As you know, our official storm/hurricane season starts June 1. Have you begun to prepare? A good first step is to look in your pantry for shelf-stable foods.
Of course, what IS a shelf-stable food? And, how does that relate to food safety? Aren’t shelf-stable foods, by definition, safe to consume at any time?
Well, let’s get a definition for “shelf-stable” foods.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Services, foods can be called shelf-stable if they can be safely stored at room temperature; in other words, “on the shelf.” These products can include canned and bottled foods, country hams, jerky, rice, pasta, flour, sugar, spices, oils, aseptic and retort packaging, and other items that don’t require refrigeration until after opening.
That’s a start. But, what in the world is “aseptic or retort packaging”? Basically, with retort packaging, food is filled into pouches, sealed, and then sterilized by heating to extremely high temperatures. Aseptic packaging is similar, but in a different order. The food or liquid is sterilized by high heat, rapidly cooled, and then filled into sterilized containers.
So, we’re getting a broad picture of what qualifies as a shelf-stable food. Now, let’s refine it a bit: not all canned foods are shelf stable. Some canned items, such as ham and seafood, are not safe to eat at room temperature. You will see these items labeled as requiring refrigeration.
Now we have a better idea of what is a “shelf-stable” food. But, we’re not done. Shelf-stable or not, always pay attention to the date stamped on the can. Rotate foods using the FIFO method: First In, First Out. Keep this rotation active, and you shouldn’t have issues with mistakenly using an old, expired can.
So, here are a few things to be aware of with canned goods, as questions I frequently get:
Take some time to go through your pantry and note what foods you could safely use in a weather event. If you need to purchase some shelf-stable foods, keep in mind any dietary requirements, like getting items with lower salt and/or sugar. And, of course, purchase foods your family will enjoy.