Now that you have your pantry full of all those wonderful emergency food supplies and bottled water, and you’ve stashed fuel for your emergency stove, you can relax – right? Not so fast! Everything from propane canisters to bottled water to freeze-dried and canned food has a shelf life that you need to pay heed to. So let’s look at each of these for the issues involved and current recommendations for rotating stocks.
Water is water, and once it’s in a bottle or barrel in a dark, cool place, you’d think it would last forever. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Sure, it’s still going to be pure H2O even 100 years from now. But those thin plastic bottles it comes in will probably start springing leaks within a year. If you have filled a plastic barrel with tap water and added chlorine bleach as is recommended, that bleach will eventually dissipate and cease to inhibit germs. So leakage and contamination are both serious potential problems with long-term water storage.
Mark your flats of bottled water with a black marker in a prominent place with either the expiration date (if you can find it) or one year from when you bought it. Store older flats in front of newer flats. If you have water in a large blue plastic water barrel, tape a sign to it dated one year from when you first filled and treated it so you can empty and refill it before it starts growing water mold.
Those little propane canisters for your portable camp stove probably don’t have an expiration date on them. As long as they are stored in a dry place and don’t leak, the butane/propane inside will still be good. You should plan on closely inspecting the canisters once a year and replacing any that have developed rust or show any other signs of damage.
Liquid fuels like kerosene or Coleman fuel won’t last forever. According to Coleman, their fuel will last 5 to 7 years if unopened and stored in a dry place not subject to sudden temperature fluctuations. A previously opened container under the same circumstances can be expected to last only 2 years. K1 kerosene has a similar long shelf life. The problem with both types of fuel seems to stem from wide temperature changes leading to water condensation which then contaminates the fuel, preventing it from burning. Always store liquid fuels in a dry place with protection from weather.
Freeze-dried foods like those made by eFoods Direct have an extremely long shelf life. Some manufacturers claim 25 to 30 years, but after 15 years the quality and nutritional content might start to suffer, so current recommendations from experts are to rotate freeze-dried foods after 15 years. Mark your food stores clearly with the year they should be used or discarded by so you won’t have to hunt for that tiny date wherever it is on the packages.
Conventional dried foods have a similar long shelf life. As long as packaging is intact and they are stored in a dark, cool, dry location, dried foods remain safe to eat for many years. Scientists have found whole grains hundreds of years old which are still edible, though the taste does suffer as time goes on. In the interests of preserving maximum quality and nutrition, you would be wise to rotate these foods after 15 years also.
Home- and commercially-canned foods are another story. As much as we would like out beautifully preserved garden bounty to last into the next decade, the bitter truth is that quality and nutrition will begin to deteriorate after a year or two. Technically, as long as the seal is intact and there is no evidence of mold growth inside, you can hang onto it. My personal experience is that it’s not worth the shelf space after about 2 years. Certainly those jewel-toned jams and jellies will fade, and the fresh flavor fades right along with them.
Store-bought canned food generally comes with an expiration date these days, and to be safest, you should toss anything that is expired. That said, millions of Americans have probably eaten canned food that was expired and never suffered for it. If you wish to keep it beyond its date, you should inspect all cans a couple of times a year and dispose of any with the slightest bit of rust, any denting or bulging, or any evidence of leakage. Low acid foods are much riskier in the first place, so it’s best to heed that expiration date with such items. If your canned foods develop leaks or have any contamination inside, it isn’t just a matter of aesthetics – it can be a matter of life and death – botulism is deadly, and in an emergency scenario, there might not be the necessary medical services to save your life.
So grab that black indelible marker and spread some graffiti around your pantry and garage – don’t be left guessing how many years ago you bought that case of dehydrated eggs!