Friday, September 23, 2011

Continuity Insurance - Food Storage - Shelf Life

Just in case my post title didn’t cover it, today we’re going to talk about how long your food will last. Of course, if you actually store the types of foods you normally eat  (rotation is tomorrow’s topic), you won’t have to worry about storing your food for more than a year anyway.

Food Storage Shelf Life

The first thing you need to know is what is meant by ‘food storage’ and ‘shelf life’. ‘Food storage’ is intended to be held long-term and is usually considered low moisture food packaged in either #10 cans or in metalized bags within large buckets. ‘Shelf life’ can mean one of the following two ways:
·         ‘Use by’ shelf life - The length of time your food will keep most of its original taste and nutrition.
·         ‘Discard after’ shelf life - The length of time your food will keep you alive, without becoming inedible.

There can be a huge time difference between these two meanings. Most foods available in the grocery stores that have a “Best if used by” date range from a few weeks to a few years (except for dairy). With that said, studies have shown that when stored correctly, powdered milk can have a ‘Discard after’ shelf life of 20 years. This means that the milk may not taste quite as good as freshly purchased powdered milk, but it is still edible and useable.

The second thing you need to understand is food constituents. All food contains the following:
·         Calories: A unit of measurement of energy derived from fats, carbohydrates and protein.
·         Fats: A wide group of compounds that will break down in organic solvents but not 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: Nutrients required for essential metabolic reactions in a living organism.
·         Minerals: The chemical elements required by living organisms, other than carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen.

Both minerals and carbohydrates will not change much during long-term storage. But proteins can and will deteriorate in quality. Fats can acquire bad odors and flavors, thus becoming rancid. Vitamins can be destroyed by heat, light and oxidation. Most importantly, even if some of these things deteriorate over time, the fat, carbohydrates and proteins still contribute calories. The most needed of these items in preventing starvation is calories.

The third important aspect to recognize is that the shelf life of food depends heavily on the following storage conditions:
·         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 (40°F to 60°F is best) and never store food in an attic or garage as discussed earlier.
·         Moisture: Large amounts moisture can result in deterioration and spoilage (grossness) by creating an environment in which microorganisms (wee beasties) may grow and chemical reactions can take place.
·         Oxygen: The oxygen in air can have deteriorative effects on fats, food colors, vitamins, flavors, and other food constituents. It will cause conditions that will enhance the growth of microorganisms.
·         Light: The exposure of foods to light can result in the deterioration of specific food constituents, like its fats, proteins and vitamins, resulting in off colors, bad flavors, and loss of vitamins.

Examples of Shelf Life

Recent studies of dehydrated foods have shown that if it is stored properly, it can last for a much longer time than originally thought. This research determined the ‘discard after’ shelf life to be the following:

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

Freeze-dried food is also excellent for long-term food storage. Mountain House® has tested some of their freeze-dried foods and the results enabled them to claim a “use by” shelf life of 25 years. As mentioned above, freeze-drying fruits, vegetables and meats help maintain the foods original shape, color and taste.

Copyright ©2010 Noel Napolitan

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