20 Foods You Should Buy During a Quarantine (Because of Their Long Shelf Lives)

20 Foods You Should Buy During a Quarantine (Because of Their Long Shelf Lives)

With the coronavirus pandemic shattering case records, local government officials are rolling out a patchwork of restrictions on social distancing and gatherings. Public health experts advise us to stay home as much as possible, and that includes minimizing trips to the grocery store. Getting groceries delivered instead of picking them out ourselves may somewhat limit our exposure to possible coronavirus infection.

To avoid having to make too many market trips or having food brought to us too often, it makes sense to maintain a good stock of durable edibles — foods with long shelf lives.

Some pantry staples will keep for months or years if stored properly. These are the kinds of foods that have long interested so-called preppers or survivalists. Once scorned by some for seeming paranoid in their anticipation of periods of privation, they now seem prescient.

You don’t have to be a prepper, though, to see the advantages of stocking a pantry with items that will remain good to eat for long periods of time — especially in this era of reduced shopping opportunities, potential food shortages, and an uncertain future.

24/7 Tempo has assembled a catalogue of foods in various categories — not just pantry items but some fresh fruits and vegetables, too — that won’t spoil quickly, even at room temperature.

Even if you’re not being kept inside for medical reasons, it’s worth knowing how to buy food for a 14-day quarantine and how not to.

Some of the foods on this list will last for weeks or months. Some are virtually immortal. Remember, though, that moisture and high temperatures will affect the longevity of most foods, even those with long shelf lives. (Refrigerating or freezing many foods will extend their shelf life considerably, of course.) In addition, some foods tend to change over time in color, texture, and/or flavor — so while they may last months or years, they may be at their prime somewhat earlier.

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1. Apples
> Shelf life: 2 weeks to 6 months

The apples we eat in spring and summer were often harvested in cooler weather. That’s because they’re a fruit that can stay fresh and crisp for as long as six months if they’re stored in a cold, dark place (such as a root cellar in winter). If they’re kept in a fruit bowl at room temperature, they’ll generally remain at their best for at least two weeks, sometimes as long as a month.

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2. Beef jerky
> Shelf life: 1 to 2 years

Many cultures have dried pieces of meat to serve as sustenance in the wilderness and on long journeys. Modern-day beef jerky serves the same purposes, on hikes and road trips, but it’s also a delicious snack to have around the house — especially for anyone on a keto diet. It’s lean, dry, and salted, a combination of qualities that contribute to its longevity if it’s kept in an unopened package.

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3. Bouillon cubes
> Shelf life: 2 years

These tiny blocks of concentrated broth or stock, which can be turned into soup almost instantly, will last at least 24 months if you keep them dry and in a well-sealed package (oxygen and moisture are their enemies).

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4. Canned fruits and vegetables
> Shelf life: 1 to 2 years past “best by” date

Canning is one of the most efficient techniques for preserving food. If canned foods aren’t subjected to extreme heat, their contents should stay good for at least one year and possibly two past the “best by” date on the can. Cans with swollen tops or sides should be discarded, however, as this may indicate the presence of bacteria.

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5. Canned or vacuum-pouched tuna
> Shelf life: 3 to 5 years after “best by” date

Canned tuna (including that in vacuum-packed pouches) is the second-most-popular seafood in America, after shrimp. Part of its great appeal, besides its versatility, is that it lasts a long time. If it’s stored in a cool place and the can isn’t damaged, it will likely remain safe to eat for more as long as five years.

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6. Dark chocolate
> Shelf life: 2 to 5 years

Chocolate with a high cacao content and little or no milk — dark chocolate — will last much longer than milk chocolate, which contains dairy products subject to quicker spoilage. High temperatures are bad for all chocolate, but the dark variety should last for a couple of years at temperatures up to about 75 º F, and will keep for as long as five years if stored between 60 º and 65 º F.

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7. Dried beans
> Shelf life: Indefinite

Dried beans will last for many years if they’re kept away from moisture. As they age, however, they grow ever drier, and preparing them to edible tenderness will require longer presoaking and/or cooking times.

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8. Dried pasta
> Shelf life: 1 to 2 years past “best by” date

Fresh pasta, usually made with eggs, is a perishable commodity and most varieties should be kept refrigerated. Dried pasta, on the other hand, traditionally made with just semolina wheat flour and water, has a long shelf life as long as no moisture seeps into the package.

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9. Freeze-dried coffee
> Shelf life: Up to 25 years

Because virtually all the moisture has been removed from these coffee crystals, they’re not susceptible to bacterial contamination. Kept in a sealed container, freeze-dried coffee will caffeinate you for years and years. Regular instant coffee boasts similarity longevity, but what ends up in the cup usually isn’t as flavorful.

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10. Ghee
> Shelf life: Up to 2 years

Ghee is clarified butter, butter from which the milk solids have been removed. (It’s the lactose in the milk solids that causes it to go bad.) An unopened can or jar of ghee, however, will stay good for many months if it’s stored in a cool, dark place. (Frozen, it lasts indefinitely.)

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11. Honey
> Shelf life: Indefinite

Jars of honey are typically stamped with a “best by” date that’s anywhere from two to five years from the time they’re packaged. Manufacturers do this because as it ages, honey may darken and sugar crystals may form — perfectly harmless, but off-putting to some consumers. However, pure 100% undiluted honey in an unopened jar, stored in a cool, dark place, will remain edible for years, and probably decades (if not generations), after it’s made.

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12. Liquor
> Shelf life: Indefinite

Wine is often said to be a living thing, evolving as it ages — sometimes greatly improving with the years but also sometimes going bad through exposure to extreme heat or cold, oxidation, or other factors. Hard liquor neither improves nor spoils. Unopened bottles of spirits virtually never change, because of their high alcohol content. Even opened bottles, if the cork or cap is kept on, will likely taste the same 20 years from now as they do today. The only exception is with some sweet liqueurs, in which the sugar might precipitate out, leaving them slightly less sweet.

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13. Onions
> Shelf life: 1 to 2 months

Store onions and onion relatives like shallots and garlic in a cool, dry, dark place if you want them to last as long as possible. And while onions and potatoes might go well together in cooking, don’t store them next to each other: Potatoes give off gases that will shorten the onions’ lifespan.

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14. Peanut butter
> Shelf life: 2 years

An unopened jar of peanut butter kept at room temperature should actually last longer than a couple of years, though with time, the oil will separate from the solids, drying out the peanut butter, and the flavor may fade a bit. Even once you open a jar, it isn’t necessary to refrigerate the peanut butter. Stored in a dark place at room temperature, it will remain flavorful and safe to eat for as long as three months, according to the National Peanut Board.

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15. Peanuts
> Shelf life: 1 to 9 months

Peanuts in their shell, especially when kept cool and dry, will survive nicely at room temperature for at least a month. An unopened can of peanuts should be good for six to nine months after its “best by” date.

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16. Potatoes
> Shelf life: 2 to 5 weeks

Smaller potato varieties, like Yukon Gold, red, and fingerling, will last between two and three weeks if they’re kept in a cool, dark, dry place. Larger white or russet potatoes, as well as sweet potatoes, can last for three to five weeks. Potatoes are safe to eat even if they’ve started sprouting, but cut off and discard the sprouts. The warning above about storing onions near potatoes works both ways: Don’t do it, as the onions give off gases that might cause the spuds to spoil faster.

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17. Powdered milk
> Shelf life: 1 to 1 ½ years

Dehydrated milk solids will remain usable for at least a year, if not longer, though their color and texture and the flavor of milk reconstituted from them might change as the powder ages.

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18. Tea
> Shelf life: 6 to 12 months past “best by” date

Dried tea leaves, either loose in a sealed container or in teabags (in an unopened package), may be kept for a year or more, as long as they’re not subjected to moisture or humidity. The tea does tend to lose flavor over time, though.

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19. White rice
> Shelf life: Indefinite

Nutritionists tend to scorn white rice, pointing out that brown rice is far superior in terms of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. Brown rice also has a higher oil content than its pale counterpart, though, so can go bad in a few months’ time. White rice is almost indestructible. Its only enemies are moisture and rice weevils or flour bugs — tiny insects that have found their way into the package, or hatched from eggs that were harvested along with the rice itself. Storing rice in airtight containers should stave off both problems. (If you find bugs anyway, discard the rice.)

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20. Winter squash
> Shelf life: 1 to 3 months

Colorful winter squash — varieties like butternut, spaghetti, acorn, kabocha, and hubbard, among others — are one of the most durable of fresh vegetables, especially when stored in a cool, dark place.

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