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FAQs about Food Storage

by Katy Lindamood

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Dried food stored in glass jars

Whether you are setting up an emergency supply of food or simply stocking your pantry with kitchen storage items, it's important to know how long the different foods in your kitchen storage last as well as methods to increase their shelf life. Preparing foods as directed and storing them properly not only maintains the quality of the product; it also helps you avoid food poisoning. Read on for answers to your questions about food storage.

Food Storage Questions:

  1. How long can I keep canned goods?
    Canned goods are a staple in any home food storage. They are recommended for emergency kits because of their long shelf life. From the date of packaging, you can expect a canned good to last for about 18 months to two years in a kitchen pantry, depending on the contents. Items with a low acidic value, such as vegetables, may be usable for up to five years. The dates printed on canned goods are required by the Food and Drug Administration. These dates are usually listed as sell-by or use-by dates. While the items can generally be used after the date, it is not recommended. Cans that are dented, damaged or visibly bulging should be avoided. Once opened, all of the contents should be used at one time, or the unused portion should be transferred into a refrigerator-safe container. You can expect opened canned goods to remain usable for up to five days.

  2. How long can items be stored in the freezer?
    If you cannot use the food within a few days of opening it, it should be frozen to increase its shelf life. While food can stay in the freezer indefinitely, the quality of the item will degrade over time due to freezer burn. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests that most items be kept in the freezer no longer than 12 months. Exceptions to these guidelines include soups and stews, which should be kept for a maximum of three months, bacon and sausage for up to two months and prepackaged frozen dinners for up to four months.

  3. How long do dried goods last?
    The shelf life of dried goods stored in a kitchen pantry varies greatly among products. Some will deteriorate faster than others, and the method of storage and temperature also impacts the shelf life. For dried goods stored at a consistent 70 degrees, you can expect pasta to last about eight years, flour to last for five years, powdered milk for up to 15 years, dried beans for up to 10 years and rice for up to two years.

  4. How can I increase the shelf life?
    To increase the shelf life of products in your food storage, read the labels first. Items should be stored in a cool, dry place that keeps the same temperature year round. For opened items, consider using a vacuum storage system to remove any air before storing in the freezer or the cabinet. Rotate your canned goods so that the newer items are in the back of the pantry and the older ones are positioned near the front. If any food looks suspicious or has a funny smell, discard it immediately.

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