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    Home Preserved Foods that Should NOT Be Stored Long-Term

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    Home Preserved Foods that Should NOT Be Stored Long-Term

    With the cost of everything including food continuing to hold steady at high pricing it’s getting more and more difficult to stockpile anything. That’s particularly true for food storage. The result is that some people are turning more and more to home food preservation. Then again, some people have routinely preserved their own foods as a lifestyle choice.

    One of the things that anyone who has done any amount of home food preservation has found is that even preserved foods eventually spoil. It’s a problem with any food in storage regardless of its source, but home food preservation has some unique challenges.

    One of the challenges is that we rarely add any of the industrial strength preservatives often found in commercially processed foods. That’s a good thing and is the reason some of us choose to preserve it ourselves in the first place.

    But often, in spite of our best efforts –some foods fail in long-term storage. Solutions are possible but in some cases it makes sense to see many of these foods as short-term food stores rather than putting them into a long-term stockpile. As a benchmark, long-term is defined as any duration beyond 6-months.

    The solution is to simply understand which foods may be challenged in a long-term food storage environment.  And this is about home preserved foods not commercially manufactured foods.  The point is that there are some foods best stored in the kitchen pantry for the short-term, or the special attention they might need if stored long-term.

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    Understanding Food Preservation Principles

    There’s a specific series of steps to safely preserve any type of food across a variety of techniques. How well we follow all of those steps directly affects how well the food will preserve or “keep” over time. One approach that many people take is known as “hurdling.” This is a hybrid process that uses multiple preservation techniques to build in a safety net to enhance preservative properties.

    But even a hurdling process can have some limitations, especially with some of the more delicate foods or foods naturally subject to spoilage and deterioration.

    As a quick review, here are many of the fundamental steps and considerations for any food preservation:

    • The food should be fresh; washed and kept refrigerated or frozen until preserved.
    • Any equipment used to preserve the food should be sterile to avoid cross-contamination while handling and processing the food.
    • Specific times and temperatures recommended for food preservation of specific foods should be strictly followed.
    • The packaging that will contain the food long-term is critical and all steps to ensure the package is sterile and properly sealed need to be done.
    • Unique techniques recommended for some foods like pressure canning, or dehydration must be followed to ensure proper preservation.
    • Storage is a critical success factor and preserved foods that are stored improperly will always be at risk.
    • Rotation of preserved and stored foods is often missed or ignored. Eat what you store and store what you eat applies to all food storage include home preserved foods.
    • Knowing the steps to assess food spoilage is important and should be done with any food stockpiled for any length of time.

    The Dilemma

    What can be frustrating is that even when all of the steps for successful food preservation and storage are followed, some foods still spoil. Here are the reasons and what usually happens and then we’ll get into the specific types of foods to keep an eye on.

    Types of Food Spoilage


    Mold can affect any home preserved food. It’s usually the result of improper sanitation of equipment and packaging, but sometimes it’s just bad luck. Even the most carefully sterilized and handled foods can have a drifting spore in the air settle into a package before sealing and the mold bomb starts to tick. All it needs now are the right conditions go grow and spread.

    One solution often touted to prevent things like mold growth are oxygen absorbing packets place into the package with the food. They work but only for dried or dehydrated foods. You can’t put an oxygen absorbing packet into a jar of jelly.

    The biggest factor that leads to mold growth is moisture. There’s not much you can do about moisture with many canned foods suspended in a solution or liquid except ensure a tight, sterile seal on the package and proper processing steps. It’s many of the dehydrated or smoked foods that can succumb. Here are the preserved foods that often exhibit mold growth:


    Meats that have been marinated and dehydrated can develop mold growth if there is any residual moisture in the package. Oxygen absorbers and moisture absorbers can help.

    Better yet, vacuum sealing in heat sealed Mylar bags can add an extra step of protection. Unfortunately, time takes its toll and even the best food preservation techniques for jerky can succumb to mold eventually.

    Jams and Jellies

    Some of us have seen that fuzzy, grey layer of mold growing on the top of preserved jams or jellies. In this case it’s not just oxygen and moisture but sugar that fuels the growth of mold.

    Once again, a random spore drifting in the air is all it takes while processing a jam or jelly to set the stage for future mold growth. Always check any jam or jelly for mold growth. If you see it in the jar, toss it and then clean and sterilize the jar for future use.


    This is mostly about beans. Beans find their way into many recipes and are often recommended as a source of protein, and a flavorful addition to things like canned chili or preserved soups.

    The problem with beans is that they have a low pH. This is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of foods. As a general rule, foods with a higher pH or alkalinity are more subject to food spoilage including mold.

    A preservation solution for any food with a high or alkaline pH is pressure canning. This raises the temperature of boiling water well above the standard boiling point of 212 degrees F. Even then, time will tell and foods with a high pH can eventually succumb to mold.

    A good idea may be to simply keep some of these foods in the kitchen pantry where they will be used within a shorter time-frame. If you do try to store them for longer periods, make sure they’re the first to eat as you eat what you store.


    Bacterial growth is the most dangerous form of food spoilage. Molds can be tolerated in some instances. The stuff that makes blue cheese blue is a mold. Bacteria are another story. Around the world, millions of people have died over the years from foods contaminated with various bacterial infestations.

    Salmonella is a common bacterium found in foods in addition to e coli, listeria, botulism and others. Once again, all it takes is one cell of bacteria to find its way into a preserved food and the bomb is ticking. Now all it needs is the right conditions and as always –time.

    Foods most subject to bacterial growth are the high protein foods. This would include all meats, fish and shellfish, eggs and all dairy products. Fruits and vegetables also exhibit characteristics that can create a breeding ground for bacteria. In other words, just about any preserved food can be contaminated by bacteria, but protein based foods are always the most susceptible.

    Home preserved foods that are subject to bacterial growth include:

    • Canned or preserved meats, fish and shellfish including things like canned beef, chicken, any fish or shellfish, chili, spaghetti or any other sauce with a meat component, any foods with a dairy component or dairy products like cheese, butter, yogurt to sour cream. And any preserved foods that have eggs as an ingredient.
    • Canned or preserved fruits or vegetables especially foods that have a high or alkaline pH like

    Here again, you can try to store some of these long-term but keep an eye on them, rotate them sooner rather than later and if one type of food continues to present problems –stop trying to store it long-term.


    We don’t often think about viruses in food because it’s the bacterial infections that we most commonly hear about like e coli or listeria. Unfortunately, viral infections occur in preserved foods all the time and they are both serious and sometimes deadly.

    One of the most notorious is known as Norovirus and result in a liver infection known as Hepatitis A. It’s a common affliction across Asia but occurs everywhere around the world from time to time.

    Other food bourne viruses include Rotavirus, Enter virus, Sapovirus and believe it or not, something called Coronavirus. What’s different about the appearance of viruses in food is that they do not grow and multiply in food the same as bacteria. They are just quietly present in an almost suspended state waiting to be ingested where it can then spread and multiply in the prime habitat of a human body.

    Foods that have historically presented viruses include shellfish and dairy products. In fact, it’s believed that milk was the vector or original carrier of the polio virus that has affected and infected people for centuries.

    The most common cause of viral infection in foods is due to sloppy or non-sterile handling of the food during processing. Here are some of the preserved foods most susceptible to viral outbreaks:

    • Shellfish including oysters, clams, crawfish, lobster, and shrimp. We don’t often home preserve shellfish but many people who live along coastal areas or by other water sources sometimes do.
      • Soft berry fruits including blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries and other berries with soft, pulp. These are very common fruits used for home preservation from jams and jellies to syrups and spreads.
      • Salad vegetables including leafy greens and root vegetables or any other vegetable harvested close to the ground. The primary vector for viruses on vegetables is fecal matter from animals or humans. When the vegetables are handled or come in contact with surfaces or food preservation equipment, cross contamination can occur.
      • Herbs are another vector for viruses. Dried herbs that are not properly washed or that come in contact with food preservation equipment can also spread a virus. We sometime are complacent when washing herbs because we assume that drying the herbs for packaging will somehow kill all the germs. It doesn’t and herbs also grow low to the ground where fecal cross contamination can occur.

    What makes viral infection from home preserved foods so dangerous is that an infected person can spread the virus to others. That’s also true with bacteria to varying degrees, but viruses tend to be the most contagious conditions. The recent pandemic is continuing proof of that fact.

    5 Steps to Prevent Mold, Bacteria and Viruses in Preserved Foods

    There’s really no way to guarantee that home preserved foods won’t develop some level of contamination over time. All foods have a shelf-life regardless of the steps taken to preserve them, and even if a food lasts long beyond its expected shelf life, many of the nutrients in preserved foods degrade with time.

    Here are some things to remember anytime you preserve and store your own foods to ensure food safety:

    1. Eat what your store, and store what you eat

    It’s the standard mantra for preppers stockpiling food. And it’s not easy to do. A stockpiling mindset often leads us to pack stuff away for “someday.”

    That someday can be years away and it’s easy to forget about everything we’ve tucked away. Don’t do that with food. Be especially mindful of the food items we’ve listed, but any stored food that you’ve home preserved should get special attention with regards to food rotation.

    2. Sterilize, sterilize, sterilize

    All instructions for any food preservation process always highlight the importance of sanitation and sterilization. We often make our best efforts but don’t ever get complacent. This is especially true with those foods we’ve identified as high risk for contamination.

    Look at every food items as a potential carrier of a single spore of mold or just one cell of a bacterium or virus. That’s all it takes for food contamination especially over time.

    3. Practice Hurdling

    Hurdling is a combination of food preservation techniques. Pickling is a good example. After sterilizing the fruits or vegetables we sometime salt or brine them in a salt solution. We then add liquids that both kill and prevent the growth of mold, bacteria and viruses like vinegar or added salt and even honey or sugar.

    Hurdling also uses various high temperature techniques from dehydrating to water baths or pressure-canning. Finally we package the foods in the best package whether it be a tightly sealed canning jar or vacuum sealed Mylar bags.

    Hurdling is all about combining techniques that ensure food preservation and each step takes a preserve food one step closer to food safety.

    4. Know How to Recognize Contamination in Preserved Foods

    A standard practice recommended before eating any preserved food is to do basic things.

    • Look closely at the appearance of the food. Do you notice any signs of mold? Does the food have the appearance you would expect or has it become discolored or faded to a lighter or darker shade or a shade of grey?
    • Smell the contents. Food that has been contaminated will often have an off-odor. If it smells like mildew in a basement that’s often a sign of mold growth even if it’s not apparent visually. A septic smell is a sure sign of bacterial growth. If it doesn’t smell right, dump it out and either sterilize the package for future use. The old saying is “if in doubt, throw it out.”
    • Take a small taste. That’s not always the safest thing to do, but you can at least prevent other family members from eating something that’s contaminated. If it doesn’t taste right, toss it. It’s not worth the risk particularly in desperate times when there are numerous other challenges beyond the pain of a food bourne illness.

    5. Practice Proper Food Storage

    Even the best efforts for food preservation can fail with improper storage. Here are some of the primary factors that affect home preserved foods and stored foods in general:


    The standard temperature recommendation for long-term food storage is 40 to 70 degrees F. for non-refrigerated or frozen foods. Basements can sometimes present temperatures in the lower part of that range, or dark closets or pantries. Root cellars are another possibility but they can present a problem related to the next factor.


    Foods preserved in airtight and watertight packages usually won’t be affected by ambient moisture, but the metal rims and lids of canning jars or any metal cans can succumb to oxidation and rust over time.

    Generally, any moisture that gets into preserved foods, especially dehydrated foods, can affect food quality and food safety. The ideal moisture level often recommended for long-term food storage is 10% or less.


    Direct sunlight is a bad idea for any foods preserved in glass jars or even cans or packages. It has the same effect as high temperatures and can actually raise the temperature of a package up to 100 degrees. If you’ve ever heard “store in a cool, dark place” –that’s why.


    Proper packaging of any home preserved foods may be the most important factor overall. These are the containers that will protect the food over time and it’s best to buy the best and follow instructions carefully when packaging any foods for long-term storage.

    Don’t Get Discouraged

    Home food preservation is an excellent practice and can not only save you some money, but allows you to preserve foods the way you want them to be preserved. Just be mindful of some of the foods and properties that can affect shelf-life and remember the steps to assessing food safety related to appearance, smell and taste.

    Unfortunately, some foods resist even the most robust food preservation practices. That doesn’t mean you can’t preserve them, just keep a close eye on them, rotate them frequently and maybe think about them as short-term foods rather than long-term.

    Here are some links to articles, videos and books that can guide any future decisions about long-term food storage and preservation that supports many of the points we’ve covered in this article:




    The bottom line is simple.  Be aware of which foods can present challenges if stored long-term, and either store them in a short-term pantry or take some extra steps to monitor and preserve them for longer periods.

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