Survival Rations: When “Expired” Might Nevertheless be Edible


When you reside out in the nation, the neighborhood flea marketplace caters to a complete unique clientele, and preppers and survivalists can rejoice at the choice of low cost energy tools, reside chickens and random meals that just “fell off the back of the truck.”

Today’s prepper is much more informed about threats and dietary needs—and their pantry reflects it. Many have stores that will last a year or more.

Today’s prepper is significantly far more informed about threats and dietary needs—and their pantry reflects it. Several have shops that will final a year or far more.

Nonetheless, even I am sometimes shocked by what I uncover. Lately, a single enterprising soul who functions in building was promoting a sizable collection of ornate and rather huge cast iron furnace doors, along with genuine 1962 emergency Workplace of Civil Defense/Division of Defense survival supplies.

He had dozens of 17.five-gallon steel water barrels, which have been initially equipped with double plastic bag liners (the Defense Division purchased 10 million of these for storing water in bomb shelters across America), as properly as a choice of emergency fuel in steel cans.

What intrigued me the most, nevertheless, have been the circumstances upon circumstances of 54-year-old “survival biscuits.” Had been they nevertheless edible? I realized that a bit of a history lesson may well be in order for these of us devoid of a single foot in the grave currently.


World War II canned provisions and oil lamp from an air raid shelter in London, England, 1941

Globe War II canned provisions and oil lamp from an air raid shelter in London, England, 1941

Back at the begin of the United States’s involvement in Globe War I, Congress made the Council of National Defense to support organize civilian sources in help of national defense. By the begin of Globe War II, the Workplace of Civilian Defense (CD) was established to once more coordinate civilian sources and volunteers. (Several of you may well be familiar with the white “doughboy” helmets worn by some volunteers, as properly as the emblem of red “CD” letters inside a white triangle surrounded by a blue circle proudly displayed on the front.)

Later, the advent of the Cold War and the threat of toe-to-toe thermonuclear combat with the Russians once more changed the mission of the CD: When it became clear that hiding below your college desk was not going to defend you from a nuke, the Division of Defense and the CD coordinated efforts to turn basements in buildings across the nation into fallout shelters and to effectively provide them for a minimum of a two-week underground “staycation.”

To retain men and women from leaving early, they stuffed the shelters with meals, water and emergency supplies they knew would survive the test of time. It was from a single of these abandoned and forgotten shelters in the basement of a developing scheduled to be demolished that my enterprising flea marketplace acquaintance had liberated the supplies he was promoting.

When the meals supplies have been marked “biscuits,” they are basically crackers related to saltines. Every sealed tin consists of 434 biscuits, and a single cardboard box holds two tins. According to the Cold War Era Civil Defense Museum, every single “shelteree” was offered with 10,000 calories in crackers for the entirety of their two-week sojourn, or slightly far more than 700 calories per day. I assume men and women have been significantly thicker-skinned back then, simply because the notion of spending two weeks in a hole with starvation rations of water and crackers tends to make me want to go outdoors and play in the radioactive dust.

Folks (not me) have opened these circumstances in the previous and sampled the goods. The consensus appears to be that they taste terrible but that they’re superior than starving.

There is some precedence for this in the kind of a meals item named “hardtack.” This basic flour, water and salt cracker has been about due to the fact prior to Roman instances. It is baked dry for lengthy-term storage and transport. It was a staple of Union troops through the Civil War, and some of these rations had been about due to the fact the Mexican-American War, which ended far more than 13 years earlier! Likewise, American troops got to appreciate Civil War-era surplus hardtack 33 years later through the Spanish-American War.

A 17.five-gallon drum of drinking water—one of millions stored across the nation by the Workplace of Civil Defense. The emptied drums also served as sanitation kits.


So, if Civil Defense crackers can nevertheless be edible when they’re some 60 years old, what about other issues, such as canned foods? The answer is, “Yes”— and for a surprisingly lengthy time.

The reality is, expiration dates on canned foods are grossly pessimistic estimates of when the meals contained inside may well begin to taste much less fresh than a new can of meals, and the dates do not indicate when the meals will go terrible. The secret of preserved canned meals is far more than 200 years old and entails heating the sealed cans lengthy sufficient so that all the bacteria inside are killed. Hence, the meals can’t go bad—as lengthy as the can remains intact and the meals had no bacteria in it when it was canned.

In 1974, canned meals recovered from a riverboat that sank in 1868 was tested by the National Meals Processors Association (NFPA) to appear for any bacteria, as properly as to study the nutritional worth that remained. The cans contained fruits, vegetables and oysters. The chemists discovered zero bacteria. Nutritionally, there was a important loss of vitamins A and C, but the protein and calcium levels have been typical. As for taste, I assume they could uncover no volunteers, so we’ll by no means know.

In a further test, NFPA chemists opened a can of corn that had been stored for 40 years. They discovered that it was as fresh as a new can of corn.

The crucial in these examples is that the cans have been not broken. You would consider that meats may well not do as properly as vegetables—but, once more, you would be incorrect. Canned meats basically do superior than vegetables and retain their nutritional content material and consistency longer. Some canned vegetables also have a tendency to do superior than other individuals. Tomatoes and other extremely acidic vegetables are naturally antibiotic. Bee honey also can’t go terrible simply because of its low moisture content material and higher acidity. Honey discovered in five,000-year old tombs is nevertheless fantastic to go (note: Do not give honey to infants below 1 year of age). This is also the secret behind freeze-dried foods: No moisture suggests no chance for bacteria to develop and spoil the meals.

These standard supplies are a fantastic begin for a modern survival kit. Modern day MRE rations have shorter shelf lives than canned rations, so be confident to stick to storage suggestions for ideal outcomes.


The final word of wisdom right here is about storage circumstances. Canned meals that has been kept in a higher-temperature and higher-humidity atmosphere for lengthy-term storage is far more most likely to break down more rapidly. Subjecting canned meals to fluctuations of temperature and humidity extremes is also not a fantastic issue. These circumstances may well bring about harm to the cans—in which case, all bets are off. (Does this remind you of Grandma’s root cellar?)

When meals canned these days and effectively stored can be counted on to provide nourishment and satisfaction for years into the future, it is fantastic practice to rotate stocks to make certain flavor, as properly as much less concern about security and compatibility with your most recent meals preferences.

Since there is no way to know how extremely old meals has been stored, make confident to verify any cans for harm or distortion of their shape before opening. The lids of meals cans ought to normally be flat or slightly concave. Meals from cans with ends that are bulged outward ought to be inspected closely prior to consumption, simply because the bulge is typically brought on by bacteria.

As with with guns and ammo, retailer your meals in a cool, dry location. Future generations could be counting on you!


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