Several shelf-stable foods distributed to households following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. Some perishable foods such as oranges can also be seen; these were distributed at the end of each month.

Shelf-stable food (sometimes ambient food) is food of a type that can be safely stored at room temperature in a sealed container. This includes foods that would normally be stored refrigerated, but which have been processed so that they can be safely stored at room or ambient temperature for a usefully long shelf life.

Various food preservation and packaging techniques are used to extend a food's shelf life. Decreasing the amount of available water in a product, increasing its acidity, or irradiating[1] or otherwise sterilizing the food and then sealing it in an air-tight container are all ways of depriving bacteria of suitable conditions in which to thrive. All of these approaches can extend a food's shelf life, often without unacceptably changing its taste or texture.

For some foods, alternative ingredients can be used. Common oils and fats become rancid relatively quickly if not refrigerated; replacing them with hydrogenated oils delays the onset of rancidity, increasing shelf life. This is a common approach in industrial food production, but concerns about health hazards associated with trans fats have led to their strict control in several jurisdictions.[2] Even where trans fats are not prohibited, in many places there are new labeling laws (or rules), which require information to be printed on packages, or to be published elsewhere, about the amount of trans fat contained in certain products.


Main article: Aseptic processing

A collection of mason jars filled with preserved foods

Package sterility and seal integrity are vital for commercially packaged shelf-stable food products. With flexible packaging (plastic films, foils, laminates, etc), the choice of materials and process conditions are an important decision for packaging engineers.[3][4][5]

All aspects of food production, package filling and sealing must be tightly controlled and meet regulatory requirements. Uniformity, sterility and other requirements are needed to maintain good manufacturing practices.[citation needed]

Product safety management is vital. A complete quality management system must be in place. Verification and validation involves collecting documentary evidence of all aspects of compliance. Quality assurance extends beyond the packaging operations through distribution.[citation needed]


Canning and bottling

Main article: Canning

See also: Home canning

Commercial canning involves cooking food and sealing it in sterilized tin cans. Home canning (or bottling) uses glass jars, such as Kilner jars or Mason jars, and boiling the containers to sterilize the contents.

Retort pouch

Main article: Retort pouch

Retort pouches involve heat processing the food in sterilized heat-stable flexible packages. This is used for camping food and military field rations.

Ranch dressing

The first shelf-stable formulation of ranch dressing, created in 1983, had a shelf life of 150 days.[6]

Milk products

Pasteurized milk in aseptically processed cartons (such as Tetra Brik) is shelf-stable without refrigeration.

Fruit juice

Fruit juice can be processed with proper pasteurization to allow shelf-stable options.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Harris, Gardiner (August 21, 2008). "Irradiation: A safe measure for safer iceberg lettuce and spinach". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  2. ^ Leth, Torben (2012). "Denmark's trans fat law". tfX: The campaign against trans fat in foods. Retrieved December 14, 2011.
  3. ^ Mokowena, K K (2012). "Ethylene Vinyl Alcohol: A Review of Barrier Properties for Packaging Shelf Stable Foods". Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 52 (7): 640–650. doi:10.1080/10408398.2010.504903. PMID 22530715. S2CID 28396532. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  4. ^ Koutchma, Tatiana; Song, Yoonseok; Setikaite, Ilona; Juliano, Pablo; Barbosa-Cánovas, Gustavo V.; Dunne, C. Patrick; Patazca, Eduardo (2010). "Packaging Evaluation for High-Pressure High-Temperature Sterilization of Shelf-Stable Foods". Journal of Food Process Engineering. 33 (6): 1097–1114.[dead link]
  5. ^ US4729926A, Koteles, "Packaging material for long-term storage of shelf stable food products and method of making same", published 1988 
  6. ^ Koerner, Brendan I. (August 5, 2005). "America's love-affair with ranch dressing". Slate Magazine. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  7. ^ Silva, F V M (2004). "Target Selection in Designing Pasteurization Processes for Shelf-Stable High-Acid Fruit Products". Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 40 (5): 353–360. doi:10.1080/10408690490489251. PMID 15540648. S2CID 33963439. Retrieved June 14, 2018.