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Food Storage Guidelines - There Are No Secrets

Food Storage Guidelines

The best guideline for food storage is to store what you know your family will eat.

When I first started collecting food for storage purposes, I seriously did not know where to start.

I had young children who I knew would not eat whole wheat for breakfast every morning. What would I do with pounds of wheat anyway?

So I started reading and talking to others who were more knowledgeable than I.

Some of the advice was useful — some not. Some books said to do it this way — others said to do it another way. I was so confused about what to do first, and what to do next.

So I decided to just START! I think I'm a fairly logical person, so following are the guidelines that I came up with — and they have worked well for me for many years.

Beginning with the statement at the top of this page, I first asked myself, "What WILL my family eat?"

The logical place to start was to . . .

Gather Favorite Recipes

I compiled a list of 7-10 of my family's favorite recipes. I laid them out on a table to look at the ingredients in each recipe. Then I wrote down which ingredients could be stored long term and which could only be stored for a short term.

For instance: If a recipe calls for fresh vegetables, meat, eggs, cheese, or milk, how many of those items can be stored long term?

Let's take sample food items individually:

Food Item
Freeze Dried
vegetables 2+ years 1-2 years (longer if vacuum packed) 1-2 years 25+ years
meat 2+ years 1-2 years 1-2 years 1-2 years
fresh eggs N/A 1-2 months N/A N/A
eggs (scrambled) N/A N/A N/A 25+ years
egg crystals N/A N/A N/A 7 years
milk-powdered N/A N/A 10-20 years 10-20 years
cheese N/A 1-2 years (changes texture to a bit grainy but tastes ok) N/A 25+ years

As you can see, the above ingredients, except for fresh eggs, can be stored long term. If your recipes contain rice, beans, pasta, or other grains, most can be stored long term.


What about sauces and spices? Many sauces (dry ingredients only) and spices can be stored long term if vacuum packed. Just add the liquid to make sauces when you're ready to use it.

Sauces can also be dehydrated just like fruit leather (dry until crisp!), then turned into powder in a blender and vacuum packed in bottles or bags for long term storage.

Learn more about long term storage of spices and herbs here.

Inventory Food Supplies On Hand

Do you have a little bit of this and a bit of that? Time to take inventory.

First I decided what to store long term (grains, beans, rice, powdered milk, etc.) and what to store short term. Short term items will usually be those are used in a 3-6 month time frame. They are usually frozen, canned or just kept on the pantry shelves.

It may be easier to divide the inventory sheet into short term and long term.

  • Canned foods - I usually consider anything canned as short term food: soups, stews, home canned foods. Even though they have a shelf life of approximate 1-3 years, these are foods that I use for recipes in every-day cooking.
  • Frozen foods - Same with frozen foods - I consider them short term storage items.
  • Dehydrated foods - The shelf life depends on what food it is and how it's packaged. I have some #10 cans of dehydrated foods that have a shelf life of 25+ years. Then there are foods that I have dehydrated myself. If they are crisp-dried and vacuum packed, I consider them long term. If they are pliable, like fruit leather, dried fruits, or jerky, they are on my short term list — no matter how they are packaged. If they're not crisp-dried, they will not last long term as they have too much moisture. (Or as in the case of jerky, fat that can become rancid.)
  • Bulk dried foods - These would be items like wheat, rice, beans, oats, sugar, honey, etc. All are packaged for long term storage so they will last 25+ years.
  • Freeze-dried foods - Most are considered long term storage items.

Rotating Food Storage

Stocking the pantry with food used daily does take an initial investment, but it is the most economical, convenient, and self-reliant way to live. (Try this step-by-step plan to fill your pantry.) Once the pantry is stocked, it's necessary to rotate the food storage, using the older products before newer ones.

To make sure that food stored in the refrigerator, freezer, or pantry is eaten within the expiration dates, practice FIFO (First-In-First-Out). When I put away the groceries, I make sure to put the newest items behind the existing food, whether it is in the refrigerator, pantry, or food storage shelves. This saves money by reducing the amount of food that might spoil.

Leftovers should be put into clean, sanitized, shallow containers, and covered, labeled, dated, and put in the freezer (if you have one). Generally, leftovers in the refrigerator should be tossed after 48 hours.

Shelves similar to those pictured (left) make it easy to keep the older products in front while the newer products are inserted and roll down behind the older ones. (There are many patterns for DIY shelving for food storage on the internet. Check out these instructions from Food Storage Made Easy.)

If you don't have access to this type of shelving, keep a black marking pen on the shelf and quickly put a date on the cans and packages when you put them away. At a glance, you can see what needs to be used first.

P.S. I have several of these very clever and inexpensive can rotation organizers from TheCanOrganizer. They come flat - just fold on the guidelines and pop in your canned foods. There's even a video on their website with explicit instructions. And they fit almost all can sizes! No more worries about rotating your canned food storage.

Know the Shelf Life of Foods

All foods have a shelf life that is dependent on how it is prepared, how it is packaged, and how it is stored. Freeze-dried and many dehydrated foods can be stored for 25+ years.

The Real Meaning of "Shelf Life"

The shelf life of a food does not mean how long you can keep it on the shelf without having to actually eat it. A better meaning for shelf life in a preparedness context is that you have learned to store your food properly so that it will "give you life" after it has been on your shelf for a while.

Short-Term Shelf Life

The reason for covering the short-term shelf life is that these are foods you would keep on hand in your pantry. I call it the "pantry method". The purpose here is to have at least three months' supply of staples and recipe contents so that you can feed your family or any unexpected guests without needing to run to the grocery store. Or, if a crisis of some kind makes it impossible to get to the store or the grocery shelves are empty, you can provide nutritious meals for your famly for at least three months.

Therefore, it is important to know the shelf life of these foods so you can avoid spoilage and know when to replace foods. Also, take a look at this food storage chart for quick look-up of every day foods for short-term storage.

Long-Term Shelf Life

This long-term shelf life chart is for long-term food storage items. These are the food products that are to be stored for years. This would include dehydrated foods like wheat, beans, oats, powdered milk, pasta, etc. Also included would be freeze-dried foods and water.

Safe Food Storage

Safe food storage means knowing how to store food to keep out bugs and rodents, and prevent spoilage of the food you have spent time and money preparing. Proper storage will keep your food delicious and nutritious for the time when you really need to use it.

Learn how to dry can dehydrated foods, how to use oxygen absorbers, and why metalized bucket liners (Mylar bags) are important for keeping food storage safe.

Food Storage "How to" Guidelines

Sometimes we just need to know how to store certain foods. This section will list several food products that we have researched based on questions asked by our readers. If there is a particular food that you need to know how to store, please feel free to contact me.

These food storage guidelines should help you get started. As you add to your food storage, I hope you will discover how satisfying it can be to dehydrate or can your own garden grown foods, or bake your own bread.

Our goal is to become as self-sufficient as possible. Having a good supply of food, survival supplies and skills is the best insurance against any critical situation.

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