Today it seems like everyone and their brother is jumping on the so-called prepper bandwagon.
Being prepared for emergencies, disasters, or just hard-times seems to be the new thing to do, which is very good. The more prepared we all are for emergencies, the better it will be for all of us.
Just look on YouTube, there are thousands of videos concerning prepping in one form or another. It seems everyone has an opinion and they all seem to be more than willing to share it with you. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The more information we have access to before a disaster happens, the better prepared we can be for it.
Unfortunately because there is so much information available out there with easy access, that also means that there is also a lot of bad information out there.
So what makes my opinion about food safety any better than what "Joe-Bob" down the street may tell you?
In addition to the various first aid, CPR, and wilderness first aid courses that I have taught for many years, another type of class that I also taught are the ANSI-accredited food safety certification courses from ServSafe, the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals, NSF International, and the National Environmental Health Association.
I am a Certified Professional in Food Safety (CP-FS), am Certified in Comprehensive Food Safety (CCFS), and am a Certified Food Safety Manager. I also taught the Food Manager, Food Allergy Awareness, and HACCP training programs for these organizations.
As you can see, I am extremely well-versed in food safety so I may know just a tad more than "Joe-Bob" down the street on this topic. Plus, my years serving in the Marine Corps taught me to look at things logically, and use a common sense approach to things, which unfortunately, does not seem to be something that is very common for most people to do these days.
When it comes to food storage, there are different types or levels of storage depending on how long it is intended to be stored, and that determines how we have to package and store it.
Short-Term Storage - Foods that will be consumed immediately or within a few months.
Mid-Term Storage - Foods that will be consumed within one year.
Long-Term Storage - Foods that will be stored for longer than one year.
The five things that cause food to degrade or go bad that are oxygen, light, temperature extremes (both high and low), moisture, and pests (rodents & insects). These are the things that we have to guard our food against to preserve it.
In this episode we are going to focus on long-term food storage, and more specifically canned foods.
Many people have the mistaken belief that commercially packaged canned foods should not be part of your long-term food storage because it is not designed for long-term storage and will not last long enough.
They believe that canned foods "expire" and can prove it to you by pointing to the expiration date printed on the lid of the can. If you will actually look at one of the cans in your pantry, there is no expiration date on it. It simply doesn't exist.
What you will see is an arbitrary "Best By Date", not an expiration date. This does not mean that the food will expire on that date, and is no longer good or safe to eat the very next day. It simply means that the manufacturer believes that the food will be at its absolute freshest up until that date. It is referring to the quality of the food and has nothing to do with the safety of the food inside.
So, if there is no expiration date on canned foods, how long will it last?
Actually, there is no concrete answer to that question. It all depends on the type of food inside the can, the type of can it is stored in, and under what conditions the can is stored in.
On April 1, 1865 the 162-foot steamboat Bertrand out of St. Louis, Missouri and bound for the bustling mining camps in Montana sank in 8 feet of water of the Missouri River after running into a submerged log 30 miles north of Omaha, Nebraska.
It was carrying all kinds of various mining supplies, tools, textiles, household goods, pipes (both clay and briar), tobacco, hardware, building supplies, and food packed in barrels, boxes, bottles, jars, and cans.
Among the canned foods recovered were cherries, cod liver oil, coffee, cream of tartar, gooseberries, jelly & preserves, lard, oysters, peaches, pepper, pie fruits, pineapple, sardines, strawberries, and tomatoes.
The ship and its cargo were buried under layers of mud and silt which protected the cargo from oxygen for over 100 years until in 1968 it was finally salvaged.
Most of the food cans were badly decomposed, but they were able to salvage a lot of them, which along with the other salvaged items are now on public display at The Steamboat Bertrand museum located at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge.
In 1974, several of the canned food items from the Bertram were sent to the National Food Processors Association for laboratory analysis of bacterial contamination and nutrient value.
After analysis It was determined that no microbial growth had occurred and that the foods were as safe to eat as they were the day they were canned over 100 years earlier.
Their report also showed that significant amounts of vitamins A and C were lost over the years, but protein levels remained high and all calcium levels "were comparable to today's products."
They also analyzed a can of corn from 1943 that was found in the basement of a home in California and again determined that the canning process had saved the corn from contamination and preserved much of its nutritional value. Janet Dudek, a chemist with the NFPA added that "the kernels looked and smelled like recently canned corn."
All of these cans were long past their "Best By Date" yet all of the food inside them was still perfectly safe to eat.
As long as canned foods are properly stored and protected against temperature extremes most of the food inside them will be safe to eat long past your lifetime.
People that want to start prepping have the belief that in order for them to have safe food to eat 20 years from now when civilization no longer exists, they have to buy thousands of pounds of extremely expensive dehydrated or freeze-dried foods that have a 20 or 30 year shelf-life.
They are completely missing the fact that a 50-cent can of corn from the grocery store essentially has a longer shelf-life and is still safe to eat many years after their expensive "survival food" has expired.
I am not saying that these freeze-dried and dehydrated foods do not have a place in our long-term food storage because they absolutely do. There are certain foods that do not store well for long periods of time when canned in their normal form, like dairy products.
Cans of condensed milk will not be usable for very long past their "Best By Date" and they should not be added to our long-term food storage. They should only be included in our short-term and mid-term food storage supplies. Powdered milk on the other hand if stored correctly will be available for years and should definitely be added to your long-term supplies.
So, how can you tell if a can of food is safe to eat? There are several warning signs that the food inside a can may have gone bad that we should watch for.
Exterior Warning Signs:
- The can is dented or dinged
- The sides of the can or its lid are bulging
- The can is rusty or corroded
- The can is leaking food
Interior Warning Signs:
- There are small bubbles in the liquid inside the can
- The contents explode when the can is opened
- There is a bad smell coming from the food
- The food has become mushy
- The liquid has become cloudy
Do not purchase cans with dents, dings, or corrosion on them. It may appear to you to be just a minor flaw, but unless you have an electron microscope with x-ray capabilities, you have no possible way of knowing for sure if it has compromised the integrity of the can seal which could allow oxygen and microorganisms to slowly seep into the can over time which would contaminate and spoil the food.
Also, go through your food storage from time to time and inspect the cans for corrosion or dents. It's not worth the possible risk to your families health. If a can is dented or corroded in any way, just throw it out.