BYU Today

Ask An Expert: New Tips for Old Food


Oscar Pike

As the lead researcher of BYU’s Long-Term Food Storage Research team and chair of the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science, Oscar A. Pike (BS ’80) is reshaping what we think about those cans of rolled oats in the back of the pantry.

Q: How long will stored foods stay good?

A: There is a wide range in the shelf life of dried foods, depending on the specific commodity and its original quality, storage temperature, and so on. Some commodities should be used within a couple of years, like salad oil and dried eggs. But many dried foods—packaged to remove oxygen and kept at room temperature or below—will store well for 20–30 years or more. In our studies, taste testers evaluated aroma, flavor, texture, and overall acceptability of dried foods. Wheat and rice were very acceptable after 30-plus years of storage; beans, dried apples, macaroni, potato flakes, and oats up to 30 years; nonfat dry milk up to about 20 years.

Q: Do foods that old retain their nutritional value?

A: There is a loss of nutrients over time, but there is sufficient nutritional value to justify storing dry foods long-term. In a survival situation, you need calories to stay alive, and stored foods provide calories. Vitamin C is another important nutrient and, fortunately, vitamin C tablets retain a high percentage of their potency for more than 20 years.

Q: How and where should I store my food supply?

A: Minimize the exposure to moisture, air, light, and warm or hot temperatures. Of these, temperature is the most crucial. If you ever have to eat your food storage, you’ll wish you had stored the food in the house and the furniture in the garage.

Q: What do I need to have stored for an emergency?

 In the Church’s pamphlet “All Is Safely Gathered In,” (see the focus is on a three-month supply of foods we are accustomed to eating, drinking water, a financial reserve, and a longer-term food supply. Our research indicates that dry foods are ideal for longer-term storage since they do not need to be rotated as frequently as we once thought.

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