Short-Term Vs. Long-Term Food Storage – What’s The Difference?

Food storage is fundamental to being prepared for an emergency. Humans have stored food for thousands of years, and our governments still to this day have food reserves.

However, food surpluses in the grocery stores and government reserves are all short-term or otherwise not easily accessible to a large number of people all at once. If things go south, you’ve only got yourself to count on.

Being prepared with the right food storage supplies protects you and your family in the event of an emergency, severe weather, blackouts, or a financial crisis.

Since food storage is such an important part of self-reliance and emergency preparedness in general, we’d like to take this opportunity to help you understand one of the most important aspects of proper food storage – the difference between short-term food storage and long-term food storage.

Short-Term Food Storage

In a nutshell, anything that you and your family eat on a regular daily, or weekly basis is considered short-term food. It’s food that you reach for and access easily and aren’t saving for an emergency. It’s anything you keep in your pantry, fridge, or freezer, and rotate through regularly.

If any food is currently in your pantry, it’s usually open, or will be opened soon. If it’s in the fridge or freezer, it relies on electricity and is considered highly perishable.

In general, anything that lasts 1-5 years is considered short-term food supplies. Why? 5 years can seem like a long time, but in a disaster or emergency where food might be short supply indefinitely, 3-5 years suddenly isn’t that long. You hope you’ll never have to rely on food to last THAT long, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Types Of Short Term Foods

Short-term foods vary considerably with shelf-life, ranging from meat that may last only a few days to canned goods that can last up to 5 years.

Canned Goods

Canned foods are among the longest-lasting “short-term” foods you can buy. Some cans can arguably last longer than 5 years, however, the risk of contamination and reduced nutrition goes up the longer you’ve done past the expiry date.

Highly acidic canned foods like tomatoes will spoil faster, but other canned goods like fruit and vegetables, peanut butter, oil, jams, canned meat, and soup can last years beyond the expiry date.

Packaged Foods

Stocking up on non-perishable packaged items is a great way to bulk out your everyday pantry items. Try to store foods that have varied but natural ingredients and have high nutritional value. Some packaged foods that can last from months to years include:

  • Dry cereal
  • Dried fruits
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Box dinners (dry soup mix, kraft dinner, ramen)
  • Beef jerky and other dried meats
  • Cookies, chips, crackers
  • Flour
  • Rice, pasta
  • Sugar, spices

These short-term foods are generally stored in their original containers, but you can extend their lives by transferring them to airtight glass, plastic, or vacuum-sealed bags and containers.

A great way to think about your short-term supply is – if you were to go to your grocery store and purchase 3-6 months of food at one time, what would you need?

Long Term Food Storage

Foods that are considered long-term will get you through an emergency period and are not meant to be used daily. These are super long shelf life foods that can last for 25-30 years if properly stored.

Long-term food kits are very low in moisture and are your insurance against extended periods of financial strife, emergency power outages, and will help you survive without additional support from outside sources. Packaging is generally vacuum-sealed, multi-layered, and made from the best quality and airtight materials designed specifically to keep out moisture and extend shelf-life.

Foods on the shorter end of the long-term scale may include foods like powdered milk and powdered eggs or grains with higher inherent moisture or fat content. The general rule of thumb is – the higher the moisture and fat content, the quicker the food will spoil.  

Other foods that fall into the category of long-term may include foods that are dried or freeze-dried, dried pasta, rice, and oats.

One of the best long-term food you can store is dried beans as they can last decades under the right storage conditions and are nutritionally dense and high in calories.

Many reputable food storage companies offer full dried and freeze-dried family food packs containing all of your daily calorie needs in a wide range of delicious and flavorful meals. Many of these packs are rated to last 25+ years and come in convenient easily transportable buckets containing dozens to hundreds of meals in one bucket.

Final Thoughts

Being prepared means understanding your food supply and how to create the ideal conditions to make it last as long as possible. Proper food rotation strategies, storage conditions, and an understanding of nutrition and dietary needs are all important to make sure you get the most out of your stored food.