Oats have a reputation for being filling and healthy, but the consensus is that oats retains its nutritional value for only 1 to 2 years, after which the nutritional value degrades (unless stored under specific conditions).
Oats is reputed to last for 25 to 30 years, so, it is natural to question how to store oats long term, and the wisdom of storing food for a third of your lifetime, because when disasters and emergencies arise these historically don’t last more than a few years at most.
So does this make oatmeal a good survival food? Should you stockpile it?
Yes, you definitely stockpile oatmeal because this gluten-free cereal, is high in essential vitamins and minerals, and has the highest protein content of common cereals. It is also quick to cook, saving energy. The main benefit to storing it is that it can keep for around 25 years under ideal storage conditions.
Besides being eaten as a porridge, oats can be used in hundreds of recipes from oat cakes to biscuits, in casseroles, in vegetarian burgers, for thickening stews, making dumplings, coating chicken tenders and lots more.
Why do oats go bad?
Often it is because when you bought them there were already eggs in the oats from certain insects.
The most common is the granary weevil, sitophilius granarius, but it is just one of around 200 insects that make their home in grain stored for long-term use.
The granary beetle is a reddish brown, and is particularly fond of ruining our days by making its appearance in oats, pasta, corn and rice.
When you think you have just enough left to make one meal for the family and you open the container and there they are… Or even worse, if you didn’t see them and little specks are found floating in the boiling water!
They have no wings and although originating in the lower slopes of the Himalayas, have been found in Egyptian tombs – where grain was stored for the pharaoh’s afterlife, Roman settlements preserved under volcanic ash, to granaries, shops and pantries across the world.
You can’t see granary beetles or other larvae stowed away inside the grain, so when you buy, you have no idea they might even be there.
Their worldwide presence has given rise to a huge industry based on trying to keep grain free of these pesky insects, and this industry has been largely successful as granary weevils are certainly not as common as 20 years ago.
When you go out to purchase oats for long term storage, or order oats online, first examine the packets to see if there are little red dots or things moving in the grain. Also check for any tears or small holes in the packaging. If you see these signs of possible infestation either don’t buy, or return the item you ordered.
Oats can also go bad if it is exposed to moisture, enabling mold growth.
How to store oats long-term
Like any dry goods, where you store is important. A dry, cool place is essential – a basement may be prone to damp and the oats could absorb moisture, so check carefully before storing and monitor humidity levels in your storage area.
Oats will also absorb smells – store them in a jar that had coffee in it and you’ll have coffee tainted oats, or worse still in a jar that previously had pickles! That’s why mylar bags are recommended, used together with oxygen absorbers.
Once placed in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, seal and store oats in a bucket or square canister. This way the oats will last a very long time. If you store in food-grade buckets, the gamma lids have a secure seal.
However, remember if you open a bucket the air rushes in and you will need to add more oxygen absorbers to ensure it is an anaerobic system when you reseal.
Try to use your oats within 12 to 24 months. You should be rotating food regularly, so, as you eat your way through the oat stockpile, you will be replacing what has been used plus buying a bit more.
Then, when there is an emergency you should have enough stockpiled to keep you going for a couple of years – or 25 if you seriously expect things to be bad for that long, and have been putting away a lot extra.
Oats will last indefinitely in the freezer. Just let them attain room temperature before adding to baked goods otherwise the coldness may affect the raising agents you use, like baking powder or baking soda.
In survival situations, freezers may not always be available and you will need a lots of space to store enough to last a couple of years.
The best type of oats for long-term storage
Steel cut oats are best for storing, and last better than instant oats which tend to have a somewhat mushy texture. Here is a table showing the type of oat products and the expected shelf life, with the reason for the shelf life:
Type of oats
6 to 9 months
Coatings like cream or fruit shorten shelf life
1 to 2 years
More processed than rolled oats
1 to 2 years
Midway between instant and steel cut in terms of processing.
Steel cut oats
3 to 5 years
Least amount of processing so they last longer
You have to decide that suits your family best – sometimes instant oats can provide a meal when the power is out, but for overall health in the long term, steel cut oats are less processed and contain more fiber, taking longer to release glucose in a slow steady stream to your body, giving it a lower glycemic index.
According to Harvard Medical School rolled oats has a glycemic index of 55 + 2, compared to 79 + 7 of instant oats. Steel cut oats come in at the lowest GI – around 53.
10 Health Benefits of Oats
Oats are gluten-free, and may be substituted for wheat, barley and rye products.
Oats contains between 5 to 9% healthy fat.
Per 1.4 ounce (40g) serving 1/8 (5g) of that will be protein.
One tenth of a serving of oats is composed of dietary fiber.
Minerals contained in oats include: calcium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
Anti-oxidants in oats include avenanthramides, phytic acid, phenolic compounds and Vitamin E (tocols), according to a study published on Sciencedirect.
Those same avenanthramides are also responsible for anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties – so oat milk for is very helpful when people have skin rashes, as well as for keeping facial skin in good condition, especially in the absence of commercial beauty creams.
Just under half the weight of a serving of oats is composed of carbohydrates – the body’s main source of energy.
Eating oats regularly has been found to have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar, reduce heart disease and cancer risks, lead to lower blood pressure levels, a better immune response, and is associated with better bowel function.