On March 4, 2018, I posted a blog about a boy growing up in war-torn Germany, how he survived and what he learned. Here is a quote from that blog:
“Hans made an interesting observation at the end of his story. He related how there were a number of industrious individuals who were somehow able to establish access to certain food items that were made available to survivors for a price. Paper money had no value and was not used but precious metals including jewelry, wedding rings or any form of gold or silver was used to purchase these food items. The most valuable commodity of all was food itself and the most valuable food item was “fat” as Hans put it. In other words, the richest individuals during that time where those who had some supply of oil, lard or some type of fat. This was highly sought after for the energy, calories and flavor it added to the limited supply of bread or basic grains that could found.”
If we choose to learn from the experiences of others, it would make sense to do the research and make the investment of acquiring additional oils and fats for our food storage. This can be a tricky business since many oils have a relatively short shelf life. I must admit, over the years I’ve thrown away over 40 gallons of oil because I didn’t rotate it or store it properly. I’m hoping with the information in this blog I can help you better prepare through not only storing extra oil and fats in your food storage plan but preserving it for a longer shelf-life.
Oils and fats have different shelf-lives depending on the type of oil and storage conditions. Under normal storage conditions, your oil will last from a few months to three years or more. Sealed, canned shortening powder will last three to five years but does not perform the same as regular oils. You can extend these storage times with a few tricks outlined below.
What Causes Spoilage?
Oils and fats are vulnerable to the usual causes of food spoilage: microorganisms, oxidation, heat, light, pests, and time. For properly stored oils and fats, oxidation is the most common cause of rancidity, aided by time, temperature, humidity and light. How to assist in protecting your oils and fats from all of these causes will be discussed in this article.
How Long Does Oil Keep?
Unopened oils keep longer in the refrigerator or freezer. Once opened, moisture can become a factor so keep oils and fats in the pantry after opening. Moisture in the oil can shorten its shelf life as much or even more than the cooler temperature preserves it. If a cool, dry place is available, such as a basement or cellar, that would be a preferred location for storing opened oils.
Shelf Life of Common Oils and Fats
Flavored oils, such as chili oil, truffle oil, and garlic oil, spoil faster than pure oils, so it is best to store oils in their natural state and flavor them as needed or store only enough flavored oil for short-term use.
Extending Shelf Life – Protecting Oils and Fats from Microorganisms and Pests
Exposure to microorganisms and pests will spoil your fats quickly, so care should be taken to protect oils from these problems. Microorganisms are not usually a problem if you store the oils in a clean environment, properly sealed or covered. Microorganism growth is faster in a warm environment and slowed or stopped by cold temperatures. If you do suspect contamination for any reason, throw it out. Oils spoiled by microorganisms may not exhibit any signs of spoilage but can cause illness.
Pests are more of a problem with oils and fats. If you see any signs of rodents, such as signs of chewing or infiltration, consider the oil or fat spoiled and use it for non-food purposes such as making candles.
To prevent problems with microorganisms and pests, store your oil in clean, dry, thick plastic buckets or metal cans. Metal is best for preventing rodents.
Protecting Oil and Fats from Oxidation, Humidity, Heat, and Light
Oxidation is caused by exposure to air and is accelerated by heat and light. Storing your oils and fats properly slows oxidation.
Store oils and fats sealed, vacuum packed, or flooded with nitrogen to exclude air
Keep them in a dry, dark location
Refrigerate or freeze them unopened
Add an antioxidant when appropriate
Date and rotate your supplies
If you cannot vacuum pack your oil or flood it with nitrogen, another way to exclude air is to completely fill the bottle before sealing it. Choose a glass bottle or jar and fill it to the rim. Clean the rim and seal the jar. Check your fill by turning the bottle upside down to observe the size of the air bubble. Ideally, you want no air, but a tiny bubble may be the best you can get, depending on the bottle. Adding an antioxidant before sealing gives you additional protection.
Using an Antioxidant
Antioxidants will prolong the life of your oils by blocking the free radicals that cause oxidation. They won’t prevent oxidation completely, but they will slow it down considerably. One option is adding rosemary essential oil to your oils after opening. Other antioxidant oils include oil of oregano, sage oil, and Vitamin E.
To reduce oxidation, you only need a small amount of antioxidant oil, between .05 to 1 percent. Approximately 3 drops to 2 teaspoons of antioxidant oil per quart of oil. The larger amount is ideal and offers the best protection, but it also adds flavor to the oil. Adding 3 drops or more of rosemary oil per quart gives you a reasonable amount of antioxidant protection without noticeably affecting the flavor.
You may want to consider using antioxidant oils when transferring oils into smaller containers to increase the shelf life of the opened oil.
How to Tell if Oil is Rancid or Spoiled
Oils and fats are usually labeled with a “Best Used By” date rather than an expiration date. Stored under normal pantry conditions, your oil should last beyond this date. However, by following these recommendations, you should be able to extend this storage time considerably.
As oil ages, it changes in color, clarity, and texture. These are the beginning signs of spoilage, but the oil may still be usable. When the oil is rancid, you will notice an unpleasant taste and smell. At this point, consider it spoiled. It won’t make you sick, but it does lose its healthy properties and may become unhealthy over time. It doesn’t taste good either, so you are better off not using it. It might still be useful for purposes other than cooking or eating.
How to Store Fats to Extend the Shelf Life
The best way to store fats and oils is in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. For normal storage, this means in a pantry, away from the stove or other heat sources. You can increase your storage time considerably by storing oil and fats in the refrigerator or freezer if you have the room. They will probably become cloudy and solidify, but this is normal and not a sign of spoilage. Remove them to room temperature for an hour or more before use, and they will return to their liquid state.
Storing large Quantities of Oils and Fats
To get the best prices on oils and fats, purchase them in large containers. However, when you are ready to use them, consider transferring amounts to small containers since the oil spoils faster once opened. Always rotate your oils and fats to keep from wasting your investment. Plan on re-packing the oil or fat immediately after opening. Pack the oil or lard tightly into a canning jar and cover it with a warm, dry lid. Then I vacuum seal it to remove the air. Before vacuum sealing, you can also add an antioxidant oil as listed above to prolong the shelf-life.
There is no question adding extra oil to your food storage will require more vigilance in your rotation plans but as time has proven, it will be more than worth it when the times comes you are forced to reply on your food storage.