Here are some shelf-stable ingredients you need for everyday meals and in case of emergencies.

Rachel Roszmann
January 30, 2020
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Nonperishable foods are something we typically don't hear a lot about until the holidays roll around—that's when charities ramp up nonperishable food donation efforts—but nonperishable foods are items everyone should have on hand. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency makes nonperishable food items part of its basic disaster supplies checklist for emergencies like winter storms, earthquakes and hurricanes. However, having good nonperishable items on hand can help you avert minor disasters like not having a plan for dinner, or just help bulk up meals with a few more nutrients.

What Are Nonperishable Foods?

Nonperishable foods are packaged, shelf-stable foods that can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration—canned or dried (or dehydrated). Food banks and charities ask for these types of items so they can redistribute them to people in need. For disaster kits, nonperishable food is recommended in case you don't have access to grocery stores or you don't have electricity to power refrigerators to prevent food from spoiling.

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Best Canned Foods to Stock Up On

Having canned food like soups, beans and vegetables on hand can make your dinners quick and inexpensive whether you're cooking on the fly or you're planning a feast. A can of tomatoes can be transformed into a sauce, used as the base of a soup or used to beef up a casserole. Things like canned tuna or other fish that's high in omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of heart disease as well as make a great salad topper or fill a sandwich.

In their packaging, canned foods can also last a very long time, but not forever. A "best if used by" date or "best by" date is printed on cans, and is something you should pay attention to. It's not an expiration date, but it's the date the quality of the food starts to decline. The United States Department of Agriculture says low-acid foods like canned fish, canned chicken, canned ham and canned vegetables (in cans that are not rusted or dented) can last up to five years if they're kept in a cool, dry place. Items like canned tomatoes, citrus fruits and other high-acid canned foods only last up to 18 months.

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Best Dried Foods to Stock Up On

There are all sorts of dried foods that can save you from dinner disasters. Most only require hot water to reconstitute them to turn them into a balanced meal; others can be eaten straight from the package.

Dried Grains & Pasta

Items like pasta and rice can be used as the base for quick and easy balanced meals year-round. They also don't require refrigeration and can last for about two years in their original packaging, according to the USDA.

Dried Beans

Dried beans also last a long time. Experts at Michigan State University Extension say that if dried beans are stored in special airtight packaging, the beans can last up to 10 years; but in regular food-grade packaging, they maintain their quality for about a year or until the expiration date. Beyond those dates, they're still good—they just take longer to rehydrate (but pressure cooker recipes can help with that).

Dried Fruit

Dried fruit—like raisins and dates—stored in an airtight container can last up to a year in the pantry or two years in the refrigerator. Dried fruit makes a great snack by itself or in granola, and some, like apricots and dried cherries, can be worked into savory dishes for weeknight meals as well.

Dried Meat

Dried meat is usually found in the form of jerky. Jerky is a great source of protein and it lasts quite a while because the moisture that causes spoilage is removed. In this case, like with canned foods, use the "best by" date as a guide. Unopened, commercial jerky can last up to two years in the pantry after the "best by" date, according to EatByDate.com.

Dried Vegetables

Typically "dried" vegetables are dehydrated and can be reconstituted. They're great for backpacking and camping because they're light, but they can be used to add a little more structure to recipes like soups and stews. Dried mushrooms make great soups as well—they can be added whole, or they can be ground into a powder to add body to a vegetarian broth.

Best Nuts and Nut Butters to Stock Up On

Nuts are an excellent source of protein and healthy fats. That makes them great snacks, or they can be sprinkled into sweet and savory dishes for extra protein and texture. They're also considered nonperishable, but the shelf life really depends on how they're stored. They come with a "best by" date because they can go rancid at room temperature. The best way to buy and store nuts is in the shell, because they'll last longer. Without the shell in an unopened package, almonds last the longest—they can stay fresh up to one year after their "best by" date, while pine nuts only last up to two months past their "best by" date, according to EatByDate.com. Pair those with dried fruit or granola as an easy, on-the-go snack or breakfast that doesn't call for a fridge.

Unopened nut butters like peanut butter or almond butter can last up to two years in the pantry, which means they're good to stock up on. After they're opened, they last up to three months, but refrigerating them can extend their life to six months.

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Best Dairy and Milk to Stock up on

When storms are about to hit, milk is one of the first things to disappear from grocery store coolers. However, you can add milk to your emergency foods list, too—there are shelf-stable milks and creams, which are heated at high temperatures to destroy bacteria and stored in special packaging. You might hear it called "UHT" milk, which stands for "ultra-heat-treated." Unopened, UHT milk can be kept in the pantry for up to six months, according to researchers at Cornell University. You can use UHT milk any way you'd use regular milk: in cereal and coffee, for baking and so forth. Keeping UHT whipping cream in the pantry can get you out of a bind when you want to whip up a last-minute dessert.

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