Ramen noodles, specifically the instant kind you pour boiling water on, have long been a stereotypical sustenance of college kids all over the U.S., and are seen as unhealthy provender for the rest of us who are broke and facing a long wait until payday.
It turns out that ramen noodles are also a favorite among preppers and survivalists, homesteaders and hikers, since the blocks and cups of dry noodles make for a light weight source of easy to prepare calories. They are also especially beloved by preppers for their long shelf life, said to be nearly infinite. But are they?
Do Ramen Noodles Ever Go Bad?
Ramen noodles are made predominately from dehydrated and preserved wheat noodles, and can be stored without refrigeration.
No matter how well you store it, cereals and grains will, in fact, go bad over time, though they both have plenty of life and nutrition left to offer long after they have gone “stale.”
Many preppers are prepared to take extreme measures when it comes to keeping the calories coming in a SHTF event, so we are worried more about safety than palatability.
I have seen guys eat a candy bar that I know for a fact was rolling around getting squashed in the bottom of their BOB for upwards of 5 years, so I have little doubt that a stale pack of noodles would even make them blink.
Even for mundane and kind times, ramen noodles are kept in abundance by hikers and homesteaders for their lightweight and easy to store footprint along with their exceedingly cheap price.
While hardly top-quality fare, with a little doctoring and creative additions ramen noodles make for a cheap, tasty and easy to prepare source of calories when both space and fuel for cooking are always had a premium. For many hikers, ramen noodles are a staple of their kits when they want a hot meal.
Still, bad food is bad food, and illness from spoiled or otherwise contaminated food is a major event in normal times, and possibly a show-stopping or fatal one in a real-life SHTF crisis. So how long can we push our ramen noodles stacked in rows on the shelves in our survival stash? Perhaps the answer lies on the packaging…
Shelf Life versus Best By
No, not the overpriced electronics giant. “Shelf life” is often used synonymously with “Best by” but you should not confuse the two! Shelf life is a true “time-to-failure” for your foodstuffs: this is the time it takes for food to go bad and fall prey to bacteria, rot or general decay and spoilage.
Think of how long it takes meat to start smelling funky in your fridge, or that leftover pizza slice to start turning fuzzy and you’ll have some idea of easy to predict shelf lives.
“Best by” is a U.S. Government mandated date, sometimes an arbitrary one, that manufacturers have to put on their food products.
Generally, if you eat the food after the Best by date, you cannot hold the manufacturer responsible for any harm that befalls you. This date can be nonsensical since many food items are completely safe and even remain fresh way in excess of the printed cut-off.
Take eggs for instance; many eggs are sold with best-by dates that are incredibly liberal. There is no reason to toss out eggs after only a week or so if they are intact!
Looking on a variety of popular, off the shelf dehydrated ramen packages, I see best-by dates of anywhere from two months to a year from the purchase date, give or take.
I can tell you this though: I have actual, first-hand experience testing “expired” packages of ramen that were well past their 12 month “toss” date. Hey, don’t judge- I test all my canned and sealed foods on purpose to help me figure out for sure just how long I can reliably store foods and trust them.
How Was It? Did I Get Sick?
Did the Ramen go bad after a year?!
Not even close. Most of the brands I tried that were “expired” I noticed no change in flavor and suffered no ill effects from eating them.
A couple were noticeably stale, but did not harm me, not even an upset stomach. I know there must be a period of time that would result in instant ramen being a “hard pass,” but I have not figured it out yet, and have found no conclusive evidence of what it is.
What is perhaps more important to consider than trying to read the noodles and figure-figure what the mythical spoilage date is for instant ramen is understanding what factors can accelerate spoilage of food. Yes, including ramen.
I know it is easy to think that your ramen is impervious to the elements- sturdy plastic wrapping, solid, brick-like heft, tons of preservatives, etc.- but this would be wrong. How and where you keep your ramen packages will play an important role in how long it takes it to go bad, or even if it will in a relatively short time frame.
Like all dry foodstuffs, you want to keep them in a dry, dark, cool place. Moisture is the devil when it comes to storing food, ramen included. You might think their plastic sealing and styro bowls would keep them proof against all contaminants, but you’d be wrong on moisture.
Don’t mistake me: it does help, but it can only slow the process. Your two biggest culprits seem to be the ramen sold in the styro cups with the flimsy saranwrap-like film around it and the competitor’s brand in the styro bowl with the big broth packets.
The former is way, way too easy to compromise (especially the flimsy paper lid) letting moisture infiltrate undetectably and the latter’s powder packet seems to be a magnet for moisture: I have opened a few of those “fresh” to discover their flavor packets a moldy mess. Pass!
Assuming you can keep your ramen cool and dry, and you stick with the typical “bricks” in the heavy plastic packaging, you should be able to get two years out of your emergency supply of ramen, easily.
I would rotate it every ten months since it is so cheap. And look on the bright side: if you do lose an entire case of ramen, you are only out about $10!