How Long Will Dry Cereal Last

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.

Signed,

Sugar Coated Frosted Bombs

Heather says:

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.

Send your domestic questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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  1. Another Heather says:

    Excellent points about rotation and normalcy. The mantra of some preppers is "Eat what you store and store what you eat," so you don't end up throwing away hundreds of dollars worth of "emergency food" every few years. Emergency preparedness can be a way to help you *save* money by buying smart and not wasting food, and to improve your life even if there's not a life-threatening emergency. Many people don't think about job loss when planning for things like earthquakes and hurricanes, but it's a more likely emergency for many families today, and a well-stocked pantry will mean one less bill to worry about. If you always keep a few extra boxes and cans of your favorite foods in the pantry, it also means you won't have so many "I have to go to the store right now because we're out of cereal" mini-emergencies at inconvenient times. It really simplifies your life, and it works for hygiene and cleaning products too.

    When I purchase grain products that we won't use right away (oatmeal, cereal, flour, bird seed), I often freeze it for a few nights before putting it away. This will kill any little seed moth or flour beetle eggs that might have gotten in at the warehouse. Rotation also helps you to ensure that you won't have an infestation get out of control before you notice.

  2. It also depends on the type of cereal. The less processed the cereal is to begin with, the longer it will store. Oatmeal will store for several years if tightly sealed. So will bran cereal and dry granola that contains no fruit. Oxidation of oils is what turns cereal that is stored away from humidity, so lower oil content = longer shelf life. You can buy oxygen absorbers and dessicants to place in a sealed container that will make stored food last even longer, but these are expensive and recommended only for food stored in a remote location where rotation cannot be done regularly.

    @Another Heather – I do the freezer trick, too, but just recently had grain moths come out of a bag of navy beans that I had frozen for a week. It's not perfect. Diatomaceous earth (DE), dusted in your food storage bins is best for long-term storage. You can pack ziplock bags of other foods in a mixture of rice and DE inside plastic bins…and you can rinse the rice to remove the DE and eat the rice, too. I put pheromone-lure sticky traps for grain moths (made by Safer) in my kitchen and storage pantries and check them periodically…that's how I discovered the problem with the beans…they are a good early warning of infestation.

  3. Katherine says:

    I always use skim milk powder because it's cheaper than fresh milk. In my house, fresh milk is a special treat. My tip for breakfast cereals, is that if you want them to last longer, put them straight into a Tupperware container or similar as soon as you open the pack.