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Shelf Life

  • How Long Does Dehydrated or Freeze-dried Food Last After Opening?

    Opening a Mountain House can

    As you incorporate your food storage items into your day-to-day menu, you may wonder how long those items will store once they're opened.

    There are a few factors that influence shelf life of opened foods (and you may know what they are if you've read our Shelf Life article):

    The quality of the food at the time it is opened
    The older food storage gets and the more it is subjected to fluctuating temperatures (meaning below freezing and above 80 degrees), the more deterioration has probably occurred to the food inside the container.

    The degree to which food is exposed to oxygen and moisture
    The moment the container is opened, the food is exposed to air. Air contains both oxygen and moisture. Many organisms require oxygen to survive. The higher the humidity (moisture content) of the air, the faster the product quality (nutrition and taste) deteriorates.

    The degree to which food is exposed to heat and light
    Temperature greatly affects the speed at which food deteriorates. The higher the temperature is, the faster the quality (nutrition and taste) deteriorates and the shorter the time that food stays edible and safe. Since many organisms require light to grow, exposure to light also causes deterioration.

    As a general rule, food stored in a #10 can or a bucket (depending on the above factors) could stay good up to one year after opening.



    • Once you have opened your food storage, you can prolong its shelf life by eliminating the adverse effects listed above. Store your food in the coolest, darkest, and most airtight environment possible.
    • Consider the following options to extend the life of food, once the container has been opened.
    • Pour what has not been used into a zip-top freezer bag, and seal the bag. Place the bagged food back into the can and replace the lid (to eliminate light).
    • Pour the remaining food into Snapware® containers (shown above), which offer an airtight seal.
    • Commercially available sealers can create an airtight environment. Put the food back into the can with the plastic lid secured.
    • Generally speaking, refrigeration or frozen storage can extend the life of food. If you do not have much refrigeration or frozen storage space, use a pantry, cupboard, etc.

    Snapware Container Set

    One way to determine if open food is still okay to use is to verify that it smells normal. Another way is to taste it or cook with it (only if you see no outer signs of decreased quality). If your finished dish is satisfactory, continue to use it. Although food will lose nutritive value over time, old food retains some caloric and mineral value. It may have some life sustaining ability remaining. If you aren't sure whether a certain item is still fit to eat, use your best judgment. The information above includes general guidelines intended to help make an educated decision. Each situation is unique due to many contributing factors.

  • Shelf Life


    IMG_4120The 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 foods available in the grocery store that are dated 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.

    Secondly, it's 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 compounds that are generally soluble 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 that are 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 Shelf Life

    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 25 years. As an added benefit, freeze-drying fruits, vegetables, and meats helps maintain the foods' original shape, color, and taste.

    Freeze Dried Blueberries, Strawberries, and Apples up to 25+ years* or more
    Freeze Dried Broccoli, Green Peppers, and Potatoes up to 25+ years* or more
    Mountain House Freeze Dried Chicken Stew, Vegetable Stew with Beef, and Chili Macaroni up to 25+ years* or more

    *Stored in Ideal Conditions

    Dehydrated Food Shelf Life

    Recent scientific studies have shown that dehydrated food stored properly can last for a much longer period of time than previously thought. This research determined the life sustaining shelf life to be approximately 30 years.

    Wheat, White Rice, and Corn up to 30+ years* or more
    Pinto Beans, Apple Slices, Macaroni up to 30+ years* or more
    Rolled Oats, and Potato Flakes up to 30+ years* or more
    Powdered Milk up to 20+ years* or more

    *Stored in Ideal Conditions


    Shelf life is extremely dependent on the following storage conditions*:

    Storage Conditions

    • 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.

    *Cans that are bulging can only be replaced if they were stored under ideal conditions.



    Emergency Essentials has taken every effort to pack quality Provident Pantry dehydrated and freeze-dried foods in #10 cans and Super-pail buckets, all with most of the oxygen removed. It is important for you to keep food stored at as cool and steady a temperature as possible (below 75 degrees but not freezing). This is the best and most important thing individuals can do to keep their long term food viable. If done, your storage could last 20-30+ years, depending on the product, storage conditions, and definition of "shelf life."

  • MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) Shelf Life


    Originally designed for the U.S. government, MREs—or Meals Ready to Eat—are compact pouches that contain delicious, ready-to-eat foods. The U.S. Space Program, Military, Forest Service, and FEMA have used MREs since the 1970s. In more recent years, many foreign governments have started using them, as well.

    Shelf life has always been an important factor in the development and testing of rations for the U.S. government. All MRE foods are packaged in triple-layer plastic/aluminum pouches that have better storage qualities for military use than heavy cans. The food in these pouches is precooked and sealed at a high temperature; bacteria are neutralized and the food is shelf-stable even when stored at room temperature. Some of the best information available on MRE shelf life is the storage life chart (see below) compiled by the U.S. Army's Natick Research Laboratories. This chart provides a good overview and summary of the findings gathered from their testing of MRE products:

    MRE Chart

    More about MRE Shelf Life

    The shelf life ratings shown in the chart above were determined by taste panels of "average" people— mostly office personnel—at the Natick lab. Their opinions were combined to determine when the MRE ration was no longer acceptable.

    The shelf life determinations were made solely on the basis of taste, as acceptable nutritional content and basic product safety extend far beyond the point where taste degradation would occur. This means that MREs would be safe and give a high degree of food value long after the timing suggested in the chart, as you can see by watching the short video below. We had some 30-year-old MREs tested at a food lab to make sure old MREs are safe to eat while still maintaining their nutrients. The results were quite enlightening:

    MRE pouches have been tested and designed according to standards much stricter than for commercial food. They must be able to stand up to abuse tests such as obstacle course traversal in field clothing pockets; storage outdoors anywhere in the world; shipping under extremely rough circumstances (such as by truck over rocky terrain); 100% survival of parachute drops; 75% survival from free failure drops; severe repetitive vibration (1 hour at G vibration); 7,920 individual pouch drops from 20 inches; and individual pouches being subject to a static load of 200 pounds for three minutes.

    Freezing an MRE pouch does not destroy the food inside, but repeated freezing increases the chance that the stretching and stressing of the pouch will cause a break on a layer of the laminated pouch. These pouches are made to withstand 1,000 flexes, but repetitive freezing does increase the failure rate by a small fraction of a percent.


    Note: Time and temperature have a cumulative effect. For example, storage at 100° for 11 months then moved to storage at 70° would lose one-half of the 70° storage life. Also avoid fluctuating temperatures, in and out of freezing levels. Due to the cumulative effect of time and temperature, a regular rotation of MRE's within 5 to 7 years is recommended.

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