingly, they might also be resold to the public. Grocery auctions are joining salvage grocery and dollar stores as a popular clearinghouse for food that’s past its prime.”
The article mentions Jonathan Bloom’s book America Wastelend, where he states “I think we’ve lost some of our food knowledge and we’re not sure when something is good or not.”
Although this may be a new trend in lowering the ever-increasing cost of food, should you venture there, it is wise to inspect the cans. Over the years, I’ve heard those who swear by buying damaged or dented cans to cut costs. This is not a good practice as it is possible dented cans may have resulted in a damaged the seal that can lead to illness.
The Sell-By Date of Canned Goods
The FDA insists foods are given a sell-by date for consumer safety. Over time, most manufacturers have arbitrarily given most canned goods a shelf life of 2 years. It is NOT the safety of the foods they are referring to with their sell-by dates , but more of an industry standard and also denotes the time span of canned foods optimal nutrient value. In an emergency situation, although it is best to consume canned goods at their freshest state possible, an item that has passed its given Sell-by date still offers life-sustaining sustenance.
**David’s Note: Our family eats what we store, but we primarily choose to eat fresh local produce for the majority of our meals instead of eating from our food storage. The natural result of this is that a lot of our food storage expires on a regular basis. What we have chosen to do is to support our church’s food bank with food that is not expired, but is within a few months of expiring. They use the food immediately, well before it “expires”, and we replace it with new food. It’s not really a big deal for us…instead of giving our church money that they’d use to go out and buy food, we just save them the step and give them food. Interestingly/sadly, the food that we donate usually tends to be a LOT healthier than the other food in the food bank.
One other thing to keep in mind is that most manufacturers put “2 years” on labels, not so much to protect the consumer, but rather to limit their liability. That being said, it’s important to understand exactly what kind of liability they fear. One of their main fears is that you’ll eat an old, spoiled can of food, get botulism and die. (think Botox…but more than just your forehead gets paralysis) This not incredibly common, but it’s no joke. So if you’re going to be cavalier about expiration dates, at least be careful about other warning signs.**
Do you fear canned goods that have passed their prime, or are you already convinced an expired sell-by date is safe to consume? Share your thoughts by commenting below. You’ll notice that we completely removed the “Facebook commenting” from the site. I’m not a big fan of it, and judging by your responses, you aren’t either and would rather have the simple commenting that we had before.
Changing directions somewhat, if you haven’t taken advantage of the Target Focus Training Survival package yet this week, I STRONGLY encourage you to check it out by going here and taking action now.