Set of uncooked foods on pantry shelf prepared for disaster emergency conditions on brick wall background closeup view

Long Shelf-Life Food to Stockpile for an Emergency

If recent world events have given you one big fat wake-up call, you are not alone. The message is clear—every household needs to have some amount of food in storage. Natural disasters like blizzards, hurricanes, and floods often come with little or no warning.

Stocking up now on the right non-perishable foods with long shelf lives will help you weather any storm (global pandemic, political unrest) with less stress. The type and amount of food to store is an individual decision that depends on your financial resources and storage area.

Set of uncooked foods on pantry shelf prepared for disaster emergency conditions on brick wall background closeup view

Start small

Ideally, your long-term goal is to have stockpiled enough to feed your family for six months. But start with shorter goals, like enough food for one week, then two weeks, and then a month.

This kind of incremental plan won’t bust the budget or throw you into panic buying that can easily lead to burnout and buyer’s remorse.

Long shelf life

Following is a list of foods that won’t spoil quickly, making them good choices to stock should you want to quarantine now during the coronavirus pandemic, or to be prepared for future unknowns.

1. Beef jerky

Shelf life: 1 to 2 years

Dried pieces of meat known as “jerky” are a delicious snack item in a non-perishable food stockpile. It’s lean, dry, and salted—a combination of qualities that contribute to its longevity if it’s kept in an unopened package.

2. Canned vegetables

Shelf life: 1 to 2 years past “best by” date

Generally, commercially canned foods are good for two to five years from the date they were packed. High acid food like tomato sauce will not keep as long as a can of beans, for example. Canned varieties can provide you with essential nutrients, making these a great hurricane food or natural disaster option.

If not subjected to extreme heat, canned fruits and vegetables stay good for at least one year and possibly two years past the “best by” date on the can. Cans with swollen tops or sides should be discarded, however, as this may indicate the presence of bacteria.

3. Canned protein

Shelf life: 3 to 5  years after “best by” date

Canned proteins like tuna, salmon, chicken, corned beef, turkey, Spam, and even bacon (yes, you can now buy canned, cooked bacon) have a very long shelf life. Provided they are stored in a dry cool place and are not damaged, you can count on a shelf life of three to five years after the “best by” date.

Canned meats provide essential protein. Vacuum-packed pouches have a shorter shelf life but will last at least six months, according to the USDA Meat and poultry hotline. Vacuum sealed packs may come in handy if you don’t have a can opener.


4. Canned soups and chili

Shelf life: 1 to 2 years past “best by” date

An added benefit here is that soups and chili can be eaten straight out of the can while providing a variety of nutrients. Consider storing a variety of these items and look for low-sodium options.

5. White rice

Shelf life: Indefinite

Nutritionists typically are not fans of white rice, pointing out that brown rice is far superior in terms of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. But brown rice also has a higher oil content than white rice, so it has a much shorter shelf life of just a few months.

White rice is almost indestructible with an indefinite shelf life! Its only enemies are moisture and tiny insects known as rice weevils or flour bugs that find their way into the package, or hatched from eggs that were harvested along with the rice itself.

Storing rice in airtight containers takes care of both problems. However, if you find bugs anyway, discard the rice.

6. Dried pasta

Shelf life: 1 to 2 years past “best by” date

Fresh pasta is made with eggs and needs to be refrigerated as it is perishable. However, dried pasta made with just semolina wheat flour and water has a super long shelf life as long as the pacakge remains unopened and no moisture seeps into the package.

7. Dry Beans

Shelf life: Indefinite

Dry beans and legumes are a great source of protein and ideal for long-term storage. In their dry state, they remain edible and packed with nutrition indefinitely—many years!—provided they are kept away from moisture.




The Protein in Rice and Beans. Rice and beans may seem like a simplistic meal without enough protein or nutrition. It turns out, however, that rice and bean dishes have complete proteins, are packed with carbohydrates, protein, and nutrients you may need for a vegan diet or fitness plan, and are totally delicious.

The Bean Cookbook is a free download from The Bean Institute that will teach you everything you need to know about how to prepare and enjoy beans. Honestly, I had no idea. I’ve learned so much. Plus hundreds of really awesome recipes! FREE download.

8. Apples

Shelf life: Up to 6 months

Apples are fruit that can stay fresh and crisp for as long as six months if they’re stored in a cold, dark place like a root cellar or cool basement. If they’re kept in a fruit bowl at room temperature, they’ll generally remain at their best for at least two weeks, sometimes as long as a month.

9. Flour

Shelf life: 3 to 6 months sealed; 1 year in the fridge; up to 5 years in a freezer

Many factors influence flour’s shelf life, or the length of time it lasts before beginning to spoil. Most flours stay fresh 3–8 months at room temperature, usually long past their expiration date. However, the specific shelf life depends on the type of flour, its ingredients, and how you store it

You can count on all-purpose flour lasting well for three to six months in its sealed bag, up to one year in the refrigerator and, longer if stored in a freezer.

10. Sugar

Shelf life: Indefinite

Sugar is one of the few products that lasts indefinitely. The only problem it presents for cooks is that it can harden. For this reason, plan on sugar having a useful shelf life of about two years.

11. Bottled water

Shelf life: Indefinite

Here’s the goal: Stock at least a three-day supply—you need at least one gallon per person per day. A normally active person should drink at least a half gallon of water each day. The other half gallon is for adding to food and washing. Start small, buy a few bottles every time you’re at the store. Or use your own sterilized containers that you fill from the tap, keep tightly covered.

12. Sports drinks

Shelf life: As printed on container

The electrolytes and carbohydrates in beverages like Gatorade or Powerade will help you rehydrate and replenish fluid when water is scarce. These drinks have expiration dates printed on them, so pay attention and rotate your stock accordingly.

13. Powdered milk

Shelf life: 1 to 1.5 years

Almost all dairy products require refrigeration, so powdered milk and also canned evaporated milk are great stockpile items. These substitutes are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D when fresh milk is not an option. However, the flavor and texture may change after 18 months or so.

14. Seasonings

Shelf life: Indefinite for most

If you have access to a propane or charcoal stove, you may be doing some cooking. A basic supply of salt, pepper, seasonings, and sweeteners will improve the flavor of your food, and items often are forgotten when amassing a stockpile.

Salt will never go bad, pepper should be used within 5 years, after which time it may lose its potency.

Other spices vary but generally have a shelf life of years while unopened.

Bouillon cubes have a shelf life of 2 years, which makes this a wonderful option for a stockpile as bouillon is a source of great flavor.

15. Freeze-dried coffee

Shelf life: Up to 25 years

Freeze-dried coffee is real coffee that has had all of the moisture removed, which results if coffee “crystals.” Since all the moisture is removed, it is no longer subject to bacterial contamination. Provided you keep freeze-dried coffee sealed, it will retain all of its flavor and caffeination for many years—up to 25!

16. Ghee

Shelf life: 2 years up to indefinite in freezer

Ghee is “clarified butter,” which means all of the milk solids have been removed. Because ghee contains no lactose, it has an amazingly long shelf life. A jar of ghee remains good for many months if stored unrefrigerated in a cool dark place. Kept in the freezer, ghee has an indefinite shelf life.

Ghee is a good replacement for regular butter from spreading on toast to popping corn and everything between.

17. Dark chocolate

Shelf life: 2 to 5 years

Chocolate is a great option for stockpiling. With high cacao content and little or no milk, dark chocolate will last much longer than milk chocolate, which contains dairy products subject to earlier spoilage.

High temperatures are bad for all chocolate, but the dark variety should last for a couple of years at temperatures up to about 75 F, and will keep for as long as five years if stored between 60 and 65 F.

18. Honey

Shelf life: Indefinite

Containers of honey that you buy in the supermarket generally have a “best by” date. Manufacturers do this because over time honey can change in color and or form sugar crystals, both of which are perfectly harmless. Truth be told, honey has an indefinite shelf life—even up to decades or generations. A great option for your stockpile.

19. Peanut butter

Shelf life: 2 years

An unopened jar of peanut butter kept at room temperature lasts longer than two years. However, after this time, the oil is likely to separate from the solids, drying out the peanut butter. And the flavor may fade, but it is not spoiled nor would it be unsafe to eat.

Even once you open a jar, it isn’t necessary to refrigerate the peanut butter. Stored in a dark place at room temperature, it will remain flavorful and safe to eat for three months minimum, according to the National Peanut Board.

20. Multivitamins

Shelf life: As printed on the container

Supplements will help replace the nutrients you would have consumed on a normal diet. Pay attention to expiration dates after which vitamins and other nutritional supplements will begin to lose their potency.

Storage areas

When we think of storage areas, it’s usually a basement or garage—both of which are ideal. But what if you live in an apartment or you have no basement and your garage is barely big enough for your vehicle(s)? Get creative! You’ll be amazed how many places there are in your home that can keep emergency food supplies out of sight, but still handy.

Under beds

If you have room under your beds, you can use shallow plastic containers to hold canned goods and sealed dry goods.


Walk into your closet, turn around and look above the door. This space is open in many closets and a great place to add a wire shelf for lighter foodstuffs. Be very careful as you don’t want cans to roll off and land on your head.

Under stairs

That space under the stairs leading to your basement or second story may seem useless for its odd shape and lack of accessibility. But take a second look. With some simple shelves, this space just might be ideal for food storage.

Refrigerator and freezer

If the electricity goes out, what should you do about the food in your refrigerator and freezer? Generally, do not open the refrigerator, not even to take a peek, until you absolutely need to get something.


If food has spent more than four hours over  40 F.,  it’s likely no longer safe to eat. But remember that a refrigerator is well-insulated. If you do not open it, the temperature will remain at a safe level for an additional hour or two, even longer.


As long as frozen foods have ice crystals or are cool to the touch, they’re still safe. Here’s the rule: Once the food gets to room temperature of about 65 F., bacteria forms more quickly, and you want to be very careful about what you’re eating. As with the refrigerator, keep the door of that freezer tightly closed to slow the thawing process.

Heat alternative

If you don’t have electricity, you may still be able to cook or heat your food. If you have outdoor access, a charcoal grill or propane stove is a viable option. Caution: These can’t be used indoors because of improper ventilation. If you’re stuck indoors, you’ll be glad to have kept a can of Sterno handy which is essentially “canned heat,” that requires no electricity and can warm up small amounts of food in cookware.




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6 replies
  1. Heather in KS says:

    I vacuum seal all my dry goods (pasta, rice, beans etc) either in jars or bags for long term storage. Keeps bugs and moisture out of them.

  2. Teresa LoPorto says:

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (I’m not a member) makes self-sufficiency and emergency food storage a priority for members. To help members do that the church has a number of Home Storage Centers located around the country that sell large cans of dried food sealed well enough to still be good to eat after a VERY long time, some as long as 30 yrs! Anyone can buy from them in person or online, you don’t have to be a member.

  3. Kathy Johns says:

    Thanks for your wisdom over the years! This article affirms we’ve following a good plan. We tell family, “when the ‘zombies’ come, bring a fork ….”

  4. Sheri B. says:

    When you buy your pasta and rice putting it in the freezer for 1-2 days will kill the bug larva. I used to work in a pantry for low-income people, we always put the rice, pasta (whether in a box like mac and cheese) in the freezer and it worked! If we forgot to out one in the freezer, we would have little flying bugs. You can even freeze birdseed, then take it out and let it thaw. I have no more flying bugs

  5. Jenni says:

    A simple way to keep bugs out of pasta and flour is to put a Bay Leaf or two in the bag or box. Since moving back South, we’ve had to deal with bugs. It is easy to do and effective.
    Trying to convince my (grown) daughter that food is edible past the Best by or expiration date is a whole other problem!!
    Thanks for your work Mary.

  6. Jean says:

    I picked up a copy of the bean cookbook at the North Dakota State Fair years ago.( I have the first edition). What drew me to the booth was the wonderful aroma of a roaster full of the Apple Bean Bake. They were giving out samples.
    The cookbook came about from a partnership between the state WIC program and the Bean Growers Association to encourage the use of dried beans. Most WIC participates were refusing the dry bean voucher because they didn’t know how to cook them or didn’t like them.


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