Do Emergency Food Rations Expire? Shelf Life Guidelines for Your Emergency Kit

Emergency Kit Items

Emergency rations, just like any other food, have an expiration date. Depending on the product and its packaging, some may last longer than others. Therefore, it’s important to note the expiration dates of the items in your emergency kits and regularly replace items as they expire. 

In many cases, expiration dates indicate when the food may taste less fresh rather than when a product has gone bad. Nonetheless, to ensure food safety, replacing an expired item is always better than consuming or using it. 

We recommend keeping a piece of paper in the front of your emergency bag listing the expiration dates of food and water, as well as for first aid supplies and hygiene products. That way, you can quickly know which products have an approaching expiration date. Also, it’s essential to inspect each item to ensure it hasn’t been damaged or opened. 

This article will review the emergency food rations and other supplies in your emergency kit, for which you’ll want to monitor the expiration dates. 

Emergency Food Rations

Emergency food rations

The shelf life of each item in your emergency food supply depends on its packaging and storage conditions. The most common food items in a survival kit are high-calorie ration bars, freeze-dried packs, Meals-Ready to Eat (MREs), and sometimes canned food. 

If you are available to turn over your emergency food more often, we recommend healthier, less sodium rich items that closely resemble what you eat regularly. This can help you avoid GI discomfort in the event of a long-term emergency. You can find our step by step guide in the Guidebook.

High-calorie food bars are the most common type of emergency food because they have a long shelf life, durable and vacuum-sealed packaging, and temperature-resistant properties. These food bars typically can be stored for up to 5 years. However, viewing each package for a more accurate expiration date is best. 

Freeze-dried foods have the longest shelf life, varying from 10-30 years, depending on the brand and its storage. Generally, you need to add water, sometimes hot water, to prepare them. This type of survival food is a good option because it lasts for a long time. You can check the packaging for the exact expiry date. 

The following food item is an MRE, typically used by the military. The recommended shelf life for most of these meals is 3 years

Finally, your emergency food ration may include canned foods. Unfortunately, canned food has the shortest shelf life of around 1-5 years. After this, the quality and freshness will begin to decline. Nonetheless, canned foods are generally safe to eat after the “use-by” date, as long as the can isn’t opened, damaged, and doesn’t have a protruding lid. However, we advise throwing out cans after the use-by date to be safe. 

Emergency Water Supply

Water bottles for emergency water supply

Your emergency drinking water may come in different forms, such as water bottles, water pouches, or water cans, each with a different shelf life.

Water bottles generally have a recommended shelf life of 1-2 years. However, the exact expiry date should be marked somewhere on the bottle. 

Water pouches are the most common form of emergency water as they don’t occupy much space and have a decently long shelf life of 5 years. These are 4.25 oz pouches that look similar to a juice pouch. 

Another alternative is water cans. Water cans like Blue Can Water have a shelf life of 50 years, while other brands may only last for up to 20 years. Be sure to check the packaging for an accurate expiration date.

Did you know? The water itself doesn’t actually expire. Instead, it’s the packaging that expires, which is why it’s necessary to indicate a consume-by date.

Emergency Supplies 

Apart from food and water, other emergency supplies such as first aid kits and hygiene products also have expiration dates.

First Aid Kit Shelf Life

First aid kit for emergency supply kit

A first aid kit’s shelf life depends on the individual products inside of it. You usually should switch out the items in your kit after 3-5 years unless indicated otherwise. Ointments, medicines, and sterile equipment like gauze and bandages can become unsafe after expiration. 

If your first aid kit has no expiration date printed on the packaging, you can check the individual products inside to know when to replace them. 

Hygiene Products

hygiene products for emergency supply kit

Most hygiene products like shampoo and toothpaste will not become dangerous after expiration; however, they could become less effective. Most hygiene products will indicate an expiration date. If an item doesn’t say, you should use your best judgment when deciding to use it or toss it. 

We recommend replacing hygiene items every 5 years to ensure proper hygiene during an extended emergency. 


Average Shelf Life

Emergency Food Ration

5 Years

Freeze-Dried Food

10 Years

Meal Ready to Eat

3 Years

Canned Food

1-5 Years

Water Bottle

1-2 Years

Emergency Water Pouch

5 Years

Blue Can Water

50 Years

First Aid Kit

3-5 Years

Hygiene Products

3-5 Years

Regardless of the item, it’s always better to play it safe, especially during an emergency regarding expiration dates. 

Periodically check your emergency kit and refresh its items to ensure your equipment is always ready to use. For help building your emergency kit, use our Grab + Go Box.