Shelf-stable foods are great additions to any kitchen. Having a long shelf life means you can take time to plan meals, meaning you waste less food and save more money. Plus, non perishable foods for an emergency are always great to have on hand. However, some foods may have excess salt, sugar and preservative in them so picking out the right shelf-stable items can be challenging at times. So here’s a handy guide to help you pick out what to stock your pantry with!
What are Shelf-Stable Foods
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Shelf-stable foods, often referred to as non-perishables are food items that will happily sit in your pantry for months without having to be preserved, frozen or refrigerated. Some of these foods can even last years without having to be be cooked or refrigerated to eat safely. Thanks to the nature of these foods, it’s an excellent idea stock up on non perishable food for emergencies as you can leave them in a box in your closet for a long time without having to worry about them.
How to Identify a Shelf-Stable Food
Storage: When you’re shopping for a shelf-stable items there are a few things you should look at to determine if it is a safe, non-perishable food. First and foremost, if it is in a refrigerated or frozen section of a store it is not shelf-stable. This also applies to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Date: Next, you will want to look at the expiration date. This isn’t always a good indicator but on canned foods and dried kinds of pasta, you’re often looking at an expiration date that is several years away.
Packaging: Finally, you will want to look at the packaging. Now, this is by no means a deal-breaker but the food should be in a durable, airtight container. There are some exceptions to this, however, like oats which often comes in cardboard. Generally speaking, outside of those foods that are in cans or pouches, anything with liquid in it will go off faster than dry foods.
How to Store Shelf-Stable Food
While I am always looking for plastic free food storage solutions, for many non-perishable foods there is no need to change the containers that they come in as these will keep the items stored safely. Oats, for instance, will stay good for about 2 years in their original packaging if they are stored in a cool, dry place. But you can extend that lifespan up to 30 years by packing them in Mylar bags. For most purposes though, this is overkill.
Keeping your food in a cool, dry place in the dark like a cupboard or a closet will work just fine. It is very important that you make sure your food will stay dry and that it isn’t close to a heating source. Both of these things will make your food unusable.
Here’s What Shelf-Stable Foods To Buy
Here is a list of the best shelf-stable food that I like to stock up on whenever possible. I often find non-perishable alternatives are more budget friendly and by keeping a well-stocked kitchen with plenty of gluten-free options, it makes family meal planning easier for everyone. It will also help you to avoid waste as these non-perishable goods won’t go off as quickly as fresh.
Stock additional must-haves but ensure foods are minimally processed (no chemical processing or refinement) and opt for essentials that are raw, organic, sprouted or soaked, fair trade, grass fed, wild caught, etc.
This list includes the best shelf-stable protein-rich foods including meats, beans and dry staples. Beans are one of the best non-perishable sources of protein as they are naturally low in moisture and can last years stored in your pantry. They are also super nutritious and versatile! Another protein packed non perishable is nuts. Nuts are nutrient rich and high in unsaturated fatty acids – this means they help you feel fuller for longer.
- Nut butters: peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter and mixed nut butter
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, cashews, sunflower, sesame, etc.
- Protein bars
- Trail mix
- Jerky: beef, pork, turkey, fish
- Canned fish: tuna, salmon, and sardines
- Canned beans: black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and garbanzo beans, etc
- Dried beans: black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and garbanzo beans, etc
Best Gluten-Free Grains
My family is gluten free, so I source gluten free grains for my pantry. I find most gluten free items have a similar expiration, for example gluten free pasta can last up to two years. However, some gluten-free pasta contain ingredients high in natural oils such as flax pasta. These will expire much quicker, so always double check. Whole grains such as rice, oats, and barley are also ideal shelf-stable foods as they last much longer than other popular but perishable carb sources such as bread.
- Dried pasta: elbow macaroni, spaghetti, penne, corkscrew, etc
- Popcorn kernels
Shelf-Stable Fruit and Vegetables
Most fresh fruits and vegetables are considered perishable, as very few can be stored at room temperature for long periods of time. Non-perishable fruit and veg however can be canned at home or store-bought in cans. Fruit and vegetables that are freeze-dried, dehydrated, or preserved with sugar and/or alcohol are also great shelf-stable options.
When searching for the best non-perishable fruit and veg, it’s usually better to look for ones that are packed in water or their own juice as these will contain less added sugar. High acid foods (for example, tomatoes) can keep for up to 18 months, while low acid foods (for example peas) can last for years. When buying nutritious nonperishable items, make sure any cans are in good condition. Avoid any cans that have dents, bulges or rust as the contents may be contaminated with bacteria.
- Dried fruit – apples, mangoes, raisins, etc
- Jarred fruit or vegetables: artichokes, olives, tomato sauce, pears, etc
- Jams and jellies
- Shredded coconut
- Canned coconut cream
- Canned coconut milk
Non Perishable Snack Ideas
We’ve shared many non perishable snack ideas already such as dried fruit, nuts or jerky. All of these are good choices as they offer healthy fats, fiber and protein — these three things are essential for keeping you feeling full and satisfied.
When it comes to shelf-stable drinks, powdered mixes will last the longest. However, these are usually high in additives and sugar. Canned or bottled drinks will need to be rotated more regularly to stay fresh, with bottled water having a recommended shelf life of 2 years. If your drinks are stored in plastic, be wary of the degradation of plastic over time as this can contaminate your drinks.
Coffee on the other hand, will stay safe enough to drink pretty much indefinitely and tea can also last years when stored in a tin or other airtight container. Nut milk such as almond or cashew can last anywhere between 3 months to a year in your pantry. To extend the shelf life of unopened shelf-stable almond milk, make sure to keep any cartons away away from direct sunlight or heat .
- Fruit Juice
- Nut milks: almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, etc
Non Perishable Cooking Supplies
These are pantry staples that make cooking your favorite dishes easier and more flavorful. Ground spices such as cayenne pepper, cinnamon and chili peppers can last up to 3 years, with herbs such as rosemary, mint, sage or basil lasting 1-3 years if stored well. Baking essentials such as flour, yeast, baking soda or powdered milk will have various expiration dates but can be stored at room temperature safely and for many months if stored in an airtight container.
- Gluten-free flour (such as coconut flour)
- Pancake mix
- Powdered eggs
- Powdered milk
- Spices : cinnamon, chili pepper, peppercorns, cayenne pepper,
- Dried herbs: Thyme, basil, mint, rosemary, sage
- Vanilla Extract
- Cocoa Powder
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Real food sweeteners: cane sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, etc
- Tabasco Sauce
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Hard Cheese in Wax
This may be surprising to some but many cheeses are aged in wax for up to two years before they are even shipped to the store. It is believed an unbroken waxed cheese wheel can even last for over 25 years if it is stored in the right conditions. You can wax hard cheeses such as: Parmigiano-Reggiano, cheddar, Swiss, Romano, Gruyere, etc.
While it’s all well and good keeping these non-perishable goods but no use if you have no oils to cook them in! Cooking oils can be stored for years but do risk going rancid if stored for too long. There are three main causes for cooking oils going rancid in your pantry – oxygen, light and heat. Other ways to maximize the shelf life of your cooking oils include keeping the bottle unopened, storing in glass instead of plastic (glass is more airtight) and keep your pantry cool.
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
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