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Beans are at or near the top of the shopping list for anyone building an emergency food supply. And for good reason. Beans are an inexpensive, shelf-stable, filling, and versatile food. Plus, they pack protein, complex carbohydrates, folate, iron, and soluble fiber.
However, with so many choices of beans and types of packaging, how do you know which ones are the best for long-term storage? And how should you store them? This article shares what you need to know to stockpile beans that will last for decades.
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Should You Store Canned or Dried Beans?
Beans, which are the seeds from plants in the Fabaceae family, can be prepared in a variety of ways including frying, stewing, boiling, and baking. Popular bean types include black, pinto, navy, kidney, and garbanzo beans, as well as split peas and lentils. Stores typically sell cooked beans in cans and dried beans in plastic bags.
Both canned and dried beans are boiled before consumption, so both types have the same nutritional value. However, some canned beans may contain added sodium, preservatives, or other ingredients. Become a label reader if you want to avoid these extras. You don’t have to worry about unknown added ingredients with dried beans. You’ll be adding any flavorings when you cook them yourself.
A well-stocked emergency pantry should contain a variety of both canned and dried beans. Why? Canned beans are excellent for short-term emergencies. Since they are already cooked, you can eat them right out of the can if necessary. And you can add them as-is to the dishes you prepare.
Dried beans need to be pre-soaked for six to eight hours before cooking them for 45 to 90 minutes. That length of time can be critical when you are using emergency fuel and a dwindling water supply. It can take about three cups of water to cook one cup of dried beans.
On the other hand, dried beans are less expensive, lighter in weight, and easier to store and carry than canned beans.
How to Store Canned Beans
Heat, light, and moisture are the main factors that can negatively affect your canned beans – as well as your other canned goods. When stored properly, canned beans will stay safe to eat indefinitely. Keep in mind that after five years or so, the beans may deteriorate some in color, texture, flavor, and nutritional value.
Here are some guidelines for the long-term storage of unopened canned beans:
- Store cans in a cool, clean, dry place where temperatures remain between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Keep cans up off the floor and away from windows and other heat and light sources.
- Rotate cans on a first-in, first-out basis.
- Check your pantry every few weeks for any signs of rusting, bulging, leaking, or severe denting. Discard cans that show this kind of damage.
How to Tell if Canned Beans Have Gone Bad
Unopened commercially canned beans are safe to eat long past – years past – the dates printed on their labels. Those dates represent an estimate of how long the beans will remain at peak quality.
However, you should trust your senses when it comes to knowing if your canned beans have gone bad. As we mentioned in the last section, you should discard any unopened cans that show signs of damage. A damaged exterior can indicate that bacteria and mold have gotten inside the can. It’s best not to take the risk.
Sometimes the can’s exterior can look fine, but something still is not right with the beans. Throw away any canned beans that have an unpleasant odor, an off appearance, or bad taste.
How to Store Dried Beans
Dried beans are sensitive to oxygen, light, heat, and moisture. They also can attract insects, especially moths and weevils, which lay their eggs inside the beans.
Sometimes weevils can go unnoticed for weeks. To kill any pests that may be inside the beans when you purchase them, you can freeze the beans for two to three days before storing them in your pantry.
If you plan to use your beans within a month or two, you can keep them in the original packaging. Otherwise, you need to repackage them for long-term storage. Without air-tight packaging, oxygen will cause the natural fats in the beans to degrade and go rancid. Also, dried beans in humid environments can become moldy.
Dried beans stored in air-tight containers under optimal conditions can last indefinitely. Here are tips for storing dried beans.
- Place beans in mylar bags or other air-tight containers.
- Add oxygen absorbers.
- Vacuum seal the bags.
- Place mylar bags inside food-grade, lidded buckets for added protection if you wish.
- Store the bags or buckets in a cool, dark, dry location.
How to Tell if Dried Beans Have Gone Bad
Once again, trust your senses when it comes to knowing whether or not to prepare dried beans. Discard beans that have the following:
- Bad smell – Dried beans should not have a noticeable odor.
- Fuzzy or filmy appearance – Mold looks this way on beans.
- Signs of infestation
- A drastic change in color or size – Some color change after long-term storage is normal.
When dried beans have been stored for more than a year, they usually take longer to soften. Adding one-fourth teaspoon of baking soda per pound of beans during the cooking process will soften them faster.
Once you have opened a can of beans or cooked dried beans, you can store them in the refrigerator in a clean, sealed container for three to four days. For more extended storage, you can keep that air-tight container in the freezer. However, if the power is out, it’s best to open and prepare only what you need.
So how long will dried or canned beans be safe to consume? It all depends on the storage conditions.
Scientists found that some canned food remained safe to eat after more than a century. In 1974, chemists tested canned peaches, oysters, tomatoes, and mixed vegetables that had sunk to the bottom of the Missouri River on the steamboat Bertrand in 1865.
Experts with the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) found that although the food had lost its fresh smell and had changed some in appearance and texture, no microbial growth was present. In other words, they determined the food was safe to eat.
For more information on storing and cooking beans, here are some resources to check out.
- Creating Your Own Long-Term Cheap Storage Pantry and Cooking
- How to Store and Cook Dried Beans
- Storing Food for Safety and Quality
- All About Beans Nutrition, Health Benefits, Preparation and Use in Menus
- What Dried Bean Is The Best For Long-term Storage?
- Food Storage Experiment – Are 29-Year-Old White Beans Edible?
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