Research by BYU professors sheds new light on the shelf life of food storage.
Professors in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science at BYU found that when canned and stored properly, food such as wheat and rice can last more than 30 years.
In December of 2001, Oscar Pike, a BYU professor of food science, and his colleagues requested in a Church News article that Church members send samples from their food storage to BYU for testing.
"We knew that there were many members of the Church who had stored food and were now asking if it was still good," he said.
Their team tested the sensory quality and nutritional value of low-moisture foods including wheat, white rice, corn meal, pinto beans, apple slices, macaroni pasta, rolled oats, potato flakes and powdered milk. All samples were packaged in #10 cans with low oxygen levels and had been stored at room temperature or below.
"Generally speaking, the foods retained their sensory and nutritional quality and they could be stored for an emergency for a much longer period than previously thought," he said.
Powdered milk stored up to 20 years was still acceptable for use in an emergency. Wheat stored for 30 years and made into bread was only slightly lower in quality than bread made from unstored wheat. The other foods tested had a shelf life of around 30 years.
However, he added, one component of food storage that does not lend itself to long-term storage is fats and oils. Items such as vegetable oil and shortening must be rotated every few years before they go rancid.
Brother Pike said the date consumers see on a food is a "best if used by" date. In an emergency situation, however, it can be assumed that a lower quality would be acceptable. Thus, the estimates regarding how long such food can be stored are based on a revised definition of shelf life. It takes into account that such foods are stored for the purpose of sustaining life. "It won't be necessarily the kind of quality you are used to," he said.
The research impacts the conventional approach to food storage, where people store food that they try to rotate every few years, he said. Inasmuch as the previous shelf lifes were much shorter, people thought they needed to rotate the food more frequently. In light of this research, low moisture foods stored in a low oxygen and low temperature environment can be stored long-term. This simplifies food storage, he explained.
However, Brother Pike said, it is best if people use the food enough to know how to prepare it. It is also important to consider nonfood items such as a can opener and wheat grinder, he said.
Food must also be packaged and stored properly. The acronym HALT is one way to remember four things that will prolong the shelf-life of dry food: minimize their exposure to humidity, air, light and temperature, he said.
Foods stored at higher temperatures, such as in garages or attics, have a much shorter shelf life. Dehydrated carrots, for example, have a 10-year shelf life when stored at room temperature or below. When stored just 10 degrees higher, dehydrated carrots are inedible after just a few months.
Although the study did not include sugar, salt or baking soda, Brother Pike said these items also have a very long shelf life and are useful for longer-term storage efforts. Baking soda, for example, is important to store because with time, beans get hard and need to be softened by including baking soda in the soak water.
For more information on longer-term food storage, Brother Pike said Church members can go to the Church's Provident Living web site, www.providentliving.org.
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