It doesn't matter how well you prepare or preserve your food, everything edible has a limited shelf life. Well, except for honey, but you're going to want a little more variety than this in your diet once the SHTF. Here at APE Survival, we had each of our team do a stocktake of their food supplies over the last two weeks, and today we're going to cover an important topic. How do you actually know when one of your supplies has gone bad? Unfortunately just using the expiration date isn't going to tell you much. Especially on canned goods, expiration dates are more of an indicator, and once something has passed this date it doesn't mean it needs to be thrown out. Likewise, any of your food can spoil long before the expiration date listed on the package, it's up to you to use a little common sense before you eat any of the items you have stockpiled.
What makes my food go bad? The biggest factor is microorganisms. Bacteria, as well as yeast and mold all cause your food to spoil and can make you sick as a dog if you eat a piece of contaminated food. Typically these contaminants require water and air to multiply, although some can thrive in areas where they are completely cut-off from oxygen, like botulinium, a toxic substance that causes botulism, one of the most dangerous forms of food poisoning. Botulism actually paralyses your muscles, and is transmitted by eating contaminated food, which is why you should never ‘taste-test’ food you believe has gone bad. The second factor is time, as the enzymes in the food cause it to deteriorate, and it slowly drops in nutritional value, flavor, and eventually palatability. Light also plays a role, and certain vitamins are destroyed when stored under harsh light, especially if exposed to sunlight. Finally, the temperate is key, as all chemical and biological reactions speed up as the temperature increases. To combat these, make sure you follow appropriate storage techniques when you're canning at home, use a ‘first-in-first-out’ rotation system on your stock, and protect your supply room from light and keep it cool.
Knowing when canned food is bad If you're a prepper like most of us, the majority of your stored food should already be in cans or jars to extend its shelf-life. This system is by no means foolproof, and here's a few things that can indicate your stored food is no longer safe to eat. Bulging cans or lids. As food spoils it creates gas, which increase the amount of pressure (inside) the can, and in extreme cases will buckle the top and bottom outwards. You can usually tell when something is this bad because the canned food will start to overflow or explode out of the can when you open it. In this situation I'd definitely not recommend eating the food. Typically though, food won't act like this. All you'll notice is a hissing sound once you break the seal, which indicates something has definitely gone wrong inside. Gas bubbles. Hopefully this is a given, but if you find you're looking at canned food and there are rising gas bubbles inside, like you see in a glass of soda, this indicates the food is really, really bad. Do not eat it. Broken seals. For canned food to stay good long-term, it needs to be protected from any contact with the air. As soon as one of the seals on the can is broken, air can enter and the food will begin to spoil. You may notice that cans with broken seals are leaking from the edges, and it is not worth the risk to eat food when it comes from a can and is already leaking like this. Rust and corrosion. If you're looking at a can that has clear signs of rust and corrosion, you can expect that the food inside has already spoiled. The rust damages the metal, and when enough damage is done it can breach the metal and into the food, letting in air and other bacteria. Noticing rust on the outside of a can is the easiest way to spot this one, but it can also be present inside the can, which is why it's good practice to inspect each can before you eat. Dents. Small depressions in the side of a can aren't much to worry about, just be careful if you find any major dents or creases that have folded the metal. This kind of dents can compromise the integrity of the can and break the airtight seal which will ruin the food. Smell. When you first open the can take a smell. If it's a little off, and the smell you get is too strong, acidic, or you can detect an unnatural chemical odor, the food has spoiled. Look. You should never blindly eat anything, and take a look at what you're going to be putting into your mouth. If you notice mold, weird cloudiness, or it just looks bad overall, do not eat it. Use common sense when you're taking items from your survival stockpile, and if something just doesn't look, feel or smell right, it's best not to risk eating it. Getting yourself sick after the SHTF is a recipe for disaster, especially when it's so easy to avoid.