Camping & Survival

Quick Prepper Tip: How to Stockpile Canned Goods

Building a stash of canned goods may seem like a daunting task at first. It does not have to be, especially if you follow a few of these basic guidelines. Quick Prepper Tips from Cheaper Than Dirt!The first thing to remember is to use commonsense. If you have lived this long without a stockpile of canned goods, chances are you will stick around a few more weeks to build up a decent supply. If you are just getting started building a stockpile of canned goods take a deep breath, relax and read on. Stockpile Canned Goods

  1. Money is tight for everyone so set a budget and stick with that budget.
  2. Keep an eye out for canned good sales and use coupons.
  3. Pay close attention to expiration dates. Canned goods are often on sale because they expire soon—avoid these items.
  4. If possible, add a couple extra dollars to your food budget each week specifically for purchasing canned goods for your stockpile.
  5. Shop at warehouse or bulk-buy stores.
  6. Canned Goods AisleLook for canned goods that offer a good nutritional value and avoid the type rich in sodium and preservatives.
  7. Set goals such as stockpiling a week’s worth of canned goods, followed by a two-week supply, a month and so on.
  8. Focus on stockpiling ONLY the canned goods you and your family will eat. Do not waste your money, time or space stockpiling canned goods you hate.

Do you have a Quick Prepper Tip for stockpiling canned goods? Share it with us in the comment section.


The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (16)

  1. Being a veteran grocer on both the retail and maunufacturing sides of the fence, I humbly offer my imput to the topic. Most dates on products are simply “Best when used by” not “It will turn into sludge exactly on”. Most food companies want to put forth their best tasting product at all times thus the expiration date. A can of coffee will last many years stored in the pantry but on the other hand a bottle of ranch dressing should be watched more closely. I never knew that Kool-Aide could expire but now it has a date on the pack also. Common sense is your friend. My advice is also to load up during food holidays. Many food items are greatly reduced at that time such as veggies, rice, gravy, jell-o, etc. Some key food holidays; Christmas/New Years, Thanksgiving, Super Bowl (snacks/pizza), Easter, Memorial/Labor Days & July 4, and even Halloween, Back to school, and special local events. More often than not, the neighborhood grocery store will offer better pound for pound prices on items during the food holidays than your bulk pack club stores. The smaller cans are user friendly and limit waste. Rotation on the store shelf is a big priority at a well run business and it should be in your pantry too.

  2. MRE’s, or Meals Ready to Eat, are a great source of nutrition. Anyone who has served in the Armed Forces has a few in stockpile. I have some LRP’s, or Long Range Patrol meals, from VietNam and they are STILL eatable after 4 decades. These LRP’s will feed a 3 man team. The MRE’s are a single serving and come 12 to a box. These and some bottled water and you are good to go, supplemented with the canned goods referred to in this article. As the Boy Scout Motto reads…BE PREPARED!

  3. I forget that there is now a whole generation removed from buying groceries which are not stamped with so-called expiration dates. Read closely and you will notice that many are “BEST BY” dates. Modern food manufacturers need to move product, therefore by creating these dates, they ensure that consumers will toss out suspected expired products & replace them with new. This also alleviates grounds for litigation when someone does have a bad encounter with questionable merchandise.

    When we were growing up, it was not unusual to have canned foods around for 5-10 years!!! So long as the can was dented, bulged, or the food had an off smell then it was presumably safe to eat. Granted modern packaging is many times more effective so in theory the products should be safer longer.

    The best advice is to create a stockpile (over time) from product you commonly use & then rotate the stock on a regular basis. Use the older products by moving them to the forward portion of their storage & then put newly purchased replacements to the rear.

    Items packed in oil (ie Tuna) can also serve as a makeshift candle. Simply drive a nail into the center of an unopened can then take a cotton string about twice as long as the can is deep. Fold it in half then push into the opening…light & enjoy the candlelight. Good for a couple of hours! Then you can still eat the tuna!!!

    The following are some common items with their “shelf life” listed in month (annotated if otherwise) This is a good guideline for your stockpile.

    Food Product (Storage Life In Months)
    Baking Powder 18 or exp. date
    Baking Soda 24
    Bisquick Exp. date
    Bouillon 24
    Cereals 6-12
    Chocolate 12
    Pre-melted 18
    Semi Sweet 18
    Chocolate Syrup 24
    Cocoa Mixes 8
    Cocoa Mix 24
    Coffee 24
    Coffee Lighteners (dry) 9
    Cornmeal 12
    Cornstarch 18
    Argo Cornstarch Indefinite
    Country Time Lemonade Drink Mix 24
    Crystal Light Drink Mix 24
    Tang Drink Mix 24
    Kool Aid Drink Mix 18-24
    White Flour 6-8
    Whole wheat 6-8
    Gelatin, all types 18
    Jell-O 24
    Grits 12
    Honey 12-24
    Jellies, Jams 12
    Molasses 12+
    Marshmallow Cream 3-4
    Mayonnaise 2-3

    Condensed 12
    Evaporated 12
    Pasta 24
    White Rice 24+
    Minute Rice 18
    Bottled Salad Dressings 10-12
    Salad Oils 6
    Oil – Crisco or Puritan 24
    Corn Oil, 18mo
    Crisco Shortening Indef.
    Vinegar – Container With Plastic Lid Indef.
    Salt Indef.
    Sugar Indef
    Brown 18
    Confectioners 24+
    Granulated 24+
    Syrups 12

    Bags 36
    Instant 24
    Vinegar 24+

    Biscuit, Brownie, Muffin Mix 9
    Cake Mixes 9
    Casseroles, complete or add own meat 9-12
    Cookies 2-3 wks
    Krusteaz Mixes 24
    Pillsbury Mixes 18
    Betty Crocker Mixes 8-12+
    Jiffy Mixes 24
    Crackers 3
    Stove Top Dressing Mix Exp. Date
    Frostings 3
    (Canned) 8
    Hot-Roll Mix 18
    Pancake Mix 6-9
    Pie Crust Mix 8
    Pies and Pastries 2-3 days
    Potatoes, Instant 6-12
    Pudding Mixes 12
    Rice Mixes 6
    Rice-a-Roni Exp. Date
    Pasta-Roni Exp. Date
    Rice & Sauce 10-15
    Noodles & Sauce 12-24
    Pasta & Sauce 9-12
    Sauce/Gravy Mix 6-12
    Soup Mix 12
    Soup Base 120 mos
    Country Kitchen Soup 36
    Toaster Pastries 2-3

    Canned Baby foods 12
    Canned Tomato Sauce 12
    Canned Cheese Sauce 24-36
    Canned Tuna, Fish & Seafood 5 years
    Canned Cranberry Sauce Exp. Date
    Canned Fruits 36+
    Canned Fruit Pie Fillings 24-36
    Dinty Moore Indefinite
    Spam Indefinite
    Ham Chunks Indefinite
    Chili Indefinite
    Dried Beef Indefinite
    Black Label Ham Exp. Date
    Canned Meat 36
    Canned Chicken 36
    Canned Soup Exp. Date
    Canned Tomatoes 36+
    Canned Vegetables 24-48
    Canned Baked Beans 24-36
    Canned Black Beans 24
    Canned French Fried Onions 24
    Canned Ragu Spaghetti Sauce Use By Date
    Canned Five Brothers Pasta Sauce 24
    Canned Fruit Juices 6
    Juices 12-24
    Dried Fruits 6
    Dried Vegetables 12
    Dried Peas & Beans 12

    Catsup 18-24
    Chili Sauce 24
    Mustard, Yellow Prepared 24
    Jar Pickles 12-24
    Spices 12-24 mos
    Steak Sauce 24
    Tabasco Sauce 60
    Extracts 24
    Vanilla 12
    Vegetables, dehydrated flakes 6

    Cheese, Parmesan grated 10
    Coconut, Shredded canned or pkg. 12
    Meat Substitutes TVP; imitation bacon bits 12
    Metered-Caloric Products, instant breakfast 6

    In shell pkg 24
    Nutmeats pkg. 3
    Peanut Butter 6-9
    Jif Peanut Butter 24
    Popcorn 24
    Freeze Dried Mushrooms 24
    Whipped Topping (dry) 12
    Yeast (dry) Exp. date

  4. One good place to look for food specials to stockpile is at the front of your local Walmart on weekends. At my local store they sometimes get in several more cases of items than will fit on the shelves, but its not really enough over-stock to bother hauling back to the stockroom to take up space, so they mark it down 1/2-2/3’s and put them on a 4 wheel cart at the front of the store.. near the checkouts.

    I’ve gotten cases of 12.5 oz canned chunk white chicken that normally sells for $2 a can for $1, ‘Progressive’ brand [no extra water needed] soups that normally sell for $3 each for .75 cents and Campbell soups that normally sell for 75 cents a can for 25 cents. ‘Fiber-One’ energy bar 10 packs for $1, 28 packs of Slim Jim sausage for $3, and Libby’s 6 oz vacuum packed seasoned ground beef crumbles for $1. V-8 canned juice in 8 packs for only $1. 24 can cases of Arizona Iced tea for only $3…as a few examples. All with long self lives.

    Just the other day, I bought 10- 40 pack Ray-o-vac’AA batteries at $7 a pack [$70]… that is 400 batteries with a guaranteed shelf life of 10 yrs. Normally a 16 pack of these same batteries costs $8.97 at Walmart. I figure I will have saved approx. $120 over time. I’ve got several 500 lumen flashlights that will run over 7 hours on 6 AA batteries.. So we are set for power failures & general battery use for some time. If you look around, there are good deals out there that won’t break your wallet.

  5. I’m in the middle of renovating kids small bedroom into a storage room for canned goods. Our current location doesn’t allow easy access. We rotate our canned goods etc… By the exp date when we buy new we move the old down to be used now.

  6. Great article, but I would like to add a few additional points and counterpoints. As noted in some of the other articles, even expired canned goods can be edible and nutritious long after the expiration date. Expiration dates are posted on sold foods to protect manufacturers and distributors, they aren’t really an accurate indication of the edibility of the contents. Though keeping that in mind, it is better to err on the side of caution, but as others have pointed out, you can tell by sight and smell when something is obviously gone bad. Now moving to my second point; if it has gone bad, it is still useful. If it is vegetable matter, it can be composted and fed to the worms and stuff to help your garden grow. If it has protien and fat, as soups and such, it can be re-cooked and fed to pets. Dogs and cats know if something is okay for them to eat in most cases. Pigs, if you raise them, and chickens too, can eat just about anything, and they also intuitively know if something is okay for them to eat. Now, for your own family’s consumption, I agree that you should stay away from the sales and off brands that are near expiration, but I have to add that if the sale is really good, and you can afford it, you should buy as much as you can, as this food has uses as well. Compare prices on near to expire food and pet food such as canned dog food. If you can buy near expiration people food for less than pet food, well your dogs and cats can eat like kings! As a side note, pet food is supposed to be fit for human consumption by law, and in starve or die scenarios, it doesn’t taste all that bad either. Back to the point I was making; you can use expired canned foods in many ways, so don’t just ignore them or throw them out. One way I have devised is as a diversion stockpile, so when people come raiding or begging, I have something to give up without losing the food I need for my family. If the food is bad, they’ll likely not come back to bother for more bad food. You can also seperate your “good” stuff from your “bad” stuff and use the latter as barter money.

  7. NASA did a study on how long canned food can last. They tested 50 year old canned goods from world war 2. (Spam, etc) and said if the can was processed properly and there remained a vacuum it was still edible. I use to throw out expired cans, but now I save them in a special area to be eaten last in an emergency. The smell test works well.

  8. My family keeps a one to two year supply of food on hand. Shelving can be very helpful and self-rotating can-racks can be a lifesaver (keeps the first-in in the first-out position; gives you a clear view of what needs to be stocked). Maintain a spreadsheet (computerized or otherwise) of a PLL (prescribed load-list (what you want to keep on hand) with current inventory of what you have on hand. Every time you use something subtract it from your list so you always have a shopping list to replenish. Buying in bulk and then repackaging for long term storage can be helpful; for one example, we bought 25 lb. of dried Cilantro (shelf life @30 years) and repackaged it in 1 qt. mason jars using our Food Saver vacuum pump.

  9. Can anyone tell me how to read the manufacture code
    On the bottom of the cans? There is a Julien I’ve heard of
    but not sure they all use this code?

  10. I’d also like to add that while store brands/generic canned goods may seem like a bargain in price, buy one and check it out if you’re interested. Sometimes they’re not so good a deal – for instance, I bought two cans of corn – Hunts and a store brand – both showed the same weight, but the store brand had more water in it than the Hunts, meaning that there wasn’t as much food for the money in the can.

  11. All are very good ideas. I would like to add that canned goods do have an expiration date (mentioned in the article), but if we have a list of those dates we can both rotate (as in ‘consume’) the soon to expire items and replace them with new items. Thus we keep a fresh updated supply.
    While items have expired, that does not make them unfit to eat. True, they may have less nutritional value. My family has always canned a lot of our own fruits, vegetables, and even meat. The first thing my family taught was to perform a ‘sight’ test- does it look OK, then comes a ‘smell’ test on any item opened- if ok, proceed to a small portion ‘taste’ test. If the item passes the ‘three senses’ test it is generally good to eat.

  12. Me and my wife stockpile canned goods and have for a while. Last winter we had a blizzard and it was not possible to get to the store. Thank God we prep. We not only had food but we had a lot of food. We were not worried about running out of food and getting hungry. While we were eating some of the soups we had stockpiled, I noticed that the one I was eating had expired 1 year before. The soup tasted fine as well as the 2 year expired can of chicken and dumplings. We keep our canned goods stored in a cool dry place. When I pull them out to get something we need, I check to be sure they aren’t bad. If the ends are pooched out, I throw it out. Prepping isn’t only for national disasters. It was nice being prepared for any emergency. Don’t forget, if you have pets prep for them to.

  13. This is not canned goods per se, but alot of things that come in vacuum packed pouches have a long shelf life. Smoked salmon has a shelf life of over three YEARS. The small pouches take up very little room, and can be stacked or stored almost like books. Also, there are small milk cartons of dehydrated hash browns that are inexpensive and store well. It doesn’t take too long to build up a good food cache. Just use your imagination and shop smart.

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