Dear Home Ec 101,
I’m just starting to get into building an emergency pantry and there’s a great sale on my kids’ favorite cereals. I was thinking of using the sale and coupons to lay in a good supply for the pantry, but I don’t know how long the cereal will last on the shelf.
Sugar Coated Frosted Bombs
First of all, thank you for putting some thought into building your emergency pantry. Dry cereal, if unopened, usually has a shelf life of 6 to 12 months before the quality begins to deteriorate. If a store is having a crazy good sale on cereal, it may be wise to check the “Best By Date” and be sure that it isn’t next week. Sometimes stores have to clear out their old inventory for a new shipment. This doesn’t mean the cereal will be bad just that it won’t be as pleasant in six months.
If you live in a dry climate, this blows my humidity addled mind, cereal can last for 2 – 3 months after it’s opened. Just be sure to close the bag after each use. That’s just crazy talk for those of us in the South.
Once you have your stash of cereal, don’t ignore it for the next three years. Continue to buy cereal on sale, just as you normally would. When you come home from the store, place it at the back of the row/ shelf / box and take the one from the front for immediate use. This is product rotation and if you make it a regular practice, you shouldn’t have to worry about the food in your emergency pantry going bad.
I also want to note, there is also a lot to be said for maintaining a sense of normalcy during hard times, whatever their source. If mom and dad are stressed about a job loss, the last thing they need to do is explain a dietary 180 to Little Johnny. Sure that cereal may no longer be an every day occurrence, but having something normal and pleasurable to look forward to is a huge comfort to everyone, especially kids.
Put some thought into picking up some non-fat dry milk, as well. It’s not a perfect substitute, but it works wonderfully when used for cooking and is extremely useful in an emergency. It also has an amazing shelf-life and occasionally can be cheaper than fresh. To be sure you’re getting a good deal, divide the cost of the box by the number of gallons it can be used to make and compare that to the cost of a gallon of fresh milk.
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