Print   |   Back
April 23, 2014
Totally Ready for Anything
Shelf Life and Proper Storage of Food
by Carolyn Nicolaysen

Since we are building a General Store in our homes, it is important to understand how storage conditions can affect our stored foods.

If food is not sterilized or properly handled before packaging, it will ultimately spoil due to the growth of microorganisms. The shelf life of food depends upon several factors — the quality of the food at the time or purchase, packaging, temperature at which it is stored and the humidity in the area in which the food is kept.

Dried fruits and vegetables have a longer shelf life because moisture has been removed from the product. Unopened dried products may be stored for six months at room temperature. Again, remember high humidity will damage dried foods and reduce their shelf life. To prolong the life of dried items store in a refrigerator.

Dried foods should be stored only if they are a part of your regular meal planning or they will spoil.

Dehydrated foods should be stored only after you have purchased a sample and are sure your family will eat the product. After that they should be stored sparingly because it takes four times as much water as original product contained to reconstitute. If water is scarce, you may be left without edible food.

Canned and bottled foods have the longest shelf life. Government studies have shown that these foods have the same nutritional value as fresh fruits and vegetables that are eaten more than 24 hours after they are picked.

In other words, if your pick something from the garden and eat it the same day it will be more nutritious than canned. If you wait more than 24 hours, the canned food will have the same value. All fresh produce we purchase in the store is more than 24 hours old.

Canned foods have been tested and shown to be safe to eat for 10 years or more. Foods will begin to lose some of their nutritional value after 1-2 years, but they are still safe to eat. If however, the food has discolored or smells “funny,” discard it. Discard all canned foods if cans are swollen, badly dented, rusted, and/or leaking.

Storage areas should be dry (less than 15 percent humidity), and adequately ventilated to prevent condensation of moisture on packaging materials, including cans (which can rust). Food should not be stored on a concrete floor. The lowest shelf should be 2-3 feet off the floor.

When designing and building a food-storage area, minimize areas where insects and rodents can hide. As practical, seal all cracks and crevices. Eliminate any openings that insects or rodents may use to gain entrance. Even a closet in your home will benefit from having weather stripping attached to the door to prevent unwanted invaders.

Food storage such as flour, crackers, cake and other dry mixes, seasonings, and canned goods should be stored in their original packages or tightly closed airtight containers at 50°F - 70°F (10°C-21°C). The storage life of foods can be cut in half with just a modest 15 degree elevation in temperature.

Dry mixes should be placed in the freezer for two days to kill larva for meal moths that may be in the items. If this is impossible, seal ends of packages with wide packing tape to prevent moths from getting in or out of packages.

Humidity levels should be less than 60%. Higher humidity may cause dry foods to draw moisture, resulting in caked, stale or spoiled products. Canned goods stored in high humidity areas may rust, thus spoiling the food stored. Cans with liquids may leak. Always store food and paper products separate from household cleaners, and insecticides. Contamination of food or eating utensils with a household cleaner, paint, gasoline, fertilizers or insecticides could result in chemical poisoning. Items stored in plastic or cardboard are especially susceptible to contamination.

So what are some good storage container options?

A few bad storage solutions:

Be sure to check out Carolyn’s Facebook page for preparedness tips. Develop a personal preparedness binder by subscribing to the Totally Ready Newsletter. Contact Carolyn at:

Copyright © 2024 by Carolyn Nicolaysen Printed from