15 Groceries That Can Keep for Years

Woman shopping for cheese at a grocery store
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If you hadn’t previously thought about how you would build up a food supply for an emergency, the coronavirus pandemic probably made you consider it.

What kinds of foods are best to keep in the pantry and freezer in case of a natural disaster, zombie apocalypse or pandemic that drags on for more than a couple of weeks?

Start with the following options. These foods can last for years before going bad.

Then, to learn about households goods that last the longest, check out “7 Things That Never Expire – and How to Store Them.”

1. Oats

This prolific cereal grain and staple of many American breakfast tables can last up to 30 years, according to the Utah State University Extension.

Store oats in airtight containers in a cool, dark, dry place. To maximize shelf life, use oxygen absorber packets.

2. White rice

Also known as polished rice, white rice has a shelf life of 25 to 30 years when properly stored. That’s why we included it in “20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling.”

The best temperature for storing this grain is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. The best container is one that is sealed and oxygen-free.

3. Pasta

Dried pasta can last for years without losing quality, according to Kantha Shelke, a food scientist and principal of Corvus Blue, a food science and research firm. In fact, she tells Cooking Light she tasted pasta found in an Egyptian pyramid, and there was no loss in quality.

4. Popcorn

Unpopped kernels can last two years, according to the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Best storage is at room temperature.

5. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate lasts up to two years if properly stored, according to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

It should be stored in a tightly sealed container and at a temperature of 65 to 70 degrees. Keep it in a dry location as well. Do not refrigerate it, because the sugar can rise to the surface and give the chocolate a whitish appearance.

6. Honey

Winnie-the-Pooh’s favorite treat can remain stable indefinitely, according to the National Honey Board. However, a two-year shelf life is standard.

The trade group explains:

“Honey stored in sealed containers can remain stable for decades and even centuries! However, honey is susceptible to physical and chemical changes during storage; it tends to darken and lose its aroma and flavor or crystallize. These are temperature-dependent processes, making the shelf life of honey difficult to define.”

7. Powdered milk

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodKeeper storage guide, powdered milk can last three to five years — but keeps only three months once the package has been opened.

For best storage, keep at cool temperatures in a dark location.

8. Dried beans

Dried beans and lentils have a shelf life of up to 30 years or more when stored properly, according to the Utah State University Extension. However, for best color and flavor, they should be used within 12 months.

The best method of storage is in No. 10 cans or Mylar-type bags with the oxygen removed, and keep the beans at a colder temperature.

9. Certain cheeses

Low-moisture, hard cheese can last from 10 months to several years, reports Dairy Foods Magazine. For example, the typical shelf life for Parmesan is up to five years, and that of aged cheddar is up to 10 years.

The Food Network has a handy how-to on best practices for cheese storage.

10. Canned foods

Generally, commercially canned foods that are canned in liquid should maintain their best quality until their expiration date, which is usually two to five years from the manufacture date, according to the Utah State University Extension.

Note that unopened home-canned foods have a shorter shelf life — one year — and should be used before two years. USU Extension explains:

“Commercially canned foods are superior to home canned for food storage. Commercial canners can closely control quality and safety to produce the best product.”

When buying canned foods, avoid cans that are:

  • Rusted
  • Dented
  • Scratched
  • Bulging

11. Frozen foods

That succotash that’s been in your freezer for years might not taste amazing, but it’s perfectly safe and likely still nutritious — assuming your freezer has been kept at zero degrees Fahrenheit or colder.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, foods frozen at that temperature remain safe almost indefinitely, and freezer storage has little to no effect on food nutrient value. Quality is a different matter, but the USDA has a handy storage chart showing how long different frozen foods maintain their quality.

The USDA recommends storing frozen food in packaging that keeps air out.

12. Sugar

How long does the sweet stuff last? Domino Sugar says:

“Sugar, properly stored, has an indefinite shelf life because it does not support microbial growth.”

However, Domino adds that sugar is best when used within three years of purchase. Powdered sugar is best when used within two years of purchase.

13. Baking soda

This baking and cleaning aid has a shelf life of three years, according to Arm & Hammer.

Utah State University Extension reports that baking soda will react with moisture and chemically change, however. So store it in its original container and place that container inside stronger packaging, such as a Mylar-type bag, along with oxygen absorbers.

14. Salt

Pure salt doesn’t expire, according to Morton Salt. Salt that has been mixed with other ingredients, such as iodine or spices, can deteriorate with time but likely will last for at least a couple of years. Morton recommends using its many salt-based products in anywhere from two to five years, depending on the product.

USU Extension recommends storing salt the same way as baking soda.

15. Vinegars

The Vinegar Institute reports that it has confirmed through studies that vinegar has an “almost indefinite” shelf life. The international trade association explains:

“Because of its acid nature, vinegar is self-preserving and does not need refrigeration. White distilled vinegar will remain virtually unchanged over an extended period of time. And, while some changes can be observed in other types of vinegars, such as color changes or the development of a haze or sediment, this is only an aesthetic change. The product can still be used and enjoyed with confidence.”

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