FAQ: Food Rotation Long Term Food Storage

CLICK to read an article on best food to have in your food storage for a good overall understanding of these concepts.

Food Rotation for your Long-term Food Storage

Why does food storage matter? Because you’re going to want to have a quality of life and a way to sustain it whenever, whatever it is you’re planning for, happens. 

Preparedness is an incredibly nuanced and personal thing – but food and water and shelter are pretty important factors. Food and water are life sustaining and therefore need to be put atop the priority list. 

This is an FAQ we hear a lot:

How do I rotate food in my food preps?

Luckily there are some best practices. And we’d like to touch on some of them. 


Best practices and things to remember regarding food rotation in your long-term food preps:

  • You need water to cook almost anything that has a long shelf life – so, Store more water than you think you need
  • Buy and store what you will actually eat – learn to eat things that give you a balance of flavors and nutrients so you aren’t missing out on anything, and can spread costs, while still enjoying what you eat.
  • Buying something you won’t normally cycle through is fine if you need to cover bulk storage temporarily, but understand it may mean you are eating things in the future that you don’t desire.
  • Move new preps that are purchased to the back, and pull the oldest dates on cans/storage items forward.
  • You don’t just need to prep with shelf stable items, but fridge and freezer items don’t last as long generally – so you will need to keep an eye on expirations.
  • Expirations dates mean very little on unopened, non dairy, non-preserved meat and certain perishables. Be sure you understand how long something can last before you get into safety concerns. 
  • Storing different versions of products you like can be very helpful, and satisfying, and help to improve your overall skillset with food preps. For instance, you can get raw milk; pasteurized milk, shelf stable milk, canned milk, evaporated milk, and milk powders. Every one of those has a longer shelf life than the previousuly mentioned milk variety.  
  • Along with finding different “formats” of food preps – you can also find alternative versions, for instance plant based milks, nut milks, and powdered versions of those. 
  • Staggering the different formats and varieties can enhance your ability to cook, prep, and keep costs in check, while improving your overall rotation of food stocks.
  • Light is an enemy to food integrity. Oxygen is an enemy to food integrity. Bacteria is an enemy to food integrity. Animals and insects are an enemy to food integrity. Poor packaging is an enemy to food integrity – plan accordingly. 

The basic primer on food rotation

Buy things that last on the shelf, and can be combined into your normal food routine.

For instance, it’s great to have brown rice on hand. It’s healthier than white rice from a nutrient density perspective, and it has a different taste and texture.

But, Brown rice has natural oils in it that white rice doesn’t. It spoils faster, and doesn’t generally get eaten as fast as white rice unless you’re a dedicated brown rice enthusiast. 

So yes, buy brown rice, but buy it in less volume, and less frequently than white rice if you aren’t using it on a weekly basis in your normal diet. Also look for high quality containers and don’t allow insect infiltration (used sealing containers and limit oxygen).

Check it often – weevils, and other pests are already in some of the rice stores that we buy from. Don’t let them decimate your food storage. 

It’s a best practice to buy things that you will eat, because even the longest shelf life items will eventually go bad. So with Brown rice, if you’re not a huge fan, jsut an occasional eater – don’t overbuy.

For instance Hard red wheat berries might be able to be stored for 35 years under optimum conditions, but if you have gluten insensitivities, or don’t have an easy way to convert hard wheat berries to flours, or don’t use wheat often in cooking, you are going to be wasting resources and putting yourself into an awkward scenario. 

It’s awesome to have a ton of olive oil on hand, but if it’s already a year old when you buy it, then the shelf life before it starts to go rancid can be less than 1 year in your storage. Make sure you’re consuming and rotating it. 

For a list of items you will want to be stocking in your food storage see: Best Foods to Store Long-term

Try to eat through some portion of your food yearly, and replenish it to keep a constantly updated supply

Along with that concept – figure out which foods you DO NOT like, and stop adding them perennially to your food storage. Do this by eating some of your storage.

If it doesn’t have a date – use a sharpie marker to add a date to packaging. Expirations are usually not accurate, but for some things they are: Cereals that are not dense (air puffed grains, or loose granola) might expire right around the time the date says so. Ever had something go stale? That’s about as far as it goes. 

This is why “BUY WHAT YOU EAT ALREADY”, makes so much sense. If you already eat it, you’re going to like it when SHTF, and you’ll be buying it often already – just increase your volume to build storage – and eat the oldest items first. 

This is particularly important for those that add to their long-term food storage with packaged, freeze dried, or MRE type meal preparations.

They may last longer than other food types/preparations, but they could all be going bad at once if you aren’t constantly adding to them and removing older items as you go – don’t toss them, eat them in a cycle. Don’t buy 900 MRE’s at once. Buy and prioritize dates in smaller bulk quantities, so you are never out of your money in bulk.

Packaging matters – replace poor packaging, and be aware of optimal packaging options

Olive Oil is packed in metal tins, because air and light oxidizes the oil and turns it rancid. From the olive trees to the distributor, the oil is protected. Then it’s loaded into brown and black and green bottles, to, again, cut down on degradation from light. 

It’s in the optimal storage configuration, in small “bulk” quantities, in metal tins (usually larger than 5 liters in volume).

It’s suboptimal to be in the green bottles you buy off the grocery store shelf – but it is what it is. Short of having a properly fruiting Olive tree with many years of production under it’s branches, you will need to store olive oil like the rest of the world. 

Here’s where concepts we already touched on above take center stage:

  • Store in dark pantry to avoid light degradation.
  • Rotate stores to consume oils that are at the 2-2.5 years from production timeline at oldest.
  • Buy alternative options (duck fat, in theory has a much longer shelf life than olive oil, and doesn’t degrade nearly as quickly as Olive oil).

Buying meat in bulk can cut some costs. But storing meat fresh will have its limitations too. 

  • Butcher wraps, and grocery portioning is not freezer safe, and limits life.
  • Vacuum sealing can add a full year in a deep freezer to many meats. 
  • Tightly wrapping meats and repacking them to multiple layers of plastic wrap and freezer bags can improve quality after thawing.
  • “Canning” meat can add several years to the shelf life.

Explore such options to improve your rate of usage, ability to store more volume, and costs in total.

Make a system that helps you understand ALL your food storage

Knowing what you eat, how you plan to use it, and how often each type of item needs to be replaced is THE best practice in food rotation for long-term food storage.

While you need to know What foods to store from a survival perspective, you also need to have a way to ensure that it’s good when you need it.

It can be as easy as pulling cans forward each time you add a new supply, or pulling the bottom items out of the freezer and putting the new ones in underneath them. But sometimes, you may be sourcing food that was produced before the other foods you already have in storage. 

Our system of procurement and logistics makes no real try at keeping food freshest for local consumption – rather it only prioritizes keeping food in stock – and sometimes it’s not even good at that. 

Maybe you make a digital spreadsheet about your food dates, so you can reference before you store newly purchased items. Maybe you have a small whiteboard that tells you the dates. Maybe you just pull out a few bags of frozen corn, and check the dates to see which bag is getting eaten that week, regardless of when you purchased the items. 

The point? Know when and where, and how your food is stored and prioritize the best practices and best packaging for that long-term storage. 

Whether it be dehydrated, fully hydrated, canned, bottled, preserved with acid or salt, frozen or lives long-term in the fridge – know what to do to get it cycling properly through your family’s diet, through your budgeting, and through your overall food planning – hopefully the above information can help you with that.