Forever Foods and More

So, have you had that unopened jar of mayonnaise ever since your husband brought home the wrong brand 7 years ago?  Forget about it *she says in her best Italian mobster accent*

While most persons have heard that a Twinkie last forever on the shelf, but did you know that there are actually some other more common food items that have an unlimited shelf life? A little fact-finding mission with some manufacturers sure did surprise me and I’m sure it will raise an eyebrow or two for you.

What would you think if I told you that an unopened jar of mayonnaise is said to have an unlimited shelf life?  Seriously. That’s exactly what the manufacturer’s claimed according to a recent article by Real Simple Magazine. You may see a change in the coloring and flavor, but you won’t be consuming anything nasty. Now I have to remind you that for a manufacturer to state such a thing, with all of the legal advice that they pay a pretty penny for, I’m surprised that they would make such a claim.  On the other hand, it’s made me wonder why I don’t make my own homemade mayonnaise more often? If the stuff in the jars can last as long as a Twinkie, then I sure do wonder what kind of chemical monster concoction I’m eating.

Most of you already know that honey has an indefinite shelf-life, even when stored in less than ideal conditions.  For those of you who get frustrated with your honey hardening/crystallizing, you can put the container in your solar oven, regardless of the external temperature, for about 20 minutes, and you’ll have nice and smooth honey again. You can also put the plastic container in a pan of boiling water for about 10 minutes and you’ll have no problems pouring it out.

The usefulness of brown sugar may seem to be frustrated when it gets hard, but just like regular sugar, it’s still perfectly fine to use.  I do suggest that you store it in a low moisture environment that’s cool. Personally, I like to store mine in a zip-lock Mylar bag with a brown sugar bear in it. While you do not want to store brown sugar or white sugar with diatomaceous earth mixed in, you can try this trick. Put the sugar in a Mylar bag and then place it in a bucket with just a sprinkle of diatomaceous earth on the bottom of the bucket.

I found it unbelievable that the makers of Hershey’s chocolate bars said they would last 1 year from the production date. Come on now folks. What kind of an idiot do you think I am? We all know that there’s no way a bar of Hershey’s chocolate is going to last that long—unless perhaps you hide it and can’t remember where you put it. *grin*

Ironically, if you’ve purchased that famous food for your plants, Miracle Grow, you can expect that to have an indefinite shelf life as well—even if it’s stored in your garage.  This designation however, was only for the liquid, water soluble formula. Well, if the food can’t last that long, at least the food for the plants which will grow food can, eh?

For those of you who find value in having nail polish remover on hand, you’ll be happy to know that that too can be stored indefinitely—but boy, howdy, does it sure smell strong after a couple of years.  If you haven’t discovered yet, nail polish remover is good for more than just the obvious. While these things may not make a bit of difference to your preparedness efforts, a friend of mine did just use it to “erase” a permanent marker/labeling error on one of my four gallon square buckets. It’s also actually effective in removing permanent marker from non-porous surfaces such as the exterior part of your microwave when a 3 year old munchkin decides to write her name there. After reading an article in the “Ask Heloise” section of the newspaper many years ago, I joyfully discovered that nail polish remover will get rid of paint from your windows. (Don’t you just hate how it ends up on there even when you’re so incredibly careful?) I’ve also used it to get rid of sticky residue from non-porous objects—even the chrome trim of a car after I mistakenly place a Ross Perot bumper sticker there eons ago. (Is that guy even still alive?)  While this thought may creep you out a bit initially, it will also remove stains from your fine china—of course you’ll want to wash them really well before serving on them, Silly. Finally, at the risk of making this turn into a “101 Uses for Nail Polish Remover” article, I just have to add one more.  I have a flat top stove. So I’ve successfully used it on the surface to get rid of the accidentally melted plastic that ends up there if my husband makes a sandwich shortly after I’ve cooked something. Yeah, it’s like the double insult if you ask me. I make dinner. He doesn’t eat it, and then I have to clean up the melted plastic on the stove on which he uses to make his sandwich. *sigh*

As a reminder, water can be stored indefinitely so long as it’s stored in a proper container.  The storage of water is a really important aspect of self-reliance to me and I don’t want to risk not being able to use it later. So be sure that you don’t take any chances and store it in the nice and thick, water grade storage buckets. If you have to start by using empty 2 liter bottles, go ahead, but you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on them to watch for leaking after a couple of years. With the steep rise in resin prices the last year, you can expect to see more flimsy plastic being used in your formerly reliable containers. (note, it’s not necessary to treat the water before putting it in the storage container. Instead, treat it before you use it.)

You may already be familiar with the other standard food items that can be stored indefinitely in cool, dry conditions are wheat, white rice, instant coffee, most dry pastas, dried corn, soybeans, baking powder, salt, and most bouillons.

In closing I probably should make my standard speech about expiration dates in general. There are not any set standard of regulations for the use of expiration dates. In addition, most expiration dates are created by attorneys, not taste-testers.  They are usually there only to prevent a lawsuit from happening. So take all expiration dates with a grain of salt. I have been using pancake mixes, cereals, canned vegetables and tuna, as well as a host of other products for several years well past their posted expiration dates and have been just fine. Use common sense and your nose and you should be fine.


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Comments

Any suggestions on how to get hardened, crystallized honey out of those 5 gal. buckets? I didn't think about that problem when I purchased them in such a large container.

@Kathy, Try setting the bucket in front of your best sun exposure window for the day.. the bucket should warm nicely. That splotch of sunlight sure warms my cat and dog to their liking. :-)

Expiration dates, sell by dates, use by dates...it CAN get confusing! I go by look and smell. If in doubt, throw it out!

I just recently discovered the joy of making my own mayonnaise. Who knew that it was SO easy and takes less than 5 minutes to put together? Check it out here and let me know what you think:

http://www.friedalovesbread.com/2010/06/homemade-mayo-round-three.html

Yes, it wouldn't last as long as store-bought mayo, but I've wondered myself about all the preservatives and chemicals they put in there...

If you can it after wards, you're likely to have a separation of the eggs from the other ingredients.

Sue, I agree with Kellene's comment... But, think of the shelf stable ingredients in your food storage that this fresh mayo uses: lemon juice (ok, once opened, it needs to be in the fridge), vinegar, salt, dry mustard powder and canola oil. The only other thing needed would be a room temperature fresh egg.

I have some whole powdered eggs. You've given me an idea to try making it with powdered eggs! I'll give it a go and let you know how it turns out!

Frieda, you may want to do a search on canola oil on this site. It's not a shelf-stable as we've been led to believe. I make my mayo with olive oil, just FYI.

When my brown sugar gets hard/dry, I just put a slice of bread into the container and in a short while and lovely and soft again! Works every time.

Oh my gosh! Thanks! I have been trying for years to remember what my mother did to soften her brown sugar when it got dry and hard....Thank you!

Also, I have had brown sugar

Also, I have had brown sugar for ages in my Tupperware Modular Mates, and it has NEVER gotten hard. The trick is to avoid the drying effects of air. One time, I found a year-old Peep bunny (already opened) in a Modular Mate. It was still soft, so yes, I ate it! Very tasty!

Miss Kellene: You can also use Nail Polish Remover to get Super Glue off of your kids fingers when they get stuck. It also works for Adults!

Just thought I'd add an item that I just discovered that has lasted for 25 years! I didn't realize it until the news mentioned it was the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion. That day, I had a group of women over for our monthly food co-op meeting/order. (This was in the days before Costco) I had ordered 25 pounds of unsweetened cocoa powder and I still have about 2 cups left. I have stored it in Tupperware and it is still good. I am assuming that since it doesn't have any oils or fats in it,that is why it has lasted so long.

I totally can't believe that I didn't mention COCOA! That's one of my top favorite foods and the price it going sky high, so get it while you can! It has an indefinite shelf life!

I was reading somewhere the other day about vanilla having a very very long shelf life. I will try to find the resource.

Following the flight of ideas in my head, here comes another thought:
I make vanilla by immersing a vanilla bean split lenthwise in a small bottle of vodka.

It's a worthwhile thought. The conservative prude in me though says that even purchasing REAL vanilla is significantly less expensive, and the shelf-life is comparable. :-)

Thanks for the great information! Mayonnaise.....who knew?! I learn something every time I log on to your website! Thank you!

Good article!

And timely as well. The DW & I were discussing the shelf life of various foods recently.

It's great to hear that cocoa has a long shelf life. It's an essential, if you know what I mean.

We are coffee drinkers, much prefer ground coffee, but we do keep a fair amount of freeze dried instant coffee in our stores. It's a viable "caffeine delivery device". :)

We're using canned coffee that is between 2-5 years old in our rotation and it tastes fine.

Do you Kellene, or anyone else, have any thoughts on the storage life of "ground" coffee beans?
I know many folks suggest storing, then roasting green coffee beans...but we haven't ventured into that realm yet.

Thanks to all.

Regards,

Prag

You can rely on a lengthy shelf life of coffee beans without having to go to the effort of using the green ones. Nana used coffee beans that were nearly two decades old when I was growing up and always said that if you stored them as a bean, instead of already ground, it could last as long as whole wheat.

Thank you Kellene.

This is good to know.

Would it be best to vac seal them and incorporate them into a Mylar/o2 absorber/bucket set?
or is there another method you (or anyone) would recommend?

Honey can go " bad "if it comes from the more moist regions of the country like South Dakota or the Canadian border
North of those states. What happens is it ferments in the bucket as soon as 1-2 years after purchase. It is not very good to spread on bread, but you can still bake with it just fine. What makes it ferment is the high moisture content. We take our honey for granted out here in the west because it is dry honey and thus very great for long storage.
Has anyone else had experience with this? I had to learn the hard way, but now I only buy western honey for that reason.

That's interesting Gwen.
I've never heard that, but I will certainly file it in the "need to know" section of my brain.

Thanks. :)

Just wanted to say I am reluctant to store any wheat products or flour outside of refrigeration/freezing because of two things: Weevils and Ergot. I have had problems with weevils in the past with long storage of flour outside of cold storage, since the weevil eggs are already in the flour when you buy it.

I have never had a problem with ergot, though, but I heard on the news a few months back about a child who had eaten an old box of some kind of processed food which had had a wheat pasta or something like that in it and had to be rushed to the hospital with ergot poisoning. They were making a point on TV of throwing out food past the exp. date, which I never do. However, I do have an extra freezer for freezing all my grain products.

Now here's my question: Could flour be sterilized in the oven if spread out in long pans (I have some rectangular graniteware ones) and then stored in glass canning jars? It seems like a lot of work, but I hate to lose my flour to weevils or my rye flour to ergot.

Sue, you need to do a search on "diatomaceous earth" on this site. You will learn of the PERFECT solution to storing wheat outside of a refrigerated environment--and cheap too with so many other health benefits.

Yes, flour, wheat, rice, pasta, etc. can be sterilized if you have it at 180 degrees for 20 minutes or more. But if you use the DE in your storage efforts, you shouldn't need to mess with that.

I'm such a preparedness geek, that I actually find myself excited at the prospect of you learning of this solution. :-)

Ive used bay leaf and “diatomaceous earth” and My critter are better for DE. have no problem with DE. What a great multi-tasker. I don't have to heat or freeze for storage of grains. It's healthy to consume, a kid and pet freindly treatment for fleas and all bugs as long as you are aware of the dust and it's drying properties. I use DE for all my buckets and I noticed the pet food stored with DE kept its aroma much longer and no bugs. Plus it's good for all critters. It's great odor killer and works great on keeping bugs off my bunnies.
Kellene I'm sold on DE being a great product. I know many will not believe some thing so simple can work so well. I'll be getting another bucket from 5 star mid year. For expansions on storage and usage.

Jamie, Can you tell me how you used DE on your animals? My daughter's small dog is allergic to flea control meds, and this sounds perfect! Thank you!
Karen

a great article and thanks for all the tips from those who've posted to it
is there a site where people can post 'expiration' dates for food items?

the 'news' reported that there will be a cocoa shortage in about three years due to crop production/political unrest on the Ivory Coast. I've 'heard' that there was a bug/beetle problem that was effecting cocoa plants in SA, but it was news to hear we get product from Africa.

how should I store my oodles of pasta? do I need to do it in the #10 cans, is just in a bucket ok, or foodsaver?

also what about cake mixes, and *gasp* don't throw rocks how about hamburger helper type things?

oh and how is best to store brown sugar?

thanks, can't wait for this class to be available

The DE will work for the pasta. #10 can or bucket is fine for that.
For cake mixes, I put the entire bag in the jar, put a pin prick in it, and then do it with the foodsaver.
Brown sugar--bucket is fine with a brown sugar bear.

There was a public service announcement last year about using any pancake mix or cake mix , past the expiration date. They have eggs in them and can cause botulism. very dangerous, unless they have been frozen.

I've addressed this issue before. Such warning is absolute BULLOCKS! CDC shows only FIVE cases of this happening in a given year. And they NEVER address HOW the pancake, cake mixes were stored. (temperature, oxygen control, etc.)

A brown sugar bear is a small piece of ceramic in the shape of a bear. You soak it in water and put it in your brown sugar container, and it keeps the brown sugar soft, or softens it if it was hard. Apparently you can also use a bread crust, but as the bears are only a few dollars at Bed Bath and Beyond and are reusable, I haven't tried it.

Kellene

am I missing a "print version" button anywhere on your articles? I'd like to print some of them and put them in my binder.

There are TONS of factors that need to be taken into consideration for that answer. It's not cut and dry. It depends on how it's been stored in the meantime (heat or humidity levels), how old was it when it was stored in the jars, what is just put in the jars or was the oxygen extracted, how much hydrogenated oil do the mixes contain, etc. etc. Under the best of circumstances, you're looking at 5-8 years.

Thanks for the info on cakes in a jar. We baked the cakes in the jars and sealed immediately when they came out of the oven with lids and rings. They "popped" as they cooled. I doubt they'll make it 5 years, but it's nice to know they would be good if they did.

WOW So much great info in this blog. I am excited to get started working on storage.....thanks

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