Some foods are more suitable for long term storage than others, but ideal storage conditions will prolong the shelf life of almost all foods. There are five factors that greatly influence the shelf life of most foods: light, oxygen, moisture, temperature, and microbial growth. Here are some tips to protect the investment in your survival pantry.

Many sites state that 'according to the USDA, for every decrease of 10°F the storage life doubles'. I think this quote pertains the the storage life of seeds rather than the shelf life of food or grains. The theory is sound however, and cooler temperatures will extend the storage life of your pantry. Temperature fluctuations can also affect the quality of stored foods; basements or root cellars work so well for food storage because not only are they cool, they tend to maintain a stable temperature year round.

Light can speed the deterioration of stored foods by causing surface discoloration and causing chemical reactions of a component or between components. When light is able to reach a liquid product, tomato juice in a glass jar for example, the damage can be worse since it may not be contained to the surface. Light penetration can also influence temperature fluctuations which further deteriorates foods as explained above.

Oxygen is is the enemy of food storage for a few reasons. Vitamins and other components of food will oxidize which affect the flavor and nutritional value. Aerobic pathogens and spoilage organisms require oxygen to survive which allows them to contaminate improperly stored food. Packing food in nitrogen is a popular commercial method of protecting food, but the use of oxygen absorbing packets is also effective and can be done at home. Foods high in oil and fat content especially benefit from a lack of oxygen.

Moisture content is an especially important factor to the storage of dry goods. Low moisture levels inhibit mold and bacteria growth. Cereal grains are a great example of this; properly dried grains will store for years, but if the moisture is too high it will spoil in a matter of weeks. Even if foods were dried and prepared properly, they need to be stored away from humidity and condensation.

Microbial growth is probably the greatest concern for home canned and processed foods, although punctured, dented, or rusty containers can signify problems for store bought food. Of all the factors that influence shelf life, microbial growth is the one that can cause the greatest amount of harm in the shortest amount of time. Controlling the temperature, oxygen, light, and moisture help to prevent spoilage organism growth, but if you even suspect that a food's safety has been compromised, you should discard it immediately.

While light, heat, oxygen, and moisture effect the flavor and nutritional value of foods, properly sterilized and stored food is likely to remain edible for decades. Microbial growth however, can very quickly render food inedible and possibly hazardous to consume. With proper planning and storage, your pantry will be there to see you thru any emergency. Learn more about the shelf life of commonly available foods.