Shelf Life of Stored Food - How to Cook Really Old Beans

A question I was asked: What kind of shelf life can I expect for things like rice and beans if I package them in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers like it says on your website?

(see Long Term Food Storage Using Mylar Bags & Oxygen Absorbers)

What are the 3 things that most affect food in storage? Light, heat and air. The mylar bags and oxy absorbers take care of the light and air part, so that leaves the temperature. And a lot depends on the temperature where you store the food. If it is stored in a relatively cool place like a basement or shelter, you should expect 20 or more years on most of it.

Beans, legumes and grains like wheat will pretty much store forever if stored properly. 2000 year old wheat found in the pyramids still sprouted.


The longer dry beans are stored, the longer they may take to cook. First, sort and rinse the beans. For each cup of beans, bring 3 cups of water to boil, add the beans to the boiling water, and boil for two minutes. Next, add 3/8 teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) for each cup of beans, cover, and soak for 1 hour or more. More baking soda may be required for older beans. Next, drain and rinse the beans thoroughly, cover with water, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 1-2 hours or until tender. Do not add salt or other ingredients until the beans have softened adequately – the salt will stop the softening process.

Now, things like rice or dairy products store for a lesser time. If you do some research you will find differing opinions on how long rice will store. But here are some good rules of thumb.

White rice stores longer than brown rice (but I eat brown rice not white rice, so I store brown). It is said that rice goes rancid after (pick one, depending on the source) 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, again with this affecting brown rice more quickly than white rice.


(This only applies if it smells rancid. If it doesn't, you don't have to bother with this.)

If you have very old rice (like I have some from 1989) and you notice a rancid smell, it is the OIL in the rice grains, not the grains themselves, that is smelling.

Just put the rice in water, bring to a boil, remove from heat and let set a couple of minutes then drain. The rancid oil part gets thrown out with that hot water. Rinse the rice, put in fresh water and cook like usual.

Dairy products supposedly have a 2-5 year shelf life. Again, if it is cool, dark and no air, it will probably go way longer than that. If I had cheese powder or milk powder packaged in a #10 can and nitrogen flushed that had been in a constant 55 degrees for a looooong time, would I just toss it? No way. I'd open it up and try it if it appeared good after opening.

I just tried (as in "ate") some raisins and figs from 1989 (brave, huh?) Always the researcher. The ones kept in the cool and dark were fine. The figs had “sugared” a little (where the sugar in the fig crystallized on the surface of the fig a bit).

I was actually surprised that the raisins looked pretty much how they looked when I put them in the bucket in 1989, but they HAD been in optimum storage conditions (which is pretty easy in Washington State).

I have also seen raisins stored in clear glass jars look pretty nasty after several years storage. But they were just in a kitchen pantry which was much warmer in the summer (we go up into the 90's and no air conditioning), and in the winter with the heat on, plus they were hit with light more often from the cupboard being opening fairly often. I’d say it was primarily the temperature that did them in, because they did the “sugar” thing to the extreme, and then continued to morph. They looked a bit too gnarly to eat.

Storage Life & Temperature
Temperature and temperature changes have the most to do with the shelf life of stored food than any other factor.  The USDA states, "Each 10°F drop in temperature doubles the storage life of the seeds." Experience has shown that this applies to foods as well.
Temperature Years
37.6 40
48.4 30
59.2 20
70.0 10
80.8 5
91.6 2.5
102.4 1.25

OGas StoveHand Driven Popcorn Popperne of my next experiments is to pop up some popcorn I stored back in 1989, then some current brand new popcorn. The 1989 popcorn LOOKS fine, and I have a dandy all stainless steel non-electric popcorn popper, so I am going to pop us up some popcorn on our Porta Chef stove (which is what I'll be using if everything goes down). I'll let you know how that comes out :-D

So NEXT week I'll talk about the rechargeable batteries in lanterns and radios and all manner of handy items that you might want to be functioning in the latter part of 2012 and into 2013. 

- Teri
Optimum Preparedness 



+2 #1 Nancy 2011-12-31 04:26
I had some beans stored in a plastic container for 7 years that I found in my storage unit. I just soaked them in water, let them sprout over the next couple days then boiled them for just over an hour.

No need to spend hours and hours boiling away all of your precious water. Just let nature do its thing. Sprout the beans for a day or so or as long as you like - up tp 4-5 days if you want a nice green veggie in addition to your beany dish.

Now I always sprout my beans before cooking. Benefits include increased nutritional value from dormant starchy bean to a living veggie delight! You can also continue sprouting beans for several days and have some nice greens to add to salads or other dishes.

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