41 Common Preps with a “SHORT” Shelf Life

When preppers look for items to stockpile, they tend to stock the ones that can be stored up to 10 years or more on the shelf.

Since these items are high on the priority list of most preppers, sometimes items with shorter shelf days get overlooked and you’ll end up having to replace them more often. And nothing is worse than having to toss out half of your stock because you didn’t pay attention to the expiration dates.

Items with shorter shelf lives are generally items that you can get from the local grocery store.  Many new preppers make the mistake of thinking that just because a package is still closed, then it can last many years on the shelf.

At the same time, storing foods in proper packaging, possibly with oxygen absorbers, in cool, dry dark places can sometimes significantly increase shelf life. For instance, oatmeal may last 1-2 years in the pantry but 5 or more years when stored properly, in a low oxygen environment.

In this article we’ll look at items that have short shelf lives, and may not be a good idea to stock large quantities (unless you’re willing to rotate often) but, again, these estimates are based on regular conditions (pantry, fridge), and not when using mylar bags and oxygen absorbers.

Cleaning and Hygiene Items

  1. Bleach – Though some people rely on it for shtf water purification, bleach does not last indefinitely. The rate of breakdown varies, and depending on how much it is exposed to extremely high or low temperatures, it could lose it effectiveness in as little as 6 months. In order to maximize its shelf life and potency, it’s best to store in a dark climate controlled room. 70F is the ideal room temp.
  2. Laundry Detergent – Laundry detergent can last up to 6 months after you open it, if stored in a cool dry place. Unopened a container of detergent can last up to 12 months so long as it’s not open.
  3. Hand Dishwashing Soap – Is a great item to stock up on when it’s on sale. But when you’re considering it for your survival pantry, be sure to buy only enough to last 12 months. After this, the cleansing quality decreases.

Food Items

  1. Bread. Bread is a staple food for many, it has fiber, vitamins, some people can’t eat anything without bread. Too bad the shelf life is 1-2 weeks in the fridge and less than a week in the pantry. You’re much better off storing whole grains such as whole oats and wheat berries because the shelf life is much, much longer. Or you can make your very own survival bread with basic ingredients, and you’ll be sure it’ll last a long time.
  2. Ketchup – Ketchup lasts up to 12 months when stored in a cool dry environment.
  3. Coffee– Coffee surprisingly has a short shelf life. Ground coffee, unopened and on the shelf can last from 3 – 5 months. Whole bean coffee can last up to 6 months unopened on the shelf. Vacuum sealing coffee will work even better but the best of the best option would be to get green coffee beans and vacuum seal those.
  4. Brown Sugar – Brown sugar has a short shelf life of 4 months. It’s not recommended that it be stocked in mass quantities. Alternative: white sugar. Store it in Mylar bags but do NOT add O2 absorbers.
  5. Salad Dressings – Thousand Island, ranch, blue cheese, vinaigrette have a very short shelf life. 1-year max on the shelf.
  6. Mayonnaise – Very bad idea to store mayonnaise. It lasts on up to 3 months.
  7. Crisco Shortening – Unopened, it last 8 months.
  8. Crackers and Cookies – Packaged and unopened, these can last up to 6 months on the shelf.
  9. Teas – Loose teas as well as powdered ice tea mixes last 6-12 months on the shelf.
  10. Hot Chocolate – Hot chocolate powder lasts 6-12 months on the shelf.
  11. Canned Sodas – One might think stockpiling canned sodas is a great idea, but in reality, it’s not. Canned sodas, both carbonated and non, last up to 9 months on the shelf. Diet sodas last a shorter amount of time up to 5 months.
  12. Bacon. If you love bacon, bad news: it’ll last at most 2 weeks in the fridge and 4 weeks in the freezer. A better option would be to can it.
  13. Spaghetti Sauce – There are different types available. Pay attention to the ingredients label. Tomato based spaghetti sauces last up to 1 year unopened on the shelf, sauces made from cream only last up to 8 months on the shelf, and oil based sauces last up to 1 year. Dried and packaged sauces last up to 1 year.
  14. Cornmeal – unless the cornmeal has been prepared to be shelf sustainable, it’ll last 1 year on the shelf.
  15. Grits – Instant grits lasts up to 8 months on the shelf, while regular grits last up to 10 months.
  16. Boxed Cereals – Boxed cereal lasts up to 1 year on the shelf. You can eat it after but it’s freshness will be diminished. Rotate often.
  17. Hard cheese will last up 3 months in the pantry and 4 months in the freezer. Alternative: freeze dried cottage cheese from Mountain House – it’ll last decades.
  18. Cake Flour – Cake flour goes bad after 6 months.
  19. White Flour – Lasts 10 months on the shelf.
  20. Whole Wheat Flour – Unlike white flour, whole wheat flour only lasts about 6 months on the shelf.
  21. Bisquick Biscuit mix – This is a pantry staple, and it’s good to stock for short term use. Bisquick biscuit mix and similar types have a shelf life of 12 months.
  22. Pancake Mix – Although a tempting option, pancake mixes lasts up to 6 months on the shelf.
  23. Microwavable Popcorn – Popcorn is cheap. It lasts up to 8 months on the shelf.
  24. Beer. Beer will last around 6 months, depending on storage conditions. Instead, how about you stockpile whiskey, vodka and rum, they will last a lot longer.
  25. Granola and Protein Bars – When stored in a cold and dry place, and kept sealed in their individual wrappers, bars can last up to 8 months and maintain their freshness. These are great for bug out bags but they need to be rotated twice a year.
  26. Instant Pudding Mixes – These are extremely inexpensive and they last up to 8 months on the shelf.
  27. Mixed Rice – Unlike white or brown rice, rice that is mixed up with other grains like vermicelli and dehydrated vegetables (ex: Rice a Roni only have a 6-month shelf life). So don’t stock up on these unless you plan on using within the immediate next few months.
  28. Out of shell nuts – Nuts like cashews, peanuts, pistachios, and brazil nuts that have been shelled have a decreased shelf life of 6 months.
  29. Toaster Pastries (Pop Tarts) – Be mindful when you’re stocking up on these tasty breakfast treats for your pantry. If you stock up on these, rotate them out every 6 months with fresh ones because these will only last 6- 9 months on the shelf.
  30. Instant Breakfast Drinks – These are a great addition to any pantry, but short term only. Instant breakfast drinks only last up to 6 months on the shelf.
  31. Rice Milk & Soy Milk – These alternatives to cow milk can be purchased on the shelf at the grocery store and do not need refrigeration until after opening. But rice and soy milks only last 6-9 months on the shelf. These beverages would be need to be consumed within that period of time.
  32. Bottled Juice – Adults and kids alike like the flavors of bottled juice, but after 9 months, those flavors go flat.
  33. Boxed Juice – As with bottled juices, boxed juices have an even shorter shelf life of 4-6 months.
  34. Regular Dried Fruit – Dried fruit in sealed bags and boxes can last up to 6 months but once they’ve been exposed to air, the expectancy is dramatically reduced.
  35. Canned Fruits – You can get canned fruit for a bargain at most supermarkets, but be mindful when choosing to stock your emergency pantry with these because most canned fruits have a 1-year shelf life.
  36. Dry Pasta – Pasta is a staple, whether it is macaroni, tortellini, or angel hair. There are many variations but they all have the same 1-year shelf life in common.
  37. Yeast. The shef life is 2 to 4 months, so I wouldn’t bother stockpiling it for the long term.
  38. Gatorade – Power and sports drinks may seem like a great idea to stock but they only last up to 9 months on the shelf.

It’s easy to think that just because an item is still sealed, it will last a very long time on the shelf. That’s why it’s good to do research so you’ll be informed and not get caught in the very unlucky situation of having to throw away half of your emergency food supply, because you didn’t pay attention to expiration dates.

I’ve done it before and it’s no fun at all. Many beginner preppers face these heartaches several times before they get a full understanding of how shelf rotation works.

About MIra J. Ross

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Mira has been prepping for 10 years. Living in the outskirts of metropolitan Atlanta with her 3 children, she's preparing not just for SHTF events but also for everyday emergencies.

One comment

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    What was missing in the article was the alternatives, which are available for almost everything on the list.
    As Linda properly notes, almost everything on the list lasts longer than the use by date. In addition, items kept in a cold, dry, and dark place will mostly keep much longer. In many cases for the food items, keeping the temperatures close to freezing (about 40F) will greatly prolong the life-span. I have four year old brown sugar in my refrigerator that is still good, and I have used almost every item on the list at twice the time-frame suggested.
    Mira is mostly correct on the bleach, soda, canned tomato products, flour products, and oily nuts and vegetable oils, but even these items are usable if properly stored for at least twice the time stated. For nearly everything that you buy from the store, you may have to repackage and remove the oxygen if you want longer term storage.

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