A Diamond is Forever? How about Spam?

I sometimes get questions about the shelf life of food, particularly canned or packaged food. No matter the kind of food, or the packaging, its the science of the food packaging that matters. Whether its canned or retort packaging, both kill all bacteria inside the food package. As long as the package is sound (no punctures, holes, tears, etc.) and the food in the package does not look or smell bad you are fine. The only difference is that canned food is in a tougher package. That's it.

For people who want to stockpile food for emergencies (the US government and the Red Cross recommend at least three days, and up to 2 weeks), it's a fairly simple and easy process to pick out canned or retort packaged items, put them in a sealed container (to minimize the chances of damaging the packages) in a cool place, and forget about it. Select items based on nutritional quality and ease of preparation. Foods you would eat cold with a spoon are probably best (say, because of an electricity outage after a tornado or snow storm), but there is no reason you cannot select items you would want to eat after a bit more food preparation. Just remember that the point is to have food for emergencies, and enough for everyone in your home (and frankly, consider your neighbors may be in need as well) for two weeks. Note: when you buy your emergency food, get an extra can opener, a couple of boxes of candles, and a few packages of plastic plates or bowls and eating utensils, too. Put all of this in your emergency food container. That way you can grab the box and know you'll have everything you need to eat a meal.

Check the links below for more information.

The processing techniques utilized by Hormel Foods makes the canned product safe for use indefinitely if the product seal remains intact, unbroken and securely attached to a can that has been well maintained. It is suggested that all canned products be stored in a cool and dry environment to keep the flavor adequately preserved. For maximum flavor it is recommended that the product be used within three years of the manufacturing date. After that period of time, the product is still safe to use however, the flavor gradually declines.

Practically, the darn things last a long, long, time. As long as the individual MRE components aren't damaged, punctured, (or SWELLING!!), they should still be edible.

Canning is a high-heat process that renders the food commercially sterile. Food safety is not an issue in products kept on the shelf or in the pantry for long periods of time. In fact, canned food has an almost indefinite shelf life at moderate temperatures (75° Fahrenheit and below). Canned food as old as 100 years has been found in sunken ships and it is still microbiologically safe! We don't recommend keeping canned food for 100 years, but if the can is intact, it is edible. Rust or dents do not affect the contents of the can as long as the can does not leak. If the can is leaking, however, or if the ends are bulged, the food should not be used.

Here is the food ration suggested in The Management of Nutrition in Major Emergencies, by the World Health Organization.

A two year supply of food.
14x 50 lb. bags of white rice, $16.97 ea
10x 10 lb. bags of beans, $6.88 ea.
5x 10 lb. bottles of oil, $8 ea.
16x 3 lb. cans of meat, $7.88 ea.
4x 10 lb. bags of sugar, $6.45 ea.
2x 4 lb. cans of salt, $0.98 ea.
That comes to $501.20, according to my spreadsheet.

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