When I started collecting information for an article on the shelf life of common foods, my intention was to create a simple chart of popular products and their shelf life. It didn't take long to learn that there are hundreds of charts out there like this, and no two seem to offer the same information...

With so much conflicting information available, it is difficult to confidently state the shelf life of a product without visiting every manufacturer's website. Instead of adding another product table to the mix, I think it is more productive to discuss types of foods most suitable for long term storage. Although many specialty products are marketed for their shelf life, this article focuses on popular and affordable items available in your local grocery store.

Rice is an excellent survival food thanks to it's low cost, ease of preparation, and long shelf life. Corn, wheat, and other cereal grains are equally affordable and store just as well but they require a mill for processing and take more effort to prepare than boiling in water. White rice is a better choice for long term storage since brown rice has a higher oil content, which causes it to spoil more quickly. Properly stored cereal grains will store 10 years (or longer) under ideal conditions.

Pasta can easily be stored for two years without significant loss of taste or nutrition. As a survival food, it is fantastic because it cooks quickly, is widely popular, and is affordable. If you ignore the shape of the pasta, one noodle can be used to cook spaghetti, fettuccine alfredo, goulash, macaroni and cheese, etc by varying the type of sauce applied. Many sauces are available in powdered form and are suitable for long term storage.

Most varieties of dried beans will easily store for two years or more under normal storage conditions. The longer beans are stored, the harder they become which makes it harder to rehydrate them. Beans will retain most of their taste and nutrition for a decade or longer under ideal storage conditions. If old beans won't rehydrate properly, they can be ground using a mill and used like flour.

Canned foods, whether store purchased or home made, are a great choice to stock your pantry. Canned meats, vegetables, soups, and stews are all low in acid and will easily keep for two years or more. Canned fruits, juices, tomato products, and anything with vinegar are high in acid will keep for at least 18 months. Food canned in glass jars tends to age better since glass is inert and will not affect the flavor after extended storage.