Archive for November, 2012

The Skinny on Actual Food Shelf Life

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment


Five Different Shelf Life Studies:
Two on Canned Food and Three on Dry Food

Summary Article © Copyright 2007,2010 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
The following brief summaries are for fair use and educational purposes only.

Publication History:

After granting permission, my Entire Food Shelf Life Summary Article was published in the
Journal of Civil Defense, Volume 43, Issue Number 2, Year 2010.

The Journal of Civil Defense has an extremely wide distribution and readership including
all the Congressmen in the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives.

Publisher’s Mailing Address: The American Civil Defense Association, 11576 S. State Street, Suite 502, Draper, UT 84020
Publisher’s Web Address:

Cover of Journal Journal Page 8 Journal Page 9

Canned Food Study One

A Food and Drug Administration Article about a shelf life test that was conducted on 100-year old canned foods that were retrieved from the Steamboat Bertrand can be read at the following link:

Following is a brief summary of a very small portion of the above article:

“Among the canned food items retrieved from the Bertrand in 1968 were brandied peaches, oysters, plum tomatoes, honey, and mixed vegetables. In 1974, chemists at the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) analyzed the products for bacterial contamination and nutrient value. Although the food had lost its fresh smell and appearance, the NFPA chemists detected no microbial growth and determined that the foods were as safe to eat as they had been when canned more than 100 years earlier. The nutrient values varied depending upon the product and nutrient. NFPA chemists Janet Dudek and Edgar Elkins report that significant amounts of vitamins C and A were lost. But protein levels remained high, and all calcium values ‘were comparable to today’s products.'”

NFPA chemists also analyzed a 40-year-old can of corn found in the basement of a home in California. Again, the canning process had kept the corn safe from contaminants and from much nutrient loss. In addition, Dudek says, the kernels looked and smelled like recently canned corn.”

“According to a recent study cosponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NFPA, canned foods provide the same nutritional value as fresh grocery produce and their frozen counterparts when prepared for the table. NFPA researchers compared six vegetables in three forms: home-cooked fresh, warmed canned, and prepared frozen. ‘Levels of 13 minerals, eight vitamins, and fiber in the foods were similar,’ says Dudek. In fact, in some cases the canned product contained high levels of some vitamins that in fresh produce are destroyed by light or exposure to air.”

Canned Food Study Two

A canned food shelf life study conducted by the U.S. Army revealed that canned meats, vegetables, and jam were in an excellent state of preservation after 46 years.

The Washington State University summary article can be read at:

Dry Food Study One

A scientific study conducted at Brigham Young University on the shelf life of a variety of different dry foods can be read at both of the following links:,11666,7797-1-4222-1,00.html

A brief summary of the above web site information shows the following estimated shelf life per dry food item:

Over 30 years for wheat and white rice.
30 years for pinto beans, macaroni, rolled oats, and potato flakes.
20 years for powdered milk.

All dry food items should be stored in airtight moisture proof containers at a temperature between 40ºF to 70°F.
Salt, baking soda, and granulated sugar still in their original containers have no known shelf life limit if properly stored.

Dry Food Study Two

Following are some direct quotes taken from the above web site:

Food scientists now know that, when properly sealed, some dried food that’s been sitting on shelves for years, could still be OK to eat.

“It lasts a lot longer than we thought,” Oscar Pike a food scientist at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, tells DBIS.

Scientists have known certain foods like sugar and salt can be stored indefinitely, but wanted to learn the shelf life of other food like dried apples — stored since 1973 — tried by taste testers.

“I like to call it the emergency shelf life of the food, food that you’d still be willing to eat in an emergency,” Pike says. “It’s not as though it were freshly canned, but it’s certainly edible.”

He says the best foods to store are low in moisture, like wheat and powered milk. But keep all foods away from heat and light to stop it from going stale and losing nutritional value. “All the foods that we’ve tested have been stored at room temperature or below, so you want to avoid attic and garage storage.”

In the study, researchers taste-tested rolled oats that had been stored in sealed containers for 28 years. Three-fourths of tasters considered the oats acceptable to eat in an emergency.

Dry Food Study Three

Following are some quotes taken from the above web site:

It is important to first identify what is meant by “food storage” and “shelf life.” “Food storage” that is intended to be held long-term is generally considered to be low moisture food packed in either #10 cans or in metalized bags placed within large buckets. “Shelf life” can be defined in the following two ways:

“Best if used by” shelf life – Length of time food retains most of its original taste and nutrition.

“Life sustaining” shelf life – Length of time food preserves life, without becoming inedible.

There can be a wide time gap between these two definitions. For example, most foods available in the grocery store that are dated have a “Best if used by” date that ranges from a few weeks to a few years. On the other hand, scientific studies have determined that when properly stored, powdered milk has a “Life sustaining” shelf life of 20 years. That is, the stored powdered milk may not taste as good as fresh powdered milk, but it is still edible.

Shelf life is extremely dependent on the following storage conditions:

Temperature: Excessive temperature is damaging to food storage. With increased temperature, proteins breakdown and some vitamins will be destroyed. The color, flavor and odor of some products may also be affected. To enhance shelf life, store food at room temperature or below; never store food in an attic or garage.
Moisture: Excessive moisture can result in product deterioration and spoilage by creating an environment in which microorganisms may grow and chemical reactions can take place.
Oxygen: The oxygen in air can have deteriorative effects on fats, food colors, vitamins, flavors, and other food constituents. It can cause conditions that will enhance the growth of microorganisms.
Light: The exposure of foods to light can result in the deterioration of specific food constituents, such as fats, proteins, and vitamins, resulting in discoloration, off-flavors, and vitamin loss.


Recent scientific studies on dehydrated food have shown that food stored properly can last for a much longer period of time than previously thought. This research determined the “life sustaining” shelf life to be the following:

Dry Food Item Shelf Life
Wheat, White Rice, and Corn 30 years or more
Pinto Beans, Apple Slices, Macaroni 30 years
Rolled Oats, and Potato Flakes 30 years
Powdered Milk 20 years

Revision History:

Revised September 1, 2010 – Added Publication History of my Summary Article at the top of the page.
Revised June 16, 2008 – Added a Third Dry Food Shelf Life Article.
Revised June 12, 2008 – Added a Second Dry Food Shelf Life Article.
Revised December 4, 2007 – Added a New Link to a U.S. Army Canned Food Shelf Life Article.
Revised December 4, 2007 – Added a New Link to a Brigham Young University Dry Food Shelf Life Article.
Fall 2007 – Created this new web page.

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Towards Brazilian living standards – Martin Hutchinson 11/12/12

November 19, 2012 Leave a comment
  • My Comment:  Hey, at least it’s not Mexico . . .

President Obama’s victory clarifies the political and economic landscape. Unfettered in his second term, he will now be able to pursue the economic policies he truly favors. To see their result, we can look at a country with an overlarge government, low domestic savings, endless “stimulus” spending financed by its development bank, relatively high inflation, huge inequality and accompanying tax evasion, state meddling in its major industries which trade off their political connections, a high level of corruption and an education system that does a poor job of preparing its citizens for the high-tech world. That country is Brazil. Sadly, Brazilian economic policies will if pursued for two decades or so produce in the United States a Brazilian standard of living.

Obama’s opponents during the election campaign accused him of wanting the United States to be more like the Western countries of the European Union. Certainly the EU’s all-powerful bureaucracy and its commitment to various “elite” projects like fighting global warming and universal health care appeal to him. But in reality, the United States is a very different environment from Western Europe, with a different demographic profile and many attitudes that have derived from its New World provenance. The European approach, of large government that cements in place an industrial structure built 50 years ago is not available to a country with a rapidly growing population and a shrunken manufacturing base. In any case, Europe has its own problems; the idyllic picture of happy French peasants bicycling around with strings of gourmet onions around their necks is already hopelessly outdated.

The tendency of U.S. living standards to converge towards Brazilian ones is a product of globalization, and a natural result of economic arbitrage in a world of excessive and growing population and ever-easier communications. The world’s average GDP per capita, on a purchasing power parity basis, was $11,640 in 2011, just below Brazil’s $11,719, and somewhat below Bulgaria’s $14,603 or Malaysia’s $15,589. If Brazilian labor is equivalent in quality and other factors of production to U.S. labor, then U.S. GDP per capita of $48,442 is bound to converge on it over time.

The reason for the U.S. superiority in living standards is not the country’s abundant natural resources—otherwise Argentina would be among the world’s richest countries. It’s the quality of its institutions and economic policies, which have allowed a massive investment in education and a level of high-quality entrepreneurship that is the envy of the world. Britain in the 18th century had the best institutions and policies in the world; the United States adopted them, and was then lucky enough, partly because of the continued existence of the “frontier” through the 19th century, to avoid the poisonous socialism that grew up in Europe’s big cities.

This factor may seem modest, but it is analogous to intellectual property or design excellence, that enables the stars in the pharmaceutical, tech and other innovation-driven sectors to enjoy returns far above the industrial norm for decades. When Apple unveils the new iProduct, it is fairly similar to other products already on the market or shortly to arrive there, but is able to command higher prices and enormously superior margins because of the excellence of its design and product features.

However, Apple’s margin superiority is not necessarily everlasting and is subject to erosion over time. Its early products in the 1970s and 1980s, notably the Macintosh, were equally ahead of their time, but struggled to make large amounts of money. Then the Newton series of products, introduced in 1993, were abject and expensive failures. However, Steve Jobs’ return allowed the company’s revenues, margins and stock price to soar once again into the stratosphere, eventually producing the iPad, a far more successful descendent of the Newton.

Eventually, even the most successful companies lose their margin superiority. Microsoft, which had such superiority in the 1990s, has now largely become commoditized. Polaroid, which enjoyed spectacular success with its instant photography in the 1950s and 1960s, not only lost its edge after its founder Edwin Land retired in 1980, it filed for bankruptcy in 2001. Similarly, Jobs’ death last year is almost certainly going to lead to a gradual commoditization of Apple’s product range and the descent of its margins and stock price to more normal levels. Jobs’ successors at Apple, like Land’s at Polaroid, are not stupid people, but in the long run, they cannot preserve the company’s unnatural success.

A similar process applies to the United States. Its economic and constitutional setup was greatly superior to its competitors, carrying it to an unimaginable superiority in wealth and living standards by the 1950s, aided by the self-destruction of its European competitors. This wealth was partly reinvested in college education via the GI Bill, allowing U.S. living standards a further leap forward. However, the Progressives and the New Deal had already reduced the U.S. advantage over Western Europe and the Great Society reduced it further, so by the 1970s, the United States was finding it increasingly difficult to preserve its living standards advantages against the rest of the world. Good leadership in the 1980s created a new ability to increase wages, so that by the late 1990s, with the United States having invented the Internet and much of modern communications, and the post-Soviet peace dividend reducing its overheads, its ability to charge a premium for its capabilities was restored and all seemed well.

Since 2000, weak management has allowed the U.S. competitive advantage to erode. Fiscal and monetary laxity has drained the U.S. capital base, an advantage similar to the cash hordes of Microsoft, Google and Apple. The country’s integrity has slipped; from 16th place on Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index in 2011, with a score of 7.6, the country had slipped to 24th place in 2011, with a score of 7.1. Similarly, heavy immigration created a society with permanently high unemployment (when those “not in the workforce” are included) and inequality at a level the country had only briefly touched before, in the late 1920s. The result has been an 8% decline in median real wages, mostly in the recession since 2007 but continuing in the most recent years when growth had nominally resumed.

This is why calls for the Republicans to abandon their opposition to immigration controls are especially misguided. High-skill immigration in moderation is highly beneficial to the economy. But very heavy immigration, even of the highly skilled, depresses job prospects and earnings for those in professions especially subject to it—which is why median earnings for college-trained software engineers are lower than those for college-trained lawyers, where professional restrictions to immigration apply. Mass low-skilled immigration, legal or illegal, inevitably puts pressure on living standards at the bottom of the scale. The barber in Boston is paid more than the barber in Bangalore because he benefits from geographical proximity to rich neighbors, but if large numbers of immigrant barbers move to Boston, his wages will decline towards the global norm.

In addition, the presence of large numbers of immigrants puts pressure on the political system to adapt to the norms they are used to. In the United States of 1900, this did not happen; first generation immigrants were forced to assimilate to U.S. norms, and given little political power until they had abandoned the collectivist nostrums of their home countries. However, today we rightly assimilate less brutally and encourage immigrants to preserve much of their home cultures. Hence, since a high proportion of immigration is Latin American in origin, there is a danger that political norms will be forced towards the corruption, hatred of the rich and caudillo cultures that have impoverished Latin America for the last two centuries. In other words, if U.S. living standards converge towards the global norm, it is to Brazil and not to Malaysia or Bulgaria that the society will converge.

Globalization is immensely beneficial to the welfare of the world economy in general, but most of its benefits accrue to residents of poor countries, as it provides them with opportunities to which they would not otherwise be exposed. If technological advance is rapid and rich country governance truly superior this will not matter much; rich countries’ living standards will continue to advance even as poor countries’ standards advance faster, and the world gets richer overall at a rapid clip.

However, poor countries are catching up with U.S. education and governance standards all the time, just as Apple’s competitors are seeking all the time to erode Apple’s competitive advantage. Hence, if the United States suffers a period of poor governance, an increase in the costs of government, a long-term distortion of its markets, a draining of capital by misguided monetary policy and a partial convergence on the inferior governance norms and higher corruption of poorer countries, its living standards will erode.

Technological advances continue (as I wrote a few weeks ago, I do not expect their economic benefits to disappear anytime soon). However, such advances arrive in bursts, with periods of unimaginable change interspersed with periods of relative stasis and adaptation to past advances. If such a period of technological quiescence coincides with a period of erosion of U.S. advantages in governance and capital base, the descent of U.S. living standards towards Brazilian levels may be quite swift.

For the rich, of course, it does not matter; they can enjoy themselves on Rio’s Copacabana Beach just as easily in the Hamptons, albeit with some personal security problems. But for the poor, the middle classes and even aspiring professionals, electing governments of Dilma Rousseffs (the current president of Brazil) is likely to produce an economic decline that is both painful and unexpected.