Homesteading

Best Non Perishable Foods (For Home Use or Donations)

We’ll help you choose the best non perishable foods that last for months (or years). Plus, we have storage and organization tips, and a printable list of non perishable foods with estimated shelf life.

What is Considered a Non Perishable Food Item?

Non Perishable Foods are safe to eat for long periods of time without refrigeration. They are also known as “shelf stable foods”.

Some foods can last a few weeks to months on the shelf.  Others can last for months. The longest last 10 to 20 years or more, such as freeze dried food or military MREs.

Note: In spite of some silly prepper shows might say, it is not recommended to live off of nothing but MREs for an extended period of time. They are nutrient dense, but can be hard on your guts.

A young reporter took the 21 day “nothing but MREs challenge” in 2016.

He wrote, “I would alternate between vicious cycles of spending hours in the bathroom and then not being able to go at all.”

Storage

Non-perishable foods don’t require refrigeration, but are best kept cool and dry. If it sits on a shelf in the grocery store, it’s safe on the shelf in your home.

Temperature: Store products at less than 75°F (24°C) or lower, if possible. If storage temperatures are higher, rotate your food to maintain quality.

Moisture: Keep food storage areas dry. Keep containers off the floor to allow for air circulation.

Light: Keep food in opaque containers out of direct sunlight.

Insects and rodents: Protect food stored in foil pouches, cans, jars and bottles from rodent and insect damage.

Keep air out.  Store your food in meal sized portions, or a package size you can use up in less than a week once opened. If you buy in bulk, reseal in smaller packages.

Air is the enemy of long term food storage. Use vacuum sealed containers or Mylar for longer shelf life. Oxygen absorbers and/or vacuum sealing provide the longest shelf life.

See “Preparedness Storage – Finding Room and Keeping it Safe and Sound” for more storage tips.

Shelf Life of Non Perishable Foods

The following tables give shelf life estimates for an assortment of foods. These estimates vary widely, depending on which reference you use, so we opted for more conservative estimates.

Start with the “best by” date, but use some common sense. If salt has been hanging around in the earth for thousands of years, it’s not going to go bad sitting in your pantry.

Do not use food with obvious signs of spoilage, like bad odors or bulging containers.

General Pantry Items

Non Perishable Food Est Shelf Life Cost Notes
Water FOREVER Low Might need filtering if container rusts or leaches flavor
Sugar, Salt, Honey FOREVER Low to High Use in cooking and as spices and sweetener
Real Maple Syrup(without corn syrup) 1yr to Indefinite High Unopened and stored in a glass jar in a cool dry place it will store indefinitely. (no corn syrup or artificial flavoring)
Maple Flavored Syrup (with corn syrup) 4 months  to 1yr Low to Medium Artificial flavoring will break down, as will the plastic bottle.  It will still be edible past the best by date.
Ground Pepper 6mo-2yrs Low Already ground. Storing in a freezer helps keep the flavor.
Peppercorns 1-4+yrs Low Grind your own pepper. Store in #10 or Mylar with oxygen absorber
Onion and Garlic Powder 2-4yrs Medium Store in Mylar bags and keep airtight – flavors decrease over time
Pure Vanilla Extract Indefinite Medium to High
Imitation Vanilla Extract 2-4yrs Low- Medium
Vanilla Beans 6mo-1yr High
Chocolate, Milk Choc Chips, Dark Choc Chips 6mo-2yrs, 1-3yrs Medium Best to store between 54°F and 61°F
Cocoa Powder 1-3 yrs Medium 3mo-1yr once opened
Pancake Mix (Store) 1 yr Low Repackage in Mylar bag with an oxygen absorber to make it last longer
Pancake Mix (no oxygen) 5-10+yr Med- High #10 can or Mylar bag

Fats and Oils

Non Perishable Food Est Shelf Life Cost Notes
Olive Oil 8-20mo Med Flavor fades as it ages
Peanut Oil 1-2yrs Med
Coconut Oil 12-18mo Med
Canola or Vegetable Oil 2yrs Low
Tallow (animal fat) 1-3yrs Med- High Store better with refrigeration
coconut oil

Sources of Protein, Including Plant Based, Meals and Soups

Non Perishable Food Est Shelf Life Cost Notes
Canned Beans: Pinto Adzuki  Blackeye Garbanzo Kidney Lentils Lima Red and Soy 2-5+yrs Low
Dried Beans: Pinto Adzuki  Blackeye Garbanzo Kidney Lentils Lima Red and Soy 30+ yrs Low Requires rehydrating and cooking to eat
Peanut Butter 3-9 months(less if warm) Medium Can be eaten directly
Nut butters 9 months from jarring Medium
Raw nuts and seeds 1month to 2yrs Medium 1-9mo in pantry, fridge 1yr and up to 2yrs in the freezer.  68F or cooler is best. Store in airtight container. Some nuts like pistachios have a shorter shelf life.
Canned fish and poultry Up to 5 years less if warm Medium to high
Tuna in a can 18 months Medium to high
Freeze Dried Chicken, beef and hamburger 10-30 yrs High #10 cans or Mylar bags
Freeze dried meals, in most cases just add hot water 10-30 yrs High From: MyPatriotSupply, MountainHouse, AugusonFarms, Wise and others
Canned Soup (tomato based) 18months Low
Canned Soup (non tomato based) 5yrs Low to medium
Freeze dried soup 10-30yrs High

Fruits and Vegetables

Non Perishable Food Est Shelf Life Cost Notes
Canned vegetables 2-5 yrs Low
Canned fruits 1-2 yrs Low- Medium peaches, berries, apples, grapefruit or pineapple
Dried Fruit / Vegetables Up to 1yr Medium Can be eaten directly but generally rehydrated and used in a meal
Freeze Dried Fruit / Vegetables 10+ yrs high Can be eaten directly but generally rehydrated and used in a meal
Freeze Dried Bananas, Apples, or raspberries 10+ years Medium to high Can be eaten directly or used in a recipe
Raisins 1yr, 6 months opened Med
Potatoes 2-4 weeks Low Will store longer in a mesh bag in a dark, 95% humid and cool 45-50F place.
Sweet potatoes 3-5 weeks Low to medium
Garlic 3 weeks Low
Onions 6 weeks Low
Winter Squash 1 month to 1 year Low Storage depends on variety, growing conditions, and curing

Grains

Non Perishable Food Est Shelf Life Cost Notes
White Rice 4-5yrs Low
White Rice sealed w/nitrogen pack 25-30yrs Low to medium Oxygen free
Hard red or hard white wheat w/o nitrogen 1yr Low In a bucket in cool dry place
Hard red or hard white wheat nitrogen packed vacuum sealed 10-30 yrs Low Sealed in #10 can or Mylar, requires grinding for flour for use
Millet, Buckwheat 10-20 yrs Low Sealed in #10 can or Mylar, requires processing for use
Brown Rice packaged 3-12 months Low to Medium Lasts longer at 50-70f and sealed oxygen free#10 cans or Mylar bags
Rolled Oats 20+ yrs Low
Dried Corn (grain) 20 years Low Longer if kept cooler
Store Pasta 2yrs Low In store packaging
Pasta stored oxygen free 10-30 yrs Low Seal in Mylar with oxygen absorber
Ramen Noodles Soup 6mo-2yrs Low Just add hot water

Note that whole wheat flour and brown rice have significantly shorter shelf lives than white flour and white rice. This is because they retain more fat, which goes rancid in storage. Don’t use whole grains or whole grain products with a rancid or bitter flavor.

Some of my favorite flours for bread baking are Gold and White by Natural Mills and King Arthur. These companies dry down their products more than most processors, increasing their shelf life.

Snacks and Desserts

Non Perishable Food Est Shelf Life Cost Notes
Cheese (stored in fridge) 2-4mo Med
Freeze Dried Cheddar Cheese or Cheese powder 5-10yrs Med to High
Freeze Dried Cheese 5-10yrs High
Aged Cheddar Cheese Wheel 1-20yrs* (normally 1-5yrs) High Requires 45F to 58F + controlled area for aging cheese wheels. Some require high humidity.
Commercial jerky 1yr Med- High
Home made jerky 2months Med
Freeze Dried Pudding mix 5 to 15 years Medium to high Varies by type of pudding
Saltine Crackers 6-9mo Low
Granola bars, protein bars, trail mix 1yr Low

Survival and Emergency Foods

Non Perishable Food Est Shelf Life Cost Notes
Military MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) 10-20+yrs High Easy to eat, lightweight.  Can be stored almost anywhere (longer life if cool and dry)
Hardtack (survival biscuits) FOREVER Low Easy to make, lasts FOREVER not great tasting
Pemmican 1-5yrs Med Make it yourself
Military Chocolate Ration Bar 3-5+ years High Military D Ration, D Bar and others.  Longer life if sealed and kept cool.
USCG Ration Bar 3-5+ years High Ration bars, high calorie, ready to eat

If you want to freeze dry your own emergency foods, home freeze dryers are now available through Harvest Right. Learn more here.

Beverages and Liquids

Non Perishable Food Est Shelf Life Cost Notes
Shelf Stable Milk (liquid) Up to 9months Low- Med
Freeze dried Whole milk 1-5yrs Med- high
Freeze dried Nonfat Milk 5-20yrs Med- high
Canned coconut milk 5yrs Med
Black Tea, Oolong Tea 18 months 24 months Low to Medium
Peach Tea, Rasp Tea mix 18-24 months Medium
Ground Coffee 3-5months Med- High No change in freezer
Coffee Beans 6mo Med- High 2yrs in freezer
Green coffee Beans in no-oxygen 4 to 20yrs Med- High Varies with type of bean and water content
Canned or freeze dried (instant) coffee 1-2yrs Med- High store packaging
Freeze dried (instant) coffee (#10/Mylar) 20-25yrs Med- High Long term packaging
Hard liquor & wine Indefinite Med High Flavored liquor may lose taste over time, many wines improve with age.
Beer – Various types last longer 9mo to Indefinite Low to High Beer over a year old will probably not taste good. Store in a cool completely dark place to extend life

Click Here to Download the Printable PDF Version of the Shelf Life Chart

What are the best non perishable foods to donate?

If possible, ask your local food pantry what non perishable foods they need the most. Normally they are grateful to be asked.

Our food bank prefers canned meats and shelf stable proteins and meals, because those are not donated as frequently. They are, of course, thankful for any donation in good condition. (Don’t donate items that are many years out of date. They can’t use them, either.)

More Information on Food Storage and Emergency Preps

We have over 100 emergency preparedness post on the site, all sorted by category on the Common Sense Preparedness page.

They include:

Foods to Stock Up On (for Daily Use or Emergencies)

Home Freeze Drying

5 Best Freeze Dried Foods – Quality Long Term Food Storage

Home Food Preservation – 10 Ways to Preserve Food at Home

Emergency Cooking – 10 Ways to Have a Hot Meal When the Power Goes Out

Storage and Shelf Life of Over-the-Counter Medication

If you have preparedness or food storage questions, leave a comment below. We also appreciate it when you share tips that have worked well for you, since we have readers from all over the world, and everyone’s situation is a little bit different.

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