Factors that Affect the Shelf Life of Food: How to Prolong It

how to prolong or extend the shelf life of your food storage and what conditions affect your food storage

Buying food storage can be costly. Letting it all expire and go to waste is not something we want to see. As I was rotating our food storage recently I wondered how can I prolong or extend the shelf life of my food storage supply? However, before you can prolong food’s shelf life you need to know what factors affect the shelf life of your food?

The main factors that affect the shelf life of food include:

  1. Temperature
  2. Moisture
  3. Oxygen
  4. Light
  5. Infestation (insects)
  6. Container Type
  7. Best if Used By Date

Jump down the page to see 8 Tips on how to prolong food storage self-life

7 factors that affect the shelf life of food storage

There are 7 factors that greatly affect the shelf life of your food storage which include the temperature, moisture, oxygen, light, infestation, container, and best if used by date. 

Temperature

Temperature is a major factor that affects the shelf life of any food. Store foods in a cool dry place. As a general rule, the temperature of food storage should be kept between 40-60 degrees Fahrenheit 

Moisture

Moisture is another critical factor that affects the shelf life of food storage. When food is exposed to moisture it can result in organic growth such as mold and bacteria. Moisture can break down the container in which the food is stored, drastically shortening the shelf life.  

Storing your food in dry places will greatly increase the shelf life of your food.

Oxygen

Long-term food storage is often stored in sealed containers with oxygen absorbers to remove any excess oxygen. Food that is stored with no oxygen helps inhibit the life of organic matter in the food helping extend the shelf life of food.

Three ways to remove oxygen from your food supply:

  • Displacing oxygen by using dry ice
  • Absorbe oxygen by using an oxygen absorber
  • Remove oxygen by Vacuum sealing your food in bags

Light

Light is a factor that is often overlooked but still affects the shelf life of your food supply. Over time the light will break down the nutrition of the food being stored. Light can also cause discoloration of the food. Food should be stored in a dark place especially if stored in a glass jar.

Infestation (insects)

Food can easily be contaminated by an infestation of bugs and it can automatically ruin whatever is being stored. While bugs such as weevils are not poisonous or not ok to eat they are very appetizing and the food should be cooked before eating. 

Container Type

Use the right container for the food you are storing. Glass jars, mylar bags, #10 cans, and 5-gallon buckets are all options for storing food. Make sure that your container is airtight and fits the type of food that you are storing.

Best if Used By Date

The best if used by date is an important factor when considering what affects the shelf life of food. Having a constant rotation of food storage will help prolong the shelf life. Buying something like a can of corn and putting it in the back to let it sit on the shelf until it expires isn’t the best way to store food. Rotating your food is key.

Best by date indicates the date when a product will be at its best flavor and quality. Before consuming food past the best by date you should check your food for any noticeable signs of spoilage such as changes in color, consistency, or texture.

The Food and Drug Administration FDA
factors that affect the shelf life of food storage

How to Prolong or Extend the Shelf Life of Food Storage

The best way to prolong or extend the shelf life of a food storage supply is to store your shelf-stable foods in the correct type of container for that specific food, then store it in a cool, dry, and dark location. Additionally, using a variety of food preservations methods such as canning, dehydrating, and freeze drying will extend the shelf life of most foods by several years.

After hours of research and years of testing many methods I was able to find the best ways to extend the life of my food supply and I will share my findings below.

8 Tips that Prolong or Extend the Shelf Life of Your Food Storage

  1. Store in a cool place
  2. Store in a dry place 
  3. Store in a dark place
  4. Store in the correct container
  5. Make sure the freezer and refrigerator are at the correct temperatures
  6. Check expiration dates
  7. Rotate Food Supply
  8. Preserve Foods by Using Correct Methods

Store in a cool place

Food should be stored in a room that is between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature is an important factor that will affect the shelf life of your food. Avoid freezing temperatures and temperatures over 60 degrees.  

United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, claims that for every 10.8 degrees in temperature rise you decrease the shelf life of stored food by half.

Cool Places to store your food could include a cold storage or pantry.

Store in a dry place

Moisture is a critical factor that will affect the shelf life of your food. Food that is exposed to moisture can grow mold and bacteria or food spoilage. Moisture can cause the food to spoil leading to foodborne illness. Food should be stored in a room with 10% or less moisture. 

store food storage in a dry, cool, and dark location to prolong or extend its shelf life
Make sure to store food storage in a cool, dark, and dry location

Store in a dark place

Light is a factor that will affect the shelf life of your food. Light will degrade the quality of food over time by deteriorating the nutritional value as well as causing possible discoloration.

It is important to store food in locations that is not hit with direct sunlight for extended periods of time. Locations such as cold storage or pantry often work great.

Store in the correct container

Storing food in the right container could mean the difference between opening something such as a good bag of flour or a stale bag of flour that has gone bad.

Different foods require different storage containers. Flour can be stored in a 5-gallon bucket for easy access as well as storage. Flour can also be sealed in mylar bags with an oxygen absorber to get the flour to last up to 30 years.  Chicken is great stored sealed in a vacuum seal bag and kept in the freezer. However, chicken shouldn’t be stored in a 5-gallon bucket for food safety reasons.

Make sure you look at how to store specific foods and what their shelf life is to know best practices. Look into foods such as flour, sugar, wheat, rice, yeast, freeze dried foods, and others.
When looking at how to store the best shelf-stable foods it is also helpful to determine how much food you should store in your long-term food storage supply.

The most common food storage containers include:

  • #10 can 
  • Vacuum seal bags
  • Mylar bags
  • Food grade buckets
  • Glass jars
prolong food storage life by using the correct storage container

Make sure your freezer and refrigerator are at the correct temperatures

Setting your freezer and refrigerator to the correct temperatures is a factor that will extend the shelf life of your food. A refrigerator should be at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, 4.4 degrees Celsius, or below. A freezer should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, -18 degrees celsius, or below. 

Food kept above 43 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 2 hours is considered to be unsafe to consume.

Check expiration dates

Checking expiration dates before a purchase can help extend the shelf life of your food storage. The expiration date is a factor that will affect the shelf life of your food. Moving a few cans or reaching to the back can greatly extend the shelf life of the food you are buying. 

It is important to regularly check the date on all items in your food storage. Regularly checking dates will also help you find what items you use the most and which items you use the least or don’t use at all. This will help you determine what items to get when you restock your food storage.

According to the USDA:

  • A “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality.  It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management.  It is not a safety date. 
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.
  • A “Freeze-By” date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
5 Facts that will help extend the shelf life of your food storage

Rotate food supply

Keeping a constant rotation in your food storage will help prolong or extend the life of your food storage. Always use the oldest items first and place the newest items in the back. This first in first out (FIFO) method is helpful, especial for canned foods.

When purchasing groceries I often buy one for now and two for later to keep things in stock. I always put the newest items in the back and use the oldest items in the front first.

Canned Foods

Storing and rotating canned foods can be challenging. Applying the FIFO (first in first out) method can get disorganized when dealing with canned food. To help with this we have found having a good canned food organizer and rotator very useful. We found one that is cheap and works well to rotate cans making FIFO easy. It is the DecoBros Stackable Can Rack Organizer (Click here to check the current price on Amazon)

When we bought a couple of them they were only listed at about $20 each rack and it comes with adjustable plastic dividers making them able to accommodate various can sizes. It’ll store up to 36 cans depending on the can sizes being stored.

Preserve foods by using the correct methods

One of the most effective ways to prolong your food supply’s storage life is to preserve it using methods such as freeze drying, dehydrating, canning, vacuum sealing, and freezing. These methods are great for preserving your garden harvest including fruits and vegetables, meats, and a variety of other foods.

We own our own freeze dryer, dehydrator, grain mill/flour grinder, deep freezer, vacuum sealer, and pressure canner. Having a variety of food preservation machines and knowing what you can and cannot freeze dry, dehydrate, or pressure can along with additional knowledge is imperative.

Compare methods such as freeze drying and deydrating to see which method is best for you and different types of foods. Also, try buying foods like freeze dried foods to see what you prefer and who knows it might lead you to buy your own freeze dryer, dehydrator, vaccum sealer, or grain mill/flour grinder.  

Prolong or extend long-term food storage through the best preservation methods including:

  • Freeze drying
  • Dehydrating
  • Canning (pressure canning and water bath canning)
  • Vacuum sealing
  • Freezing
  • Pickling
  • Making Jams & Jellys

For additional information about food preservation methods see the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP).

Conclusion

Preserving and storing food is a valuable skill that brings many benefits such as:

  • Prolonging the use of food
  • Balancing diet throughout the year
  • Preparedness for catastrophes, emergencies, and periods of food scarcity or famine
  • Self-sustainability
  • Peace of mind

It is critical to know what kinds of conditions affect the shelf life of your food storage and how to prolong or extend the life of your food storage. Preserving and storing our own food has brought my family great peace, joy, and satisfaction. We know that we will always have food to eat that has been stored in the best way possible for prolonging its shelf life.

Kaycee Blair

I'm Kaycee Blair, co-owner of EZ-Prepping with my husband Colton. My family is the most important thing to me in this world. I couldn't bear watching my two little boys go hungry so finding easy and practical ways to be prepared for the future by building food storage and gathering other emergency preparedness items has become a passion to me.

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