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Fresh is Best

The proper storage methods for all types of food.

Article by Mary Straus, published in Dog World Magazine, November 2011.

Proper food storage prevents the growth of mold and bacteria and helps preserve nutrients. Heat and air cause fats and oils to oxidize, or become rancid, and rancid fats have been linked to health problems ranging from diarrhea to cancer. Exposure to heat and air degrades some vitamins, and moisture can lead to the growth of mold. Avoid storing foods in damp basements, hot garages or any place else where they are likely to be exposed to heat or moisture.

Even properly stored foods won’t last forever. Freezing causes loss of vitamin C, and might affect vitamin E and taurine levels, particularly if the food is exposed to air while in the freezer.

Kibble

Dry foods might last a year or even longer on the shelf, but have more nutritional value when used soon after production. Dry foods that are packaged and stored well might lose 50 percent of many vitamins within six months; those exposed to air or heat will lose even more.

Check the “best if used by” date printed on the bag, and if possible, buy foods that won’t expire for at least six months. Foods that use natural preservatives, such as mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), will not last as long as those that use artificial preservatives. The best companies will show the date the food was manufactured, giving you a clear idea of how fresh it is.

Once a bag has been opened, store it in a clean, dry, airtight container to preserve freshness, as well as keep out insects and other pests. It’s best to keep the food in its original bag inside the container; premium dog food companies use bags that help keep out air and moisture. Keep the container in a cool, dry place, and feed within six weeks of opening (preferably sooner). If you pour the food out of the bag, wash the container well between each bag of food, and retain the bag until the food is gone, in case your dog develops problems that could be food-related and the manufacturer asks for the lot number.

Canned Foods

Canned foods retain their quality for years on the shelf, but spoil quickly once opened. Unused portions will keep in the refrigerator for up a few days in a covered can, or up to a week if transferred to a storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerated immediately after opening. Uneaten food that is left out at room temperature should be thrown out after a few hours.

Never feed food from cans that are bulging, leaking or rusted. These can carry botulism, which is as dangerous for dogs as it is for humans.

Frozen Foods

Freezing stops the growth of bacteria, but does not kill them. Defrost frozen foods in the refrigerator or a microwave rather than leaving them out at room temperature, which encourages bacterial growth. It's safe to refreeze foods that have been thawed in the refrigerator.

Freezing foods quickly helps preserve nutrients. Large containers can take a long time to freeze, allowing bacteria to grow and nutrients to be lost. For faster freezing, use smaller containers (designed to hold 2 quarts or less), and spread them out with air space around them rather than being packed close together.

Glass freezer jars with straight sides provide the best protection for foods, but they’re expensive and can break. Plastic containers are almost as good, and usually last through many uses. Plastic freezer bags also work, particularly if double-bagged for longer storage. Be sure to label and date all containers.

Food will last almost indefinitely in the freezer, although taste and texture will change over time. It’s best to use frozen foods within three to four months.

Treats

Preserving nutritional value is not important with dog treats, but preventing mold is still critical. Avoid storing treats in areas with a lot of moisture, and use airtight containers if you live in a humid area.

Hard, biscuit-type treats are similar to kibble, and will last for months or longer on the shelf as long as they are kept cool and dry. Once opened, they will become stale if not kept in an airtight container.

Soft treats will stay fresher when kept in the original packaging if it has an airtight seal; if not, transfer the treats to a clean, dry and airtight container. Homemade or other moist treats with no preservatives need to be refrigerated to keep them from spoiling, and used within a week or two after opening, or frozen for longer storage.

Freeze-Dried Foods

Food and treats that are freeze-dried or dehydrated will last up to a year or even longer on the shelf. Similar to kibble, they keep best if stored in a cool, dry area. Once rehydrated by adding water, treat them like canned foods; refrigerate or discard leftovers.

Fresh facts

All foods should be protected from air, heat and moisture. Use foods as soon as possible after opening. Throw away any food that becomes moldy or infested with insects, or that develops a rancid odor. If your dog ever refuses to eat a food it enjoyed before, consider the possibility that the food might be spoiled.

Storage Guidelines

 

Before opening

After opening

Kibble

Store in cool, dry place up to 1 year or “best if used by” date.

Place the bag in an airtight container away from heat and moisture. Use within 6 weeks.

Canned

Store in the pantry indefinitely.

Transfer to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week. Throw away uneaten food that has been left out.

Frozen raw

Store in glass or plastic containers in the freezer. Double-bag for longer storage.

Thaw in the refrigerator or microwave. Use within a few days after thawing.

Freeze-dried and eehydrated

Store in cool, dry place up to 1 year.

Reseal the original bag or transfer to airtight container. Food will stay fresher if it's protected from moisture. Treat rehydrated food similarly to canned food.

Hard treats

Store on a shelf away from moisture.

Reseal bag or transfer to airtight container.

Soft treats

Store on a shelf in cool, dry location.

Reseal the bag or transfer to an airtight container.

Homemade or moist treats

Store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

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You can contact me if you have any comments, but I regret to say that I can no longer respond to questions about individual dogs. See my Contact page for more information. My name is Mary Straus and you can email me at either or

   


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