Food is essential during a long term SHTF situation. However, storing food can be tricky and costly because everything eventually goes bad.
Even the most shelf-stable of foods generally only last 10-15 years before they need to be replaced. While having a plan to constantly rotate your food stores can help keep your costs and efforts at a minimum, knowing that you have emergency food supplies that can last for decades is ideal.
Thankfully, there are foods that can be stored for 20 or even 30 years without going bad… and one of these foods is rice.
Just because you put a bag of rice in your cupboard, however, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be okay to eat 10 years from now. Instead, it’s critical that you know how to properly store rice for the long term.
Up next, I’ll walk you through the basics of long term rice storage so you can start building up a stockpile of food that can last for decades without any extra effort.
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Why Rice Is The Ultimate Long-Term Food
Although it’s not as popular in many Western cultures and cuisines, rice is truly one of the most versatile foods around. While it has a bad reputation of being boring and tasteless, when cooked properly, rice can be an integral part of any meal.
In fact, rice is considered a staple grain by over 3.5 billion people around the world, particularly within Asia, parts of Africa, and some sections of Latin America.
The whole grain versions can be quite a nutritious part of a meal because it’s high in essential vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, selenium, and manganese.
It also has a small but not insignificant amount of protein.
All this means that having rice in your food stores can be a great way to maintain a healthy diet even after SHTF. While your fiber intake might not be your utmost concern during a disaster, staying generally healthy is imperative when medical help no longer exists.
But, rice is even more important for a preparedness perspective for one simple reason: It has a very long shelf life. As a result, when done properly, you can store rice in your emergency stockpile for decades without having to worry about it.
Oh, and did I mention that rice is one of the most affordable staple grains around? Since uncooked white rice has an average of 1,500 calories per pound (675 calories/kg), then a single 50lbs (22.7kg) bag of rice has about 75,000 calories in total.
Your average 50lbs (22.7kg) bag of rice will net you about $25, depending on where you live. That means, you’ll spend just $0.0003 per calorie of rice.
Although you hopefully won’t eat just plain rice all day long, if you did, you’d spend $0.60 to consume your 2000 daily calories if you opt for white rice.
Needless to say, you’d be hard-pressed to find a food that’s more affordable and versatile than rice. Combine that with an exceptional shelf life, and you’ve got the perfect food for long term storage.
Risks With Storing Rice For The Long Term
Even a highly shelf-stable food like rice has its risks when stored for long periods of time. There are 3 main concerns that come with long term rice storage:
Insects & Rodents
Insects and rodents are important concerns, regardless of what type of food you’re storing, but rice is also particularly well known for carrying pests.
A quality storage container will usually keep mice, rats, and ants out of your food, but rice storage comes with a unique pest: the rice weevil.
The rice weevil is a tiny insect about 1/16” to 1/8” (1.6-3.2mm) long with a reddish brown coloring. It loves to lay its eggs inside rice and other grain products as its larvae actually develop within rice grains.
Gross, I know.
The rice weevil is often considered one of the most problematic of pests in stored grain products, like rice. While it’s not known to spread disease, having rice weevil-infested rice isn’t exactly an appetizing thought.
You can get rid of rice weevils by washing your rice before you cook it, at which point it’s okay to consume. But, since drinking and food-washing water might be at a premium in an emergency, keeping rice weevil infestation at a minimum is essential.
Mold & Mildew
When not stored properly, rice in damp conditions can easily develop mold and mildew. This will turn your beautiful stockpile into a moldy bin of spoiled rice which you shouldn’t consume.
The good news is that storing your rice properly substantially reduces the risk of it developing mold and mildew. That being said, the key is to be meticulous about your food storage process.
Bacteria and other foodborne pathogens are a concern, regardless of the type of food you’re trying to store. With rice, one of the biggest bacterial concerns is Bacillus cereus, which can cause food poisoning-induced vomiting or diarrhea.
The spores of this bacteria can live on dry, uncooked rice for years, sitting in a relatively stable state until it’s cooked. In fact, the spores can survive being cooked, but they’re generally not dangerous until they have time to grow into their bacterial form.
Bacillus cereus can cause food poisoning when it’s stored, cooked, and then kept as leftovers for too long. The bacteria grows best between 86ºF and 98.6ºF (30º-37ºC), though it can also grow in temperatures as cold as 59ºF (15ºC) and in conditions as hot as 43ºC (109.4ºC).
While there’s not much that we can do to prevent this bacteria’s spores from sitting around in our rice, if you do plan to keep rice in your stockpile, it’s critical that you know how to cook it and store it to prevent food poisoning.
It’s recommended that people should only cook small amounts of rice at a time, to minimize the need for leftovers. If you do have leftovers, cool them quickly, and put them into a refrigerator within 2 hours of cooking regardless of whether it’s fried or boiled rice.
Long Term Rice Storage 101
Now that you understand the importance of having rice in your emergency stockpile, as well as the risks of improper storage and preparation, let’s talk a bit about how to actually store rice for the long term.
How Long Can You Store Uncooked Rice?
There’s a bit of debate over how long you can actually store rice for, as it really depends on what type of rice you store and in what container. That being said, with the exception of brown rice (more on that later), rice doesn’t really become “unsafe” to eat if stored properly.
Sure, the flavor might change a bit, and your 20 year old rice might not taste as good as a fresh bag, but properly stored white rice can last for decades.
Of course, if you open up a container of rice that you’ve had for years, cook it up, and then find that it smells or tastes very weird, don’t eat it. A bit of common sense and food safety awareness goes a long way toward preventing foodborne illnesses, even in rice.
Types Of Rice To Store
If you’ve ever gone to the rice section of the supermarket and had a look around, you’ll know that there are a lot of different kinds of rice.
Which one is best for long term storage?
Here’s what you need to know:
From a long-term food storage perspective, instant rice is a no-go. This is because the dry instant rice that you can buy in a box is already precooked. Manufacturers simply cook the rice, dehydrate it, and then repackage it so it cooks much, much faster when you want to whip up a tasty meal.
Since instant rice is cooked, it does have an expiration date and it’s best not to eat it too far past the date listed on the packaging. That makes it less than ideal for anyone looking to store rice for more than a couple of years.
Brown rice is fairly popular because it has a number of health benefits. In realty, brown rice is just the whole grain version of rice, which means it contains the bran, endosperm, and germ parts of the grain.
With white rice, the bran layer, which is full of fiber, is removed, though most of the nutritious vitamins and minerals in rice come from the bran.
The problem with brown rice, from a long term storage perspective, is that it is very oily. So, it generally doesn’t last as long on the shelf (usually no more than about 12 months at room temperature, if you want to be conservative).
If you want to store brown rice, you certainly can. But you should be prepared to rotate your supplies at least once a year to prevent spoiling.
What we call “white rice” is basically just brown rice that’s been polished to remove the bran layer (the brown stuff) on whole rice. When you remove this bran layer, the rice looks white, which is how we get the name “white” rice.
White rice is available in short, medium, and long grain varieties. If you’re opting for white rice, there’s not really much of a difference in the shelf life between, say arborio, jasmine, and basmati rices, though they are very different from a culinary perspective.
For maximum versatility, having small stores of multiple different types of rice is ideal. Otherwise, your standard medium grain white rice that you can buy in bulk at the store is usually just fine for most purposes.
Despite its name, wild rice isn’t actually the same as most rice that we eat. In reality, it’s actually a mix of different grass grains that’s distantly related to classic rice, which is of the species Oryza sativa.
While you could probably store this stuff for a long time, it’s not a very popular choice because it’s quite expensive in North America. It’s also trickier to cook, and not as useful as it only pairs well with certain dishes.
How To Store Rice Safely
Once you know what kind of rice you’d like to store (I’d highly recommend picking your favorite type of white rice rather than brown rice), it’s time to store it safely for the long-term.
There are 2 main things you have to consider about rice storage to ensure that you get the longest shelf life from your rice: the storage container and the location.
You can store rice in any food safe container, but if you want to make it last, some containers are better than others.
For the best possible shelf life, a food grade plastic bucket with a quality air-tight lid is ideal. These containers are the preferred choice for long-term grain storage because they are rodent and pest-proof, water-resistant, and can be pretty darn close to air tight.
For an extra layer of protection, it’s best to seal rice in mylar bags and use oxygen absorbers before placing them inside the food-grade buckets.
Compared to mason jars or other methods of long-term storage methods, this combination approach provides the greatest possible longevity and protection.
That way, the oxygen absorbers and mylar bags will prevent your rice from being exposed to air while the buckets will keep your food safe from critters and moisture. If all of these steps are done properly, you can normally expect a shelf life of at least 20 years using this process.
There are certainly other ways of storing your rice, though they are not likely to give you the same shelf life as the food grade bucket/mylar bag option.
Best of all, mylar bags are easy to use. You can use a clothes iron to seal the bags and make them airtight:
Another common storage solution with Mylar bags includes simply filling them with rice, and then using a vacuum sealer to close and seal the bags. By removing as much as air as possible the possibility of spoilage is greatly reduced.
The downside to this option is that Mylar bags alone don’t provide your rice with any rodent protection, which can be problematic over the long term.
How Will You Know if Your Oxygen Absorber is Working?
You really won’t unless you have an oxygen absorber with a status indicator strip or casing.
Oxygen absorbers are usually small sachets filled with iron powder or other compound.
This powder reacts with the oxygen in the air to create iron oxide which is a molecule that does not support combustion. In other words, it rusts.
This process happens out of sight inside the packet. You can sometimes tell if an oxygen absorber packet is used up by feeling it; it will usually have a coarse, crunchy feel.
Some of these packets have a little color indicator strip that will change to a specific color as the packet loses efficacy.
Nicer models are small plastic cylinders that also change color when they are used up. These will have an oxygen indicator window that changes from blue to pink or from pink to purple when the device is no longer functional.
Now, these indicators do not help you rest easy when they are sealed up inside a Mylar bag with your rice, but it does let you know that the absorber is good prior to placing it in the bag. That is all you need to know!
Can You Use Too Many Oxygen Absorbers in a Mylar Food Storage Bag?
You can, but it won’t cause any real harm- you’ll just be wasting resources.
It’s an easy thing to overdo: You’re packing up your Mylar bag with rice and you think to yourself, “Why shouldn’t I use two oxygen absorbers in this bag? What if one isn’t enough?” After all, if one is good then two must be better, right? Not necessarily.
Though you should err on the side of better performance when you are really in doubt, choosing the right size or quantity of absorbers based on the capacity of the bag is all you need to do.
Here’s why. Mylar bags are made of a material that is impermeable to oxygen. This means that the only way for oxygen to get into the bag is through the opening at the top.
When you seal a Mylar bag with an oxygen absorber, you are effectively creating an airtight environment. The oxygen absorber will absorb any oxygen that remains in the bag after sealing, neutralizing its effects on your rice, ensuring that it stays fresh for years to come.
Assuming you did your job and the sealing process worked, and further assuming the bag is not damaged at any point or the seal fails, there won’t be any more oxygen getting into the bag.
So, even if you put extra oxygen absorbers in the bag, they won’t be doing a “better” job once all the O2 is gone. The other will just sit there, absorbing nothing- it’s effectively useless.
But here’s the thing: mylar bags and sealers are not perfect. They can slowly degrade over time, potentially resulting in a breach and slow leak of air into the bag. This scenario might be a good reason to use two or more oxygen absorbers in a mylar food storage bag.
The first oxygen absorber will do its job initially with the second having some efficacy left, just in case air starts to get into the bag later. This way, you can be sure that your food will have at least a degree of protection from oxidation in the future.
Location And Temperature Considerations
With food storage, in general, and with rice storage, cool, dry, dark locations are generally preferred.
When your rice is stored properly with oxygen absorbers inside mylar bags that are housed in a sealed food grade bucket, keeping it around 40ºF (4.4ºC) in a dark location can extend its shelf life up to about 30 years.
That being said, the sheer cost of keeping a large supply of rice in a dark, refrigerated environment for 30 years isn’t financially viable for many people. Plus, if there’s a power outage, the integrity of your refrigerated environment is immediately compromised.
While you could use a generator for backup power during this time, such a large refrigerator would burn through your fuel stores pretty quickly.
Therefore, a cool, dry, dark pantry that’s below 59ºF (15ºC) – the lowest temperature that Bacillus cereus is known to grow at – is a good alternative that offers a nice mix of convenience and budget-friendliness.
Brown Rice: The Exception
Perhaps the one exception to simply storing your rice in a cool, dry, dark place is with brown rice. As I’ve mentioned, since brown rice is oily, it can spoil much more quickly than white rice.
Therefore, if you really want to maximize the shelf life of brown rice, keeping it in a sealed bag within the fridge or freezer can help. Just be sure to put some baking soda in the freezer to neutralize any weird freezer smells in the process.
Keep in mind that even brown rice will often spoil in the freezer within 18 to 24 months, so you’ll still want to rotate it fairly frequently to keep your food supplies fresh when SHTF.
Long Term Rice Storage: Yay or Nay?
Rice is truly the ultimate food for long term food storage. If you want to create a stockpile of food that you can leave in your cellar for decades without worrying, there’s not much that can beat rice in terms of affordability, versatility, and ease of storage.
To maximize the shelf life of your rice, it’s best to stick with white rice. Seal your rice in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers inside, then place the bags inside a food grade plastic bucket with an air tight light for added protection.
Place all your rice in a cool, dark, and dry room, and you’ve got food stores for the next 20-30 years without spending your life’s savings. That way, you’ll always be prepared when things go awry.
Gabrielle is a professional outdoor educator, mountain guide, and survival expert with a passion for helping others be prepared for whatever might come their way. She is a polar guide in the Arctic region and is an experienced wilderness medicine instructor/EMT.