HOW LONG IS FOOD SAFE PAST THE “USE BY” DATE?

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 thirst, starvation, violence and/or disease 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. This is especially true if you live in an urban area.

Our family began to plan on storing food for this event so that we would have enough to last a year or two. We began to store food in large quantities. We had rice and beans stored in 5 gallon food grade buckets and kept in a cool, dry, dark place. The rest of our supplies consisted of normal grocery store "non perishables" - mostly dried and canned goods stuffed 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 8-10 years later we 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, we wondered if any of it was still edible. We started looking at the dates and all of the food was at minimum 8 years past the “use by” or “best by” date.

What we discovered was interesting. First, the dried goods (rice and beans) that were stored in the 5 gallon buckets (without mylar liners or oxygen absorbers) were still dry, there was no moisture or rot in there. However the white rice had turned to a tan color. The pinto beans actually turned into a lighter brown color. When we tried to cook them, we realized that both the rice and beans had trouble absorbing water. The rice, no matter how long we cooked it, was still crunchy in the middle. As for the beans - we cooked a pot of the beans for 12 hours overnight (the way we normally do) and they were pretty much still hard as a rock. While we could grind all this up and try to cook it that way, odds are your body wouldn't be able to do much with it.

For the grocery store goods, we started with dry pasta (spaghetti) still in the plastic wrappers as though we just pouched it from the grocery store. We had to cook it 3 times as long as normal for it to become edible but it was still tough and chewy. It never got as soft and tender as fresh pasta.

What about the canned goods? We decided to try the ultimate test – an 8 year past the date 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 we got up the courage and opened the can. The familiar “hiss” sound was heard as on of my uncles 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. As long as the can was sealed all the food was still edible. We tried spam, canned beans, canned tomatoes and other canned vegetables - all still good to eat.

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 canned or dried foods are 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 freeze dried food and MRE's would keep even longer (and have seen this on YouTube where people eat decades old MREs.

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

The most important thing we learned is to avoid damaged, rusted or dented canned goods (the seal could be broken and the food spoiled). We also avoid dried goods in torn or damage packaging (it will probably be bad). We always smell the food before eating it. If it smells bad or strange, we discard it. Better to be safe than sorry.

So in summary, dried goods stored in buckets lose their ability to absorb water the longer they are stored. Canned goods seem to last many years past the date as long as the can and its seal is intact. We now incorporate freeze dried food into our supplies and suggest people buy some to have a variety both in taste and in nutrition.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for entertainment purposes only. Eating food past the date on the label is done at your own risk.  Neither the author nor ModernPrepper.com is responsible for any use or misuse of the information written herein. This article has been updated and reposted from our old website.