I got into prepping around the year 1999. I heard about the “Y2K” bug that was going to send us into the stone age. One thing is for sure, if there was some kind of event that sent us back into the stone age, a very large portion of the population would die of starvation in short order. None of us have the ability and few have the knowledge to be able to grow enough food year round to feed ourselves, much less our family.

I have an uncle that was going to make sure that all of us at least had food for a year or two so he began to store it in large quantities. Mostly dried and canned goods stuff inside of 55 gallon barrels and sprinkled with diatomaceous earth before being sealed. Of course Y2K came and went with no calamity and most of the food remained stored and untouched for many years.

About 7 or 8 years later he decided that if he was going to keep food for disaster scenarios he probably needed to completely replace the nearly decade old cache. But at the same time, he wondered if any of it was still edible. He called me over to help go through it all. We started looking at the dates and all of the food was at minimum 5 years past the date, much of it 6 or 7 years past the “use by” or “best by” date.

He decided to give the ultimate test – an 8 year old can of tuna. If any canned food would go bad 8 years past the “use by” date you would think it would be fish. So he got up the courage and opened the can. The familiar “hiss” sound was heard as he punched through the can with the can opener indicating the seal was still intact. He removed the lid and the tuna had a very slight darkening on the surface, but still pink inside. It smelled like normal tuna so he decided to mix up some tuna salad and eat a sandwich.

Did he die? Did we have to rush him to the hospital with botulism or food poisoning? No, he was fine and so was the 8 year old canned tuna. We decided to go through other kinds of canned foods and packaged dried goods. Most of the dried goods were packed in their original packages. Things like Spaghetti were still good, however once a dried good like beans or spaghetti are about 5+ years old, they become harder to cook as they don’t readily absorb water. You can still cook it (takes longer) and still eat it but it wont be as soft or taste as fresh as, well, fresh food.

Over the next few years we ended up trying and eating most of the food and all of it was good well into 10 years past the dates. So what does all of this tell us? If you have canned or dried foods and you keep them stored in a cool, dry location free from pests – food lasts quite a long time. And this is normal food we purchased in the grocery store. I imagine food made with long term storage in mind (MREs or freeze dried foods) last even longer (15-20+ years?) if kept in cool, dry places.

You should rotate food out every couple years to keep it fresh but if you had to, know that you would be able to eat it long past the “use by” date. This of course does not apply to refrigerated or frozen foods – you are taking quite a risk eating those outside the dates, especially foods that contain dairy or meats.

The most important tip – avoid damaged or dented canned goods (the seal could be broken and the food spoiled). Also avoid dried goods in torn or damage packaging (it will probably be bad). Always smell the food before eating it. If it smells bad or strange, discard it. Better to be safe than sorry.

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