While various foods can be stored for years, the same is not entirely true of oatmeal. What is the best way to store oatmeal for long-term shelf life?
Many Americans are developing food pantries to help with the rising costs of food, and as a result, there are many questions about what kinds of items can be stored. What about oatmeal? Should dried oats be stored for years like other MREs and freeze-dried items? The last thing you want to do is go through the process of storing oats along with your other staples, just to find out that they’ve spoiled when you go to open them. Is there a way to prevent spoilage? Or are cooked oats relegated to the fridge? Can you make a large batch of oatmeal and then store it somehow for later?
Storing dry oats can with an oxygen absorber is the best way to extend the shelf life of dried oats or bulk oats. Cooked oats or overnight oats should be frozen in an airtight bag and consumed within six months. Any refrigerated oatmeal should be stored and considered perishable.
Whether you are creating a food panty to ease the costs of grocery shopping or preparing for an upcoming national emergency, the idea of stockpiling food is not a bad idea. Chances are, the people who were part of your family a hundred years ago had to learn how to store and keep the food they grew so they would have something to eat during the brutal winter snows.
So, what makes oats so unique? What is the best way to store oatmeal for long-term shelf life? This article has the answers to your questions.
What is the Best Way to Store Oatmeal?
The key to long-term storage depends on what kind of oatmeal you try to preserve and the type of container you choose.
Dried Oatmeal or Oats
Dried oatmeal or uncooked oats must be stored in an air-tight container in a dry, temperate environment. You should minimize any exposure to light and heat in a dark cabinet or pantry, as these factors can contribute to the process of spoilage.
Most dried oat packages will have an expiration date that determines quality and taste standards. Uncooked oats should be used within a year or two of purchase. Commercially processed oatmeal can be kept longer depending on the storage method and if any perishable items have been added to the oats (like fruits).
Many companies have developed long-term oat-based MREs with longer shelf lives. An example of them can be found on Amazon’s website.
You can store dried oats in large airtight containers with oxygen absorbers. You will need to replenish the packets each time you open the lid and reseal it, but even though some sites will tell you that you can store oatmeal for 25 years or more, it is best to consume any oat product within 24 months of the initial storage. The reason is that some oats have oils and enzymes that can break down over time.
Cooked Oatmeal or Overnight Oats
Any cooked oatmeal can be kept in a freezer bag and frozen. There are many recipes for how to make homemade freezer cups of cooked oatmeal and fruit or nuts. Most involve preparing a big batch of oatmeal, portioning it into prepared muffin cups, and then placed in a freezer bag. Prepared oatmeal should be consumed within a few months, no longer than six months.
How Do I know if My Stored Oatmeal is Spoiled?
There are a variety of signs concerning whether or not any oatmeal is safe to eat.
The Nose Knows
When oatmeal is opened to the elements, it gets exposed to moisture and oxygen, both of which are factors in the growth of microorganisms. Any foul odor or smell that drifts past your nostrils as you get the food ready means that there is a presence of fungi or bacteria that could be harmful to your family.
It goes without saying that if you see anything a miss, then err on the side of caution and throw the batch out. Any black spots or mold that is apparent is another sign that the storage method was not successful. Just as you would not serve molded food from the store to your family, neither should you when long-term stored food is concerned.
This warning sign is a more complicated sign to determine, but if there are clumps in a food that is supposed to be flaky or fine powder-like, this could be a sign of spoilage.
If you detect a weird taste that is unlike what oatmeal should taste like when you take that first bite, get rid of it. While you shouldn’t eat spoiled food (never a good idea), sometimes you just know when you bite into a dish.
Why Does Oatmeal Go Bad?
There are several reasons why oats might go wrong, but fortunately, steps can be taken to prevent most issues.
Moisture is the breeding ground for mold of any kind, and oats love the wet environment because they are designed to absorb liquids (milk or water). This is why when you open a package of instant oatmeal, it tells you to add water and heat the concoction in a microwave. The heat and the water create the perfect chemistry to speed up the absorption process and, if left unchecked, would produce bacteria-infested oatmeal.
The best way to prevent moisture is to store the oats in an airtight sealed container away from moisture and heat. Never store your oats in a garage or basement, where moisture and mold are likely to grow.
No matter how good the manufacturing process is, there are tiny larvae or eggs from pests in the oats. It may take some time for the larvae to grow (or the eggs to hatch), but once they do, there is plenty of nutritious ingredients for the little critters to enjoy. If the package sits long enough, you could even have critters in the meal when you open the container.
The best way to get rid of insects is to store them in an oxygen-free environment. Sealed or air-tight containers with oxygen absorbers are excellent ways to store oats and prevent infestation. Other methods include microwaving or freezing oats before storage.
Oxygen is another thing that oatmeal is exposed to when it is opened. This allows bacteria to grow, which is something you do not want if you are planning on storing oats for any length of time.
Oxygen absorbers are small packets of iron and salt that absorb any oxygen that might be present. Some research indicates that storage in mylar packets with an oxygen packet can extend storage life for longer than one to two years.
What Kind of Storage Method is the Best?
Whether you are planning to use mason jars, mylar bags, #10 cans, or even sealed unopened buckets (for buying in bulk), you should plan on using the oats within 2-3 years. Even with oxygen absorbers, oats will lose their taste quality after this time and may not be edible or at the very least have a funky taste, which defeats the purpose of storing food in your pantry.
About THE AUTHOR
I have over a decade of experience in food and beverage management, including a ServSafe food safety qualification. As part of this qualification, I have been professionally trained in safe food storage.Read More About Mark Walker