Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
When you’re selecting foods for a survival pantry, one of your top choices should be oats. They are inexpensive, nourishing, filling, and versatile.
Plus, when stored correctly, your supply of oats can last for many years – even decades. This article will share what you need to know about long-term storage for oats.
Oats are considered a shelf-stable food, a designation that means they are non-perishable. When stored in their original packaging, rolled oats have a shelf life of about two years. However, they will last far longer if you take some steps to protect them from their main enemies: pests and moisture.
Another significant factor that can determine how long your oats stay fresh is whether or not they were processed. Oats that have not been treated with heat will spoil faster than oats that have not gone through this process. The heating procedure has little effect on the oats’ nutritional content.
The term “oats” can cover a variety of products, including whole oat groats, steel-cut oats, rolled oats, and quick cook oats. After oats are harvested, they must be dehulled before human consumption. This process involves stripping away the hard outer shell and leaving the whole oat groat. The oat groat contains the germ, whole bran, and endosperm.
- Whole oat groats. You can purchase whole oat groats in raw or heat-stabilized forms. Heat-stabilized oats often have the terms “unsteamed” or “sproutable” on their packaging.
- Steel-cut oats. Steel-cut oats, which are made by chopping whole oat groats into pieces, also can be purchased as raw or heat-stabilized.
- Rolled oats. All rolled oat products have been steamed in their processing. When packaged alone, rolled oats are shelf-stable for many years. However, this stability can be diminished by the oils, fats, dried fruits, or flavorings that food manufacturers add to many rolled oat products.
- Quick oats. As the most processed of the oat varieties, quick oats have been cooked, dried, rolled, and pressed. Quick oats (also called instant oats) often contain skim milk powder, emulsifiers, and other types of preservatives.
Now that you know about the different types of oats, here are some ways to extend their shelf life.
- Environment. Like many foods, oats stay fresh longer when stored in a cool, dry, dark environment. Wide swings in temperature and exposure to moisture can spoil oats. Also, keep light exposure to a minimum and place your oats in an area that is free of pests.
- Container. Most oats are packaged in a cardboard canister, a bag, or a bulk sack. These containers are fine for regular use in the kitchen pantry, but they are not adequate for long-term storage.
The best long-term container for heat-stabilized oats is a #10 can with an added oxygen absorber. The second-best option is to re-package your oats in vacuum-sealed Mylar bags that you place inside a five-gallon bucket that is sealed with a Gamma Seal lid.
These types of airtight containers help protect oats from moisture and pests.
How To Tell If Oats Have Spoiled
The signs that oats have spoiled are often more subtle than with other foods. However, you should trust your senses before you eat oats that have been stored for a long time. Here are some ways to tell if oats have gone bad:
- Inspect the oats for signs of mold or fungus growth.
- Observe the size of the oats. If some are plumper than normal, they may have absorbed moisture.
- Oats should have a uniform color and texture. If there are obvious differences, they may be rancid.
- Oats should not be clumped together.
- Like other spoiled food, rancid oats will smell sour or moldy or otherwise just not right.
- Look for signs of pest infestation or pest residue.
You may be wondering if you need to freeze your oats before storing them. The answer is that it doesn’t hurt. Since some insect larvae are invisible to the naked eye, there is a chance you could store uninvited guests right along with your oats.
One way to prevent this unfortunate occurrence is to place your oats in the freezer for a few days before transferring them to your long-term storage containers.
Supplies for Long-Term Storage of Oats
Even though properly stored oats can last for a couple of decades, it’s a good idea to rotate your supply on a first-in, first-out basis. Be sure to label your containers with the date you re-packaged and stored them.
Vacuum Sealer. A vacuum sealer removes the air from a plastic bag before sealing the bag with heat. This tight seal helps prevent bacteria and moisture from getting to the oats.
Mylar Bags. Mylar bags are flexible, durable, non-porous, and puncture-resistant. You can use them alone to store your oats, or you can place bags filled with oats inside lidded food-grade buckets.
Oxygen Absorbers. Oxygen can contribute to the spoilage of oats over time, so oxygen absorbers can help solve this long-term storage problem. You can place these items inside your jars, bags, or buckets.
Desiccants. If you live in a humid environment, you may want to consider storing your oats along with food-grade moisture absorbing packets.
Canning Jars. Oats store well in lidded glass canning jars. An advantage of this method is that you can easily see the contents of each container. This video shows you how to seal Mason jars with a vacuum sealer.
Food-Grade Buckets. Placing sealed Mylar bags of oats inside a food-grade five-gallon bucket provides excellent protection against the factors that can spoil stored oats. Some retail stores and restaurants give away their used food-grade buckets.
As an inexpensive and nutritious food that can be prepared in a variety of ways, oats belong in your survival pantry right along with your store of rice and beans. Now that you know how long this food will last, there’s no reason not to stock up.