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The amount of time for which a product can reasonably be stored without contamination.

The time varies considerably based not only on organic content, but on packaging, the interaction of organic content with the packaging (such as acidic fruits or vegetables reacting with a tin can), as well as storage conditions . Exposure to oxygen, mositure, and/or heat will considerably shorten shelf life.

Sample shelf lives of various products, under ideal conditions:

    Fresh onions: 6 months
    Canned tuna: 12 months
    Dried soy beans: 12 months
    Canned pears/peaches: 24 months
    Pasta: 24 months
    Whole Wheat: 48 months
    U.S. Military MRE: 5-7 years

Note that a date stamped upon a package by the manufacturer is mainly for the manufacturer's and the retailer's benefit: it notes that the product will maintain its freshness and nutrition up to that point: the product may still be edible beyond that point (under ideal storage conditions).

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