By C. Dixon
First of all, there’s no need to panic-buy everything you can see on the store shelves and fit in your cart (or five carts) right now. The world is going through a scary and uncertain time, yes, but people have food needs right now and need access to it just as much as you and me.
With that being said, there are some foods that last longer than others and are better to have around in case of a prolonged amount of time without access to the grocery store. Every time you get something fresh from the store, it may be a good idea to snap up some of these too (in moderation).
The best “survival foods” or “stockpile foods” are ones that do not require refrigeration, cooking, water, or special preparation in order to eat. However, since one of our biggest concerns right now due to COVID-19 is how frequently we may make it to the grocery store, it’s good to know what will keep for a little while, rather than what you can eat without any sort of preparation.
Another concern is variety, to make sure you keep up a healthy diet. This can be much more difficult without access to fresh produce, but it’s doable. You want to include protein, fat, and carbs in your diet and get plenty of vitamins and minerals as well. Salt, pepper, sugar, and any other spices you love will help make the food more suited to your tastes, so be sure to have those around, too.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it can give you a starting point.
Canned, Frozen & Dried Fruits
It won’t be as simple to run to the grocery store for a weekly stock-up of fresh fruits, and they contain much-needed vitamins and minerals (and are also delicious). So pick up fruits in other forms: canned, frozen, dried, and even freeze-dried. Canned fruit can last a couple of years and one year past the date on the can. Keep in mind, though, that dented cans may go bad sooner, and swollen cans should be avoided. Frozen fruit can last up to a year in the freezer. Dried fruit can last about a year while freeze-dried lasts about double that.
Canned & Frozen Vegetables
Canned vegetables often have added salt and have lost some of their nutritional value during the canning process. Frozen veggies are typically a healthier option since they’re frozen at peak freshness. However, frozen veggies last roughly 8 to 10 months in the freezer while canned last 1 to 2 years past the date printed on the can — or even longer.
Canned Fish & Meat
These can actually last longer than canned fruits or veggies. With a shelf life of two to five years, canned meats like tuna, salmon, and chicken are low-acid, so they can last quite a while. Again, keep in mind that dented cans may go bad sooner, and swollen cans should be avoided.
Peanut butter is high in protein and fat, and is also a favorite for kids and adults alike. It’s still good up to one year past the date on the jar.
Crackers can stay fresh up to nine months in an unopened package. Past that, they may be a little stale or change in color or appearance but as long as they are in an undamaged package and don’t have an off smell, they are likely still safe to eat. Whole wheat crackers don’t last as long as regular crackers, but they have extra fiber that will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
With a potentially changed diet ahead of you, now is a good time to start taking a multivitamin to help offset any decrease of vitamins you normally get from fresh produce. They have a shelf life of about two years, but after that they lose nutrients.
The shelf life for cow’s milk is shorter than the alternatives like almond and soy. But even those have a shelf life (unopened) of up to four weeks. Unopened powdered milk, on the other hand, can last two to ten years past the printed date — or even longer. You can use powdered milk in your baking or with cereal if you aren’t a fan of drinking it plain.
Trail mix containing nuts and dried fruit can last up to six months or more past the printed date. Nuts can go rancid because of their high fat content, so the taste may change as time goes on. Almonds stay freshest the longest (up to a year past the printed date) while peanuts and cashews can taste fresh up 6 to 9 months past the printed date.
Dried or canned, beans are full of protein and are incredibly versatile. Plus, both kinds can last for years unopened. The dried variety may require a slightly longer cooking time after a couple years because they can start to lose what little moisture they have, but they’re still totally edible.
Like beans, uncooked white rice has a very long shelf life and is very versatile. Even the Minute Rice variety can least years uncooked. Brown rice and wild rice have a much shorter shelf life — about six to eight months.
Canned Chili & Soups
These can be eaten directly out of the can if necessary. If they’re not tomato-based (meaning they’re not high-acid), they can last two to five years. If they are tomato-based, they can last up to two years.
Coffee & Tea
A hot beverage in the morning is something that many of us are not willing to give up — and there’s no need to! Ground coffee can last three to five months unopened, or years in the freezer. Whole coffee beans last even longer than that. And instant coffee? That can last 2 to 20 years unopened, depending on its packaging! Tea bags can last for up to a year at peak freshness. If the box has an expiration date, it’s because the taste or color may change after a year, it doesn’t mean it’s unsafe.
Fresh Produce That Lasts
If you’re looking for fresh fruits and veggies that will keep, apples, winter squashes like acorn squash, and potatoes last the longest — if they’re kept in a cool, dry place. Citrus fruits can last at least a couple weeks if unrefrigerated, and longer if they are.