February 24, 2018

Shelf Life of Staples

Shelf Life of Staples

What are food staples?

Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation of what staple foods are. In short it says a staple is a food that is “eaten regularly and in such quantities as to constitute the dominant part of the diet and supply a major proportion of energy and nutrient needs.”

What are some staples that can be stored long term? – Note, in many of these explanations I say, “When stored correctly”, I’ll cover this in greater detail in the next article. For now just know that in general this means dry, cool, dark, oxygen free and secure from pests.

This is not an exhaustive list of staples. If you notice one that is missing and feel it should be added, please let me know. A quick disclaimer; the information here has been gathered over many resources and should be viewed as “best practices”. I have not stored any of these items for 30 years to see if they’re still edible.


Grains store very well because the hard outer shell is protecting the inner seed. When stored correctly, they have a shelf life of 30+ years. One of the most popular types of grains to store is wheat. Different types of wheat are better for different things. Wikipedia has a good description and explanation of different kinds of wheat. In the section “Major Cultivated Species of Wheat”

-Note; if you store grains, you will need a mill to grind them.

Some examples of hard grains are: Buckwheat, Kamut, Millet, Durum wheat, hard red wheat, hard white wheat and Spelt.

Some examples of soft grains are: Barley, Oats, Quinoa and Rye.


After the shell is broken and can no longer protect the seed, the nutrients begin to degrade. Wheat is then ground into flour. Don’t try to store flour for more than a year. I have read that flour stored correctly can be stored for five years.

Types of flour: All Purpose Flour, Bakers Flour, Unbleached Flour, White
Flour, Whole Wheat Flour, Cornmeal.


Brown rice has the shell containing fatty acids attached. These acids go rancid after six months or so.

White rice has had the outer shell removed. Because of this, it has less nutrients but will store much longer; as long as 30 years if stored correctly.

Rice that has a very long storage life: White, Wild, Jasmine, Arborio and Basmati.


The magical fruit if stored correctly can have a shelf life of 30+ years. Aged toots.

Some types of beans: Kidney, Garbanzo, Great Northern, Lentils, Lima, Pinto and Soy.

Beans and Rice

I have heard that beans and rice are a complete protein, I’ve also heard they are not. So I did my own research and the following is what I found. A complete protein contains all essential amino acids. Animal based protein such as meat, milk, eggs are good sources of complete proteins, whereas most plant based proteins are not. A combination of grains, legumes or vegetables can be made to create a complete protein; one of which is beans and rice.

The reason that beans and rice are a popular choice for preppers is that you can put up a large amount fairly inexpensively. I caution you against making this the bulk of your stored food. As I mention in part two, diversity is important. One of the reasons it is important is food boredom. Beans and rice every day would wear thin quickly but they could be mixed in now and then to stretch your other food supply. A side note; unless beans are a part of your normal diet, they can do a number on your digestive system. I have read that over time your body will adjust and the gas will lesson. You can also mitigate this and other digestive problems with other preps. I’ll cover those at another time.

Here are some of the articles that explain how beans and rice make a complete protein.

Laissez “Fare” Nutrition: Protein

Incomplete vs. Complete Proteins

What’s a Complete Protein? Inquiring Vegetarians Want to Know.


Pasta will store longer then flour but probably not as long as un-cracked wheat. I got a really good tip from a friend that I haven’t tried yet; you can cook pasta and then dehydrate it. The benefit of this is that it is already cooked and can be reconstituted and eaten.

Dehydrated Dairy Products

If a dehydrated product has fat in it, the shelf life is probably about 5 years. If it is fat free then the shelf life is 20 years. Some of these things don’t taste very good on their own, but if used for baking taste just fine.

Types of Dehydrated Dairy Products: Dehydrated Milk, cheese powder, cocoa powder, powdered eggs, butter or margarine powder.


There are three types of honey. Pure honey won’t go bad. It can crystallize but it turns back into liquid if warmed. (Avoid boiling, as that will kill nutrients.) The other two types are adulterated and artificial. Adulterated honey is real honey with another ingredient added. Artificial honey is, well, artificial. The honey found as condiments at restaurants is most often adulterated or artificial. Here is an article that explains How to Distinguish Natural Honey and Artificial Honey.

Salt and Sugar

If salt and sugar are kept dry they should store for a very, very long time. Sugar has a tendency to harden. It can be broken back into granules. These are two items I recommend storing a fair amount of. They are used in a lot of things and chances are you can’t reproduce them. Most of the uses for sugar are related to food but here are Sixty Uses For Table Salt

Keep in mind there are many kinds of salt. Here is an article called Beyond Table Salt — A Guide To Different Types Of Salt.


Yeast, if kept in its foil container, should have a storage life of at least one year.


As I mention in the section on flour, cornmeal has a pretty limited shelf life. However, you can make cornmeal out of popcorn seeds and popcorn seeds have a much longer shelf life. You’ll need a grinder for this as well.

Baking Soda

Also known as sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is another one of the staples that has many uses. It acts to neutralize acids and break down proteins. This makes it useful as a tenderizer and a leaven. It has a neutralizing effect on acidic scent that makes it an effective deodorizer. Added to the water when doing laundry, it stabilizes the pH level, enhancing the detergent’s effectiveness. If kept in the cardboard box the storage life is probably around a year. If kept oxygen free and moisture free it should store indefinitely.

Herbs And Spices

The shelf life of spices and herbs varies greatly so I’ll just give some general rules. Whole spices have a longer shelf life and often have a better taste and smell when freshly ground. Herbs lose their flavor faster then spices. If they have little to no smell when crumpled in the palm of your hand they should be replaced. The same rules apply for storage of spices, which means that keeping them above the oven, as is very common, probably isn’t the best place to store them. We have some individual spices, but also stock some of the mixes. Herbs and spices are one way to combat food boredom.

Here is an article from the Mother Earth Network called Forever foods: 10 cooking staples that can outlast you.

Cooking With Staples

For those of us that don’t have a lot of experience cooking with staples, here are a few resources.

The Food Network offers 100 Wheat Recipes.

Chef Keith Snow created a website called Harvest Eating. On it, he shows people how to cook with locally grown foods, with techniques people of any skill level can use. I have heard him interviewed on a couple of different Podcasts and was impressed with his approach. I think his site is a fantastic idea.

Here are two books that I own;

The Amazing Wheat Book

Making the most of basics
I can’t recommend this book enough. It not only has information on cooking with staples, but a wealth of information on basic skills that not many in our culture retain.

Lastly I want to give you a few sources for finding staples, both on-line and locally.

Here are some links to help you find sources locally to you that you can
purchase staples in bulk.

Local Harvest
Coop Directory
Sustainable Table
Eat Well Guide

Here are some links to help you find sources on-line that you can purchase staples in bulk. I would recommend checking a few of them before placing an order. Prices and shipping prices will vary.

Wholesale Bulk Foods.com
Pleasant Hill Grain

Honeyville Grain
Organic Wheat Products
Barry Farm Foods
Bob’s Red Mill
King Arthur Flour Company
War Eagle Mill
USA Emergency Supply
Dutch Valley Food

Here are the links to the other food storage articles.

Food Storage Part One: Why Store Food And The Rules For It.
Food Storage Part Two: The Kind Of Foods That You Can Store
Food Storage Part Three: Shelf Life of Staples.
Food Storage Part Four: The Process and Enemies of Food Storage.
Food Storage Part Five: How much food should you store and where should you put it all?
Food Storage Part Six: Tips On Stocking Up and Affording it all.
Food Storage Part Seven: Food Boredom to Survival Cooking .

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