Dry Bean Food Storage Myth – Actual Shelf-Life Revealed

You can find all kinds of answers to questions on the internet, many of them are just not true. We are going to tackle the shelf-life myth of dry beans in our research today.

How long will dry beans remain edible in storage?  Packaged and stored correctly, dry beans will remain edible for 25 to 30 years. The best quality is always achieved when dry beans are fresh. Dry beans will gradually deteriorate over time. Oxygen-free packaging and a cool storage environment will significantly extend the shelf life of dry beans.

My good friend, Jerzy, recently asked:

I’ve read recently in several internet sources that beans, and apparently pinto beans especially, might indeed easily store for 25-30 years under proper conditions [and even such as the ones ready packaged by LDS which in my opinion is the best bang for the buck and hassle-less deal] without spoiling but after only about 5-7 years they are nearly impossible to cook/eat because they become so hard no amount of cooking/presoaking can get them soft to easily edible state.

I was wondering whether you have, or know another LDS member/family who does, any very old beans in your long term food preps which have been packaged and put away for long term storage at least 5 years ago [ideally more, closer to 10 years or even longer]?… if you don’t, perhaps a family you know who do would like to sell you – or give up a can or 2 of dry beans [pinto ideally] for such an important prepper experiment – and then you could do a video on your channel on this subject and try to prepare/cook old dry beans to render them still fully edible after long storage period?

I have not seen any such video yet and this would establish a truth regarding many rumors/statements on the web about beans becoming virtually inedible after only a few years of proper storage. In my opinion, that is an extremely important subject. Either preppers should completely reconsider the entire prevailing concept of rice and beans preps as the foundation of any long term preps or perhaps you could instead happen upon a best way to cook and prepare the beans which could make the beans still perfectly edible, thus reinforcing the importance of dry beans as one of the best sources for extended long term food storage.

Dry Bean Shelf Life Cooking Experiment

Jerzy, this one is for you. I spent most of today cooking beans in a variety of ways. We tried to account for as many variables as we could in a short period of time.

18-Year-Old Pinto Beans

We started with dry pinto beans from our personal food storage that were packaged in a number 10 can in December 2002. The beans had been stored in a cool basement storage room for most of that 18 years. We had taken them with us on two moves into new homes.

When the beans were opened, we noticed a sweet metallic smell that is typical for dry goods that have been stored in a number 10 can for any length of time. No other evidence of deterioration was noted when compared to fresh pinto beans.

The pinto beans were sorted. Broken or discolored beans were removed along with a few small rocks. Once the beans were rinsed well, we could no longer detect the sweet metallic smell.

Once the beans were soaked they did not smell sweet any longer. The beans did not taste off at all. They were delicious.

Dry Beans Were Presoaked

The dry beans were rinsed well. Then we covered each of the bowls of beans with water, a couple of inches above the beans. The beans were only allowed to soak for 4 hours to allow enough time to complete the cooking process in one day. Typically, we soak them overnight.

Baking Soda Added to Soaking Water

One teaspoon of baking soda was added to the soaking water in each of the bowls of beans. Baking soda is not a necessary step, but I have found that when cooking older beans, it tends to result in a better final product.

Dry Beans Cooked Using 5 Different Methods

It was important to me that we used different cooking methods to cook the beans. During a real emergency, you may not be able to use your normal methods of cooking. We wanted to demonstrate that these beans can be cooked using a variety of methods.

To learn more about cooking indoors during a power outage, visit our post, Safe Indoor Emergency Cooking Solutions.

Instant Pot

We drained the soaking water and placed the soaked beans in the Instant Pot and covered them with 3 inches of clean water. I added a little bit of olive oil to prevent foaming. Beans were cooked on the Bean/Chili cycle and the pressure was allowed to release naturally.

As demonstrated in the photo below, the beans softened up quite nicely. My Instant Pot is one of my favorite tools for cooking food storage.

Stovetop Pressure Cooker

The soaked beans were drained and placed inside of a stainless-steel stovetop pressure cooker. The beans were covered with 3 inches of water and a little bit of olive oil was added to minimize foaming during the cooking process.

The beans were pressure cooked for 10 minutes and the pot was allowed to sit until the pressure released naturally. The result was a pot of nice, soft pinto beans ready to be seasoned.

Dutch Oven on a Propane Stove

It is important to have the ability to cook outside during a power outage. We have a Camp Chef propane stove right outside our back door. To learn more about power outage cooking options visit our post, Emergency Cooking: 12 Family Favorites.

The soaked beans were drained and covered with 3 inches of fresh water. A little bit of olive oil was added to reduce foaming. The beans were covered and cooked on medium low.

After a few hours, the beans were soft and ready to be turned into a delicious meal.

Slow Cooker

Another batch of beans was cooked in a slow cooker. The soaked beans were drained and covered with 3 inches of water. Olive oil was added to reduce foaming and they were cooked on high for most of the day.

As you can see in the photo below, those 18 year old beans softened up quite nicely.

Thermal Cooker

Retained heat cooking is an effective way to save fuel during a crisis situation. The soaked beans were drained and placed in the thermal cooker and covered with fresh water. Olive oil was added to reduce foaming.

The beans were brought to a rolling boil, covered with a lid, and transferred to the insulated thermal container. I always cover the container with a towel or small blanket to help provide additional insulation. Beans take about four times as long to cook when using retained heat.

The photo evidence below shows that 18 year old beans that were just brought to a rolling boil and placed in an insulated container to finish cooking softened up quite nicely.

To learn more about retained heat cooking visit Thermal Cookers: Powerful Solution for Efficient Emergency Cooking.

Soft Cooked Beans Turned into Delicious Meals

Each of the cooking methods produced soft beans. The pressure cookers took the least amount of time and resulted in the best quality beans.

Stovetop methods took about twice as long to soften the beans as the pressure cookers. The thermal cooker was allowed to cook for 5 hours before we checked the beans. They were soft and ready to be seasoned.

Once the beans were soft, it was time to get creative making our favorite bean recipes. We decided to make chili, ranch beans, Chevy’s beans, and our favorite standby, refried beans.

The two number 10 cans of dried beans made 100 servings. After a long day of cooking, we have 15 dinners in our freezer just waiting to give Mom the night off.

Tips for Softening Old Hard Dry Beans

As beans age in storage, they lose moisture. That can make them a bit more challenging to soften. Follow these tips and you should not have problems cooking up even incredibly old beans.

Presoak in Water with Baking Soda

Cover the rinsed dry beans and soak overnight with one teaspoon of baking soda. This combination has never failed me when cooking old, hard beans.

Add Salt, Sugar, and Acidic Foods AFTER Beans are Soft

Be patient and cook the beans until tender before adding other ingredients. I usually add a little bit of fat or oil to prevent foaming but that is all.

Wait to add salt, sugar, and acidic foods (i.e. tomatoes, vinegar, lemon juice) until after the beans are tender. They will harden uncooked beans, but add great flavor to tender beans.

Pressure Cook Dry Beans

The greatest success in cooking old dry beans is found by using a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker works miracles in minutes and is worth the investment for anyone, particularly for those who store dry beans in their survival food supply.

In my experience, the best texture and flavor when cooking dry beans is achieved by using a pressure cooker and allowing the pressure to release naturally.

Ideal Storage Conditions for Dry Beans

Dry legumes should be stored in a cool, dry, dark location to achieve the optimal storage life. Oxygen, light, and temperature are controllable variables that reduce the shelf life of beans.

Beans should be stored in airtight containers and should be treated to prevent insect infestation before long term storage. Learn about ideal storage conditions for your food storage at 8 Food Storage Enemies and How to Slay Them.

As beans age, they lose moisture and require longer cooking times. Depending on storage conditions, they will begin to develop an off or bitter flavor. Officially, beans have an “indefinite shelf life”, but that does not mean that they maintain the same quality or flavor.

Best Storage Treatment Methods for Dry Beans

Beans stored in original plastic or paper packaging have a quality shelf-life of up to 3 to 4 years. If you plan to use the beans within a short period of time, it is acceptable to leave them in the original packaging.

However, beans are commonly infested by bean weevils, and bean beetles may come in the original packaging. To control these pests, and improve the overall quality of the beans, use one of the following methods for long-term storage.

Oxygen Absorbers to Treat Dry Beans

Oxygen absorbers are ideal for treating dry beans stored in a #10 can, Mylar pouch, glass jar, or PETE plastic bottle. Removing the oxygen creates an ideal environment for dry beans, and it creates an environment where insects are unable to survive.

Vacuum Sealing Dry Beans

Vacuum sealing beans in canning jars is another ideal storage method. You will need a special attachment to vacuum seal canning jars. They can also be sealed in vacuum pouches and stored inside of a plastic bucket for an additional layer of protection.

SteelPak Mylar bags are the best option for vacuum sealing in a pouch. They create a true oxygen barrier which will extend the shelf-life of the beans.

Dry Ice Treatment for Dry Beans

Dry ice is the preferred method for treatment when storing in a 5-gallon plastic bucket. Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide (CO2), and is available in many grocery stores. It is heavier than air and displaces oxygen.

Use 1 ounce of dry ice per gallon or 2-3 ounces in a 5-gallon bucket. Wipe ice crystals from the dry ice and wrap it in a paper towel (to prevent it from burning the food it comes in contact with).

Add 3-4 inches of beans to the bucket and place the wrapped dry ice on top of it. Then finish filling the bucket with beans, and place the lid LOOSELY on to allow the air to escape.

The dry ice will slowly sublimate (change from solid to a gas), and the CO2 will displace the lighter air (containing the oxygen) pushing it out of the top of the bucket. This usually takes 30 to 60 minutes but may take up to a couple of hours depending on the amount of dry ice used and the room temperature.

Do not seal the bucket until the dry ice has completely sublimated. Monitor the bucket after sealing for a few minutes to ensure the lid does not bulge. If it does, open and release the pressure. The lid being pulled down slightly is an indication that a partial vacuum has been created by the carbon dioxide being absorbed into the beans.

Freeze/Thaw/Freeze Method to Treat Dry Beans

Dry beans can be protected from insect infestation by using the freeze/thaw/freeze method.

Place the beans in a moisture proof container and freeze them for 3 days. Take out of the freezer and let thaw for at least 24 hours. This allows any eggs to hatch. Return to the freezer for 3 additional days to kill newly hatched insects. Make sure to let beans return to room temperature before packaging for long term storage.

This method does not extend the life of the dry beans. It kills any insects that may have been in the original packaging, and protects them from infestation during storage.

Best Containers for Dry Beans in Long Term Storage

You can choose to store dry beans in a variety of containers. Plastic buckets, Mylar bags, glass jars, plastic PETE bottles, and number 10 cans are all good options. You may also find these articles helpful as you package beans for long term storage.

Shelf Life of Dry Beans

The better the storage conditions you create for your dry beans, the longer they will retain quality and flavor. Do the best you can in your individual circumstances. Beans will always be best when they are fresh, so learn to rotate your beans in with your regular diet.

Anticipated Shelf Life of Dry Beans in Various Packaging

The actual shelf life will vary depending on storage conditions. The shelf life estimates below indicate an edible shelf life under ideal storage conditions. The cooler the temperature, the longer the beans will maintain the original quality.

You can expect the following shelf life for beans when stored in a cool, dry, dark location when packaged using the following methods.

Dry Beans in Number 10 Cans = 30 Year Shelf Life

Beans packaged in a #10 can with an oxygen absorber are perfect for your longer-term survival food storage and will store up to 30 years under ideal conditions.

Dry Beans Vacuum Sealed in Glass Canning Jar = 25-30 Year Shelf Life

Beans vacuum-sealed inside of a glass canning jar will store well for 25-30 years as long as they are kept in a cool, dark location. Light will degrade the quality of the beans.

Dry Beans Packaged in a Mylar Bag Inside of a Plastic Bucket with Oxygen Absorbers = 25-30 Year Shelf Life

Dry beans sealed in a Mylar bag liner with oxygen absorbers, and placed inside of a sealed plastic bucket, will store well for 25 to 30 years under ideal storage conditions.

Dry Beans Packaged in Sealed Plastic Bucket Treated with Dry Ice = 20-25 Year Shelf Life

Beans stored in a sealed plastic bucket that has been treated using the dry ice method will store for 20-25 years under ideal conditions. Plastic is permeable and the slow transmission of oxygen over time reduces the shelf life.  

Dry Beans Packaged in a Mylar Bag with an Oxygen Absorber = 20-25 Year Shelf Life

Dry beans packaged inside of a Mylar bag with an oxygen absorber will store for 20 years or more. The bags must be protected from rodents by placing in a plastic or metal container.  

Dry Beans Stored in Original Plastic or Paper Packaging = 3-4 Year Shelf Life

Dry beans stored in original plastic or paper packaging are degraded by oxygen and subject to insect infestation. They lose moisture and will become hard, requiring long cooking times.

Dry Beans are an Important Asset in Long Term Food Storage

There are good reasons why beans and rice are frequently referred to as a cheap survival food. Beans are incredibly inexpensive, and when combined with rice, create a nutritious filling meal. Beans provide basic calories that can help you survive challenging situations. 

Beans have an incredibly long shelf life. They are easy to prepare, requiring only water to make them edible.

I personally think they are not palatable until you add a little salt and other seasonings. Beans come in a variety of colors and shapes. Add lentils and split peas to this plan and you can create some delicious basic meals.

Will Old Food Storage Beans Soften and Become Edible?

Yes! Old dry beans that have been stored for many years in storage will soften and are edible. Storage conditions make a difference in the overall quality.

We have proven in our little experiment that 18-year-old pinto beans can be cooked up quickly in a pressure cooker (or with other methods) and turned into a wonderful meal, with no one the wiser as to the age of the beans.

Thanks, Jerzy for asking the question! This is probably more than you wanted to know. You are an inspiration to us. Keep asking questions and we will do our best to answer them and learn together.

Thanks for being part of the solution!

Jonathan and Kylene Jones


Kylene Jones is a blogger, content creator, published author, motivational speaker, homesteader, prepper, mother, and grandmother. She practices self-reliance, provident living, and emergency preparedness in her everyday life. She loves working with her husband, Jonathan, and is committed to helping our community be prepared to thrive during the challenges that lie in our future.

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