Food Expiration Dates

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Probably the core of prepping is building a stockpile of food and other essential supplies. Most preppers start out by building a stockpile and continue building that stockpile throughout the rest of their lives.

But just because we stockpile food doesn’t mean that we always know what we’re doing. Like everyone else in the world, we make mistakes. The real difference is that we make mistakes in areas where they don’t even enter in.

One of these is in the “expiration dates” of food items. Many people believe the dates stamped on cans and printed on boxes are the date that the food expires. That’s an incorrect understanding of those dates. Rather, that “best by” date is nothing more than the last date that the manufacturer guarantees that the food will be good. If it is opened after that date and found to not be good, they will not replace it.

Using that as an expiration date for some dry foods makes sense, because the chances of the food going stale are significantly increased after that date. Snack foods and breakfast cereal are chief amongst those types of foods. But few preppers bother stockpiling those foods, so it really doesn’t matter.

For pretty much everything else, we can ignore the expiration dates. That even includes medicines, which typically last for at least a few years after the date stamped on them. I have personally used found medicines to be usable over a decade after the printed “expiration date.”

How things are stored has a lot to do with how long they’ll last. Almost anything that has a date printed on it should be stored in a cool, dry place. I had some medicine samples which lasted for over ten years stored in the house, but some of the same batch, individually packed like the ones in the house, went bad after two years of being stored in my bug out trailer. The heat in the trailer caused the pills to rupture and break down. I have no idea if the medicine was effective or not.

So, if we can ignore the expiration dates, does that mean that the food is good forever? I’ll have to answer that with a yes… and a no. It depends on a lot of things.

The reason we repackage most dry foods, putting them in five-gallon plastic buckets, with oxygen absorbers, is to ensure that they will last. The oxygen absorbers prevent the possibility of insects growing in the container, as well as the nutrients in the food oxidizing.

Canned foods are largely considered to last forever, as long as the can still holds a vacuum. If the top is indented, then it’s still good… or, at least, that’s the fiction. But while I have encountered 80 year old canned food that was still good, I have also encountered canned food that went bad after only a year.

The key to keeping canned food for years is protecting the can. Most of the cans I have had go bad started out because of a small scratch, either on the outside or inside of the can. This scratch pierced through the protective coating on the metal, allowing humidity and/or acid inside the can to reach the metal, causing it to rust through.

Not all of these cans looked bad. In fact, some actually looked quite good, until they were opened and the food inside found to be spoiled. This taught me to always plan on a small percentage of my food going bad, when I’m calculating how much food I have and how long it will last.

Finally, food that is canned in plastic jars, such as applesauce and some juices, is not going to keep like food stored in metal and glass cans and jars. Oxygen can pass through the plastic, slowly, causing the food inside to oxidize. While it might be edible for a while, it will be discolored, the taste will suffer and the nutritional value will be affected.