Non-perishable foods, such as canned goods and dried fruit, have a long shelf life and don't require refrigeration to keep them from spoiling. Instead, they can be stored at room temperature, such as in a pantry or cabinet.
They're not only standard kitchen items but also favored by backpackers and campers who can't bring perishable foods like fresh meats, dairy, and vegetables on the trail.
What's more, non-perishable goods are essential in emergency situations and favored by charitable organizations that feed or give groceries to people facing homelessness or food insecurity.
Although some items like boxed macaroni and cheese are packed with preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients, quite a few nutritious non-perishable foods are available.
Here are 12 of the healthiest non-perishable foods.
1. Dried and Canned Beans
With a long shelf life and high nutrient content, dried and canned beans are smart non-perishable food choices. Canned beans can be kept at room temperature for 2–5 years while dried beans can last 10 or more years, depending on the packaging.
In fact, one study found that pinto beans stored up to 30 years were considered edible by 80% of people on an emergency food use panel.
Beans are an excellent source of fiber, plant-based protein, magnesium, B vitamins, manganese, iron, phosphorus, zinc, and copper. What's more, they pair well with most foods and make hearty additions to soups, grain dishes, and salads.
2. Nut Butters
Nut butters are creamy, nutrient-dense, and delicious.
Although storage temperatures can affect shelf life, commercial peanut butter keeps for up to 9 months at room temperature. Natural peanut butter, which does not contain preservatives, lasts up to 3 months at 50℉ (10℃) and only 1 month at 77℉ (25℃).
Nut butters are a rich source of healthy fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, and powerful plant compounds, including phenolic antioxidants, which are compounds that protect your body against oxidative stress and damage by unstable molecules called free radicals.
Jars of nut butter can be stored in your pantry while smaller packets can be taken backpacking or camping for an on-the-go snack.
3. Dried Fruits and Vegetables
Although most fresh fruits and vegetables have a short shelf life, dried produce is considered non-perishable. When properly stored, most dried fruit can be safely kept at room temperature for up to 1 year, and dried vegetables can be kept about half that time.
You can choose from a variety of dried fruits and vegetables, including dried berries, apples, tomatoes, and carrots. You can also use a dehydrator or oven to make your own dried fruits and vegetables. Vacuum-sealed packaging can help prevent spoilage.
Dried fruits and veggies can be enjoyed as a snack or added to trail mix. Plus, dried veggies can be rehydrated by adding them to soups or stews if fresh produce isn't available.
4. Canned Fish and Poultry
Although fresh fish and poultry are packed with nutrients, they're highly perishable. All the same, canned varieties can be safely kept without refrigeration for long periods — up to 5 years at room temperature.
Tuna and other seafood products are also sold in lightweight packages known as retort pouches, which are perfect for smaller pantries and backpacking. Seafood in retort pouches has a shelf life of up to 18 months.
Chicken and other meats can be found in retort pouches as well, though you should refer to the packaging for shelf life information.
5. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are portable, nutrient-dense, and shelf-stable, making them non-perishable food staples. Favored by backpackers and hikers for high calorie snacking, they're also great to have on hand in any situation.
On average, nuts last about 4 months when kept at or near room temperature (68℉ or 20℃), though shelf life varies greatly between nut varieties.
For example, cashews can be kept for 6 months at 68℉ (20℃) while pistachios only last 1 month at the same temperature.
Seeds have comparable shelf lives. According to the USDA, pumpkin seeds stay fresh for 6 months at room temperature.
Whole grains like oats, rice, and barley have a much longer shelf life than other popular but perishable carb sources like bread, making them a smart choice for long-term food storage.
For example, brown rice can be kept at 50–70℉ (10–21℃) for up to 3 months while farro lasts up to 6 months at room temperature.
Grains can be added to soups, salads, and casseroles, making them a versatile non-perishable ingredient. Plus, eating whole grains may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
7. Canned Vegetables and Fruits
Canning has long been used to lengthen the shelf life of perishable foods, including fruits and vegetables.
The heat used during canning kills potentially harmful microorganisms, and the characteristic seal of canned foods keeps new bacteria from spoiling the contents.
The shelf life of canned fruits and vegetables depends on the type of produce.
On the other hand, high-acid fruits like grapefruit, apples, peaches, berries, and pineapple last just 12–18 months. The same goes for vegetables packed in vinegar, such as sauerkraut, German potato salad, and other pickled vegetables.
When shopping, choose canned fruits packed in water or 100% fruit juice rather than heavy syrup, and opt for low sodium canned veggies whenever possible.
If you're crafty in the kitchen, consider canning at home using store-bought or garden-grown vegetables and fruits. If you don't know how, you can consult numerous books or online tutorials.
Meat preservation is a practice used since ancient times to keep protein sources from spoiling. Specifically, jerky is made by curing meat in a salt solution, then dehydrating it. Preservatives, flavorings, and other additives are sometimes used during processing.
Many types of jerky are available, including beef, salmon, chicken, and buffalo. There are even plant-based jerky alternatives made from coconut, banana, and jackfruit. That said, note that these alternatives are not nutritionally equivalent to meat-based jerkies.
Any kind of jerky can be enjoyed in moderation, but the healthiest options are those that don't contain added sugar, artificial flavors, or preservatives.
9. Granola and Protein Bars
Granola and protein bars are a go-to food for backpackers and hikers thanks to their long shelf life and nutrient composition.
Many granola bars stay fresh for up to 1 year at room temperature. Likewise, most protein bars have a shelf life of at least 1 year, though it's best to check the label on individual products for expiration information.
What's more, granola and protein bars can be highly nutritious as long as you choose the right kinds. Look for brands that are full of hearty ingredients, such as oats, nuts, and dried fruit, and contain minimal added sugars and artificial ingredients.
Canned and dried soups are an excellent choice when stocking your pantry. They're also preferred by food donation organizations.
Most canned soups are low in acid and can last up to 5 years at room temperature. The exception is tomato-based varieties, which have a shelf life of about 18 months.
Although most dried soup mixes should last up to 1 year in storage, it's best to check labels for expiration dates.
Choose soups that are rich in healthy ingredients like vegetables and beans, and select low sodium products whenever possible, as consuming too much added salt may harm your health.
11. Freeze Dried Meals
Freeze drying uses sublimation, a process in which ice is converted directly into vapor, to remove water from food so that it lasts longer at room temperature. Freeze dried meals are popular among backpackers because of their light weight and portability.
12. Shelf-Stable Milk and Nondairy Milk
While fresh milk and some nondairy alternatives like almond and coconut milks have to be refrigerated, shelf-stable milk and many nondairy milks are made to keep at room temperature.
Shelf-stable or aseptic milk is processed and packaged differently than regular milk because it's heated to higher temperatures and packed in sterile containers.
One study found that shelf-stable milk had a shelf life of up to 9 months when kept at 40–68℉ (4–20℃).
Plant-based drinks like soy milk packaged in flexible materials, including plastic, paper, and aluminum, similarly last up to 10 months, while canned coconut milk keeps up to 5 years at room temperature.
Shelf-stable and plant-based milks can be used when refrigeration isn't available. Powdered milk is a good alternative, with an estimated shelf life of 3–5 years when kept in a cool, dark place. It can be reconstituted with clean water in small portions as needed.
The Bottom Line
Non-perishable foods last a long time without spoiling and are necessary for numerous situations.
Whether you want to donate items to charitable organizations, prepare for potential emergencies, purchase backpacking-friendly products, or merely stock your pantry, you can choose from an abundance of healthy foods that don't require refrigeration.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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