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When it comes to prepping, there isn’t anything much more important than having a good supply of the basics that keep us alive. Those prepper basics are of course food, water, security, and shelter. But the biggest struggle for many is finding the foods that last a long time. In this post, we take a look at the 20 best prepping foods for long-term storage and how to extend the shelf life of your foods.
Since I started writing The Prepping Guide, one of the most popular questions I have received is what foods last the longest? It was also one of the primary challenges I had when I started prepping. And it’s not only preppers that ask about the foods with the longest shelf life, it’s homesteaders, emergency workers, military, and many other communities. So I decided to make a list of the longest-lasting foods.
For water storage, whether you are storing your water or buying bottled water, it’s pretty straightforward. And for security and shelter, there are many different ways to set up your home security and use your shelter or a bug out location. But for food, it’s important to know the range of choices we have and the foods that have the longest shelf life so that we don’t have to rotate our stock so much. This lets us have those foods sitting in the cupboard and know that should we need them, they will still be good to eat in 5 or 10 years.
Choices in food matter. For myself, I wouldn’t want to be living off beans for a whole year if I knew there were other options I could easily purchase at my local supermarket that would last for more than five or 10 years, and I know you are the same. While these foods might seem plain and simple, they are great to add with your canned foods that you might have canned yourself or your emergency food.
So let’s take a look at what can we eat that has the longest shelf life and the foods that last a long time.
Just like with rice, if you properly package dried beans they can last for up to 30 years. To get the longest shelf life out of dried beans they have to be stored in air-tight containers with moisture prevention to prevent the spoilage that happens in kept foods.
One of the best bulk options we tried were Augason Farms Pinto Beans, which are contained in a 6-gallon watertight pail that included 432 servings.
Sure, I mentioned above that dried beans every day might get a bit boring, but if you add these in with rice and a few different spices you can make a lot of interesting mixtures to have some contrast to your food stockpiles and the types of recipes you could create out of your doomsday stockpile.
For storing dried beans, it is recommended you stick with airtight sealable food storage containers and mylar bags which stop oxygen absorption for long-term foods. The bags help considerably to extend the shelf-life of almost all of the foods that you are looking to store. There are also several other ways that you might want to look at to extend the shelf-life of your foods as well.
Oats are amazing and a very filling food source that can be easily used in all sorts of meals and snacks. Sure, they are not as easy to cook as most other food types but can last upwards of 30 years if kept in the same manner as beans. And, did we mention how cheap they are.
There are endless possibilities to how you prepare them including boiling oats, toasting oats, grinding them into flour, baking them into your favorite muffin, even sprouting them or making them into oat milk.
The health benefits of rolled oats, like the ones we tested from Honeyville, are rich in antioxidants, contain a powerful soluble fiber called Beta-Glucan, and can lower cholesterol levels and protect LDL cholesterol from damage.
Pasta is a great shelf food as it is another carbohydrate item to mix with anything else to make a cold or hot pasta depending on what you are after. For most commercially-packaged freeze-dried pasta they sit around the 8-30 year shelf lifespan.
Take a look at the packs in the supermarket as some Italian pasta varies quite widely in their expiry dates.
Dried fruits, or dehydrated fruits, are fruits that have been dried out such as raisins, apricots, apple, and of course dates, but the possibilities don’t stop there. You can dehydrate any fruit and many vegetables.
Most dehydrated fruits in bulk are costly and I have found the ones I have done myself with the Gourmia Food Dehydrator are more delicious and affordable. But slicing and drying fruits and veggies can be time-intensive so do what’s best for you.
Most dehydrated fruits will keep well up to five years, but dates and raisins may keep a bit longer if stored in the same preserved way as beans but in a cooler temperature.
There are various ways to store cheese, such as cheese in wax, canned cheese from Bega, Kraft, and freeze-dried cheese, and can last for an incredibly long time for a dairy product.
Rice is one of the must-have foods for stockpiles just because it is cheap, easy to get, and easy to store for great long shelf life.
Dehydrated carrots last for up to 25 years.
Canned corn and dried corn is cheap, tasty and has an easy 10-year shelf life.
If you are stocking lentils, which most preppers already do, consider getting whole lentils and not split ones, as the whole lentils last much longer. These are also a great source of fiber and are very easy to cook on their own or to add to other dishes.
The shelf life for these is generally 4-5 years but if you add them into mylar oxygen absorber bags they can last up to 20 years.
I grew up on canned beans as a kid and absolutely love them. I keep small tins of these in my bug out bag and take them outdoors as they are super tasty and easy to eat hot or cold.
I would never usually eat these, and perhaps if you had a good source of chickens these would not be necessary, but as an additive, canned powdered eggs are a perfect shelf item as they can last up to seven years.
Pemmican is a survival treat invented by the Native Americans which was made from lean meat of local wild animals. The meat is dried over a fire, mixed with fat and flavoring berries, and pressed into biscuit-sized snacks.
Bear Valley makes a range of pemmican products for outdoor regulars who are looking for a source of protein with a good taste and long shelf life.
Initially made for soldiers to have high-energy sources of foods that last a long time, MREs are essentially the basics of long-lasting foods that are made to be compact but carry 24 or 72-hours worth of nutrients.
MREs are also great to use in short-term scenarios such as in disasters where you need to rely on an emergency food source for a short amount of time. This is why most 72-hour survival kits will have an MRE or freeze-dried meal to go.
Even though they are sugar and fat-packed, if you’re after a little bit of sweetness to add to the prepper’s pantry, Twinkies are the one dessert that has been proven to outlast a nuclear fallout.
In 2012, a science teacher finished an experiment to see how long they would last. He ate a pack of Twinkies that were 30 years old and aside from the bread tasting a little stale, they were completely fine.
While you can use honey as a type of sugar, which also lasts indefinitely, sugar and salts are great to add to foods and are basic ingredients in many recipes.
Baking soda and baking powder last indefinitely, but again you need to think about if you want to be cooking loaves of bread or doughy items when the world is at an end. Some people avoid stocking too many items that require a lot of cooking.
Honey, as mentioned above, is a great natural sugar and lasts forever.
This not only works for soups but also potato or rice to add an extra flavoring to a dish.
Depending on your water reserves, you might not want to be drinking too much coffee if you need to be relying on your prepper’s stockpile of food.
Powdered milk and even powdered protein supplements are a must-have for the pantry as the powdered milk can be cooked with or used in drinks and the protein powder provides a lot of nutrients you might usually not get.
First, we should clear up exactly what is freeze-dried food. Often you will find that some foods are considered freeze-dried, but are in fact meals that are ready to eat, otherwise known as MREs. Fortunately, if you are looking for a lot, we have included them on this list. But as far as freeze-dried food goes, there is a little bit of science behind how they are made.
While freeze-drying food is power-intensive, the benefits of doing so drive the industry to keep providing it. They are long-lasting and lighter than carrying the foods required to make a full pad thai or Sunday lamb roast.
The process to make freeze-dried food is simple.
Foods are snap frozen – Fresh foods or recently cooked foods are placed in a special dryer where they are frozen at high temperatures (-40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder). This is a snap freeze method so the food is frozen in an instant.
Foods are vacuum dried – The second process is where the freeze dryer creates a vacuum around the food and when the food gets slightly warm the ice evaporates rather than liquifies leaving the food in a dry and frozen state.
The food is stored in food storage bags or other types of moisture and oxygen-proof bags. Generally, an oxygen absorber is also used in the bag to ensure that no oxygen gets to the food. The entire process suspends the food until water is added to it, which then essentially brings the food back to life-giving it that fresh taste, appearance, and smell as if it had just been cooked.
For many of us, the ability to choose between MREs and freeze-dried foods allows us to have various pre-packaged options until we find a few flavors that we enjoy. For some underground bunker owners, this is a process they undergo before they stock up on a year’s worth of such long-term food.
Every prepper’s pantry should also have emergency food supplies that can be grabbed in a bug-out situation, such as if your place was to be overrun with people desperate for supplies, or you need to leave because of a disaster or other threat.
Some great emergency food supply companies provide sets of food supplies such as:
For more in-depth coverage on the best freeze-dried foods and emergency foods to add to your stockpile, I wrote a post on the seven best freeze-dried and emergency foods that might help you find suitable options for your bug out bag, stockpile, or to keep around the house for when you are headed outdoors.
Having been initially made for astronauts to ensure that they had long-lasting foods in their space missions, freeze-dried foods are now a staple item for military, hikers, campers, survivalists, and preppers. And there’s a lot more than just the freeze-dried ice cream that astronauts were snacking on in the first days of freeze-dried food preservation.
The main difference between MREs, normal food, and freeze-dried food is the absence of water. When you freeze dry food, you are removing almost all of its water content through the evaporation method we mentioned above. Removing the water removes the chance of the food spoiling while still keeping the same texture, taste, and smell.
This reason is why some prefer to carry MREs instead of freeze-dried meals, as they don’t have to carry excess water to add moisture back to their food. It is also why it is recommended to drink plenty of water with dehydrated and freeze-dried foods, as the foods will absorb water in the body as well, making you much more thirsty than if you ate an average MRE.
Nutritionally, there is very little difference between foods that haven’t been freeze-dried and foods that have. Anyone that says freeze-drying food loses its nutritional value is wrong. Researchers have found that freeze-dried foods that contain vegetables or fruits have fewer vitamins, but that those amounts lost were very small. For calories, freeze-dried foods contain more as they are missing water so their density and calory count goes higher.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the best freeze-dried foods, and the best emergency foods you can buy.
When storing any prepper foods, there are certain tips to extend the shelf life of your foods. Following some simple common-sense practices can mean the difference between your foods lasting months or even years longer than they usually would. For any prepper that stores their food, this should be part of their repertoire.
Over at our post on how to extend the shelf life of foods, we have 20 tips that you might want to follow.
One great way to ensure that your food is sealed and that it won’t develop mold over time is to use mylar storage bags and oxygen absorbers. The mylar bags are great as they are crucial to long-term food storage by limiting the factors that affect foods such as heat, light, moisture, oxygen, and of course those pesky mice and rats (if you have them around).
You will no doubt find that most preppers will use mylar bags in their food storage containers, which just reinforces the protection of your food. Using oxygen absorbers (the amount depends on the amount of food you have in the bag) will stop oxygen, dampness, and any eventual bacteria and mold from growing in your food. This is the number one spoiler for long-term storage foods and the one thing we hate the most as preppers when it comes to food storage. I recommend picking up these discount mylar bags as they also come with oxygen absorbers.
Once you have loaded your food in the bag and you have thrown in your oxygen absorbers, you can either heat seal it closed, or if you have bought mylar bags with a ziplock seal, you can use that instead.
When you first come into the world of prepping, there is a lot run through and it is easy to get lost. Thankfully, it’s not all that hard to start prepping and it shouldn’t be either, it’s quite a fun activity once you start getting into it. We have a guide on how you can start prepping which helps you build an adequate food supply for yourself and your loved ones.
If you know of any other foods that have a long shelf-life, please share it with me and the rest of the prepping community in the comments section below.