Can You Trust The Expiry Date On Your Backpacking Meal?

Mountain House Backpacking Food

According to a study released by Mountain House, many of those dehydrated or freeze-dried backpacking meals stored in your pantry may become rancid well before their expiry date. While you could question the validity of the study as it was commissioned by Mountain House and places them squarely on top, it does raise a few questions.

Exposure to oxygen, or lack thereof, is a critical element in long-term food storage. Oxygen degrades shelf life in foods by oxidizing fats and oils. This oxidation causes rancidity and unpalatable off-flavors. According to Drew Huebsch, R&D Manager for Mountain House, prolonged exposure to oxygen will cause most foods to become rancid within six months to two years, depending on ambient levels.

For the study, Mountain House contracted Fres-co System USA to test the oxygen levels found in Mountain House pouches as well as those of six other brands. Two of the additional brands tested are ones we are all familiar with for camping and backpacking meals–Backpacker’s Pantry and AlpineAire. Together with Mountain House, these backpacking meals claim shelf lives of five to twelve years. Newcomers such as Good To-Go and Patagonia Provisions (neither of which are included in the study), claim around a year so.

Shelf Life Study

The study measured the oxygen levels inside 30 pouches from each brand. All food tested consisted of dehydrated and/or freeze-dried foods that are prepared by just adding water.

According to the study, only Mountain House pouches maintained an oxygen level of less than 3 percent in all cases, with an average oxygen level of 1.42 percent. All other brands had average oxygen levels above 3 percent (3 percent is supposedly the magic number for long-term freshness).

I have found most of these companies place oxygen absorbers inside their pouches for this very reason. So, could it be a pouch problem?

I am curious if this is really an industry issue or just Mountain House trying to make themselves look good. Anyone out there had experience with a “rancid” backpacking meal? Perhaps dehydrated and freeze dried backpacking meals will go the way of craft beer and roasted coffee beans–the fresher the better.

  1. I always try to buy the propacks anyway. All the air is sucked out, and they pack better anyway.

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