Shelf Confidence

October 20, 2008 at 10:47 am 1 comment

Food Storage Quick Tip #8 – Shelf Life

I had an experience the other week after buying the Albertsons 20 for 10 soups by the case.  In interest of rotation, I tidied my whole supply.  As I got looking at the cans, I noticed that many of them, quite a lot of them, expired in 2007.  Time flies when you are thinking food storage, huh.  Of course, bulging cans should be discarded regardless of the date.  I fully understand the decline in quality and nutrition over the shelf life of the item, but honestly, that won’t matter a fig if my children are walking around with empty bellies.  My belief that wasting perfectly good food is a sin, goes deep.  So what should I do about it?  Do I use it, or do I pitch it?

Now, I have a friend, who, for the sake of anonymity, we shall call Angela :).  When we left Washington, I left two 20 lb buckets of honey with her, because they were heavy and we didn’t want to move them.  Angela was delighted to have the honey, and held onto it for years, feeling well prepared and toasty warm inside.  In 2007, she was organizing her attic and noticed the date on the honey was 1999.  Feeling it was a matter of safety and relying on my hand written date on the bucket, SHE TOSSED THE HONEY!! In a matter of weeks, the honey long gone via Jim’s Sanitation, she learned that honey keeps indefinitely, and to replace 40 lbs of honey was over the top of food storage allowance.  Today, Angela is riddled with guilt and can’t sleep nights.  Unfavorable dreams.  Impairment of self esteem.  The whole deal.  Poor Angela.

What is up with the expiration date anyway?  Keep in mind, once again, that there in conflicting informaton on the Internet.  Only in America are we regulated so that paranoia visits us every day.  The truth is, the dates mean different things, depending on the product.  The FDA only requires date stamps on canned food, meats and produce, and those dates are more indicative of quality rather than safety.  One source even mentions that the dates are more of a guideline than a command.  So basically you get to decide.


– Sell by
date tells the store how long to display the product for sale.  It is a basic guide to the retailer so the store knows when to pull the item.  As in the case of my soup, it can last up to 3 years after the sell by date.  Eggs, for example, will keep up to 5 weeks beyond their date stamp.
Best if used by (or before) date refers strictly to quality, not sfety.  It is the date for best flavor or quality.  Sour cream is already sour, but the has the best flavor when freshly sour (oxymoron).
Guaranteed fresh until date refers to bakery items and is not required. Items are still edible after that date, but not be at their peak.  Freezing the item prolongs it for even a longer period.
– Use by date tells you the date is at peak quality as determined by the manufacturer.  These dates are used to preserve the label reputation of the company who produces it.  These items can also be used at a later time, but don’t expect your Cheese Whiz to be creamy and elegant after 7 years (that happened to me once).
– Pack Date is tricky.  It may simply be a code used by the manufacturer and may be reverted to the Julian calendar (whatever the heck that is).  For example, January is 0001-0031, December is 334-645 and gets wierder and complicated.  So generally, it is not a favorable indication to the consumer, as it is simply the date when the can left the cannery.

What about dry foods like wheat, rice, sugar, flour, or beans?  The guidelines at Provident Living show that shelf life is much longer than previously thought.  These items may last 30 years or more when kept in a cool, dry place.  Did I mention that HONEY will last indefinitely?

What did I do with my 50 cans of outdated soup?  Should I tell you about it?  What should I do?  Well, what would you do if your mother asked you?

Assignment A: Go to your pantry and bulk storage with the oldest dates in the front.  Then to the freezer and do the same. B: Make a couple of meals this week with items that need to be used.  Resolve to rotate all food storage as you go.  C: Spend $10 this week replacing seriously outdated food or adding to your pantry and bulk supply.

Link: Here is a link to a slide show more specific to items you want to store.  It is informative and short.:
Here is a link to a slide show more specific to items stored. It is very informative and short.


Entry filed under: Budgeting, Common Sense, Emergency Preparedness, Food Storage, Home Storage, Self Reliance, Self Sufficiency, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , .

Use Your Bean and Rice to the Occasion Make Mine To Go

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Kellene  |  May 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    What an excellent segment on expiration dates! Your poor friend “Angela”, she must have felt awful about the wasted honey. In a lot of cases as I’ve researched the topic, I’ve found that expiration dates just cover these manufacturer’s legal behinds. What would I do about your expired soup? Have you opened to see how it smells?


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