Everyone who buys emergency food would like to think that it would last “up to 25 years,” as it says on the side of the can. As we all know, “up to” can technically mean anytime from the moment the product is bought to, well, 25 years.
In the last few years, a number of articles have been published that have questioned the probability that food would actually stay viable and nutritious for 25 years, or 30, as some claim. Recently we’ve finally seen some packaging labels change from “up to 25 years” to “up to 25 years if stored between 50 and 70 degrees” or “if stored under ideal conditions,” whatever that means. The addition of such a phrase injects a higher degree of honesty into the food-storage picture.
Emergency Essentials used to include in its sales catalog a helpful chart that shows how long stored food would last at different temperatures. The chart showed that if food is stored in the summer in a garage in a place like Phoenix where I live, I should just walk over to the trash bin, dump the food, and wheel the bin out to the sidewalk on trash pick-up day. At such high temperatures, the shelf life of stored food is months, not years.
When stored food is kept at high temperatures, the food is damaged. Proteins break down, and some vitamins are destroyed. Color, flavor, and odor of some foods may also be affected. Therefore, food should NEVER be stored in a garage or attic in hot weather.
So, where should we keep food in hot climates? If no underground bunker is available, which is the case for most of us, inside the house is the only answer. But, are there places in the house that are better than others? If I store my food in a closet, is it safe? Is there anything I can do to ensure that the food is kept in the coolest conditions possible?
Summer electric bills in Phoenix and other places like Las Vegas, Bakersfield, El Paso, and Tucson can be nauseating. Setting the thermostat is a matter of personal choice. If you can afford to run your air conditioning at 68 degrees, that would really help to extend the life of stored food. If you can’t afford that and don’t want to replace your AC compressor every few years, even a few degrees below the usual setting to which you’ve been accustomed would be helpful. It’s a personal decision. Do I protect my stored food, worth perhaps thousands of dollars, and thereby extending its viability, or do I lower my electric bills and extend the life of the compressor? It’s a tough choice, either of which will cost money.
IDEAS TO LOWER FOOD STORAGE AREA TEMPS
There are a couple of things that will help to lower the temperature of food-storage areas by a few to several degrees. First, in the summertime, keep the closet doors open a few inches where food is stored. That will allow the refrigerated air to reach the interior of the closets. Keeping the doors closed, while it looks neater, blocks off a closet from the cooler air. Conversely, in the wintertime, keep the closet doors closed to block the heated air from reaching the interior of the closet. I was quite surprised to open one of my food storage closets last winter to find how much cooler it was inside. Every few degrees make a difference.
Second, be mindful of how high up in closets or on shelving units you place stored food. Everyone who was paying attention in 5th grade Science class knows that heat rises. Climb up on a tall ladder in the summer inside your house, stick your arm up as high as you can, and see how hot it is up there. I was painting my family room one summer and climbed the ladder to paint the tallest wall in my house, which has a 12-foot vaulted ceiling. It was unpleasantly and surprisingly hot up there. Store food in the lowest parts of your house. The floors of closets and under beds are cooler places than the top shelves of closets or shelving units. Put the toilet paper and extra camping equipment on the top shelves, and bring the food down. Toilet paper doesn’t mind being warm; dehydrated chicken does. Better yet, put the toilet paper in the garage, and save your indoor shelf space for food.
Adjusting the temperature just a few degrees, whether by lowering the thermostat, opening or closing closet doors, or preferential shelf placement, will undoubtedly help to prolong the life of your expensive stored food. Then, maybe we’ll be closer to that 25-year-shelf-life ideal.