Testing 20-Year-Old Mountain House Lasagna, by S.H. in Texas

This article describes my experience with some Mountain House brand freeze-dried lasagna that I taste-tested 13 years beyond it’s “Best By” date.

Since I have become a bit of a “prepper”, I have noticed that the years seem to fly by much faster than before! Perhaps it’s just the usual momentum of age, but it seems every time I check on something from my “deep storage”, I find that it has been at least 10 years since it was purchased! Very disturbing. So…the question that plagues us is this: “would this be better-‘n-nothing when the SHTF, or should I just appease the wife and throw it out?”. Sound familiar?

To gain some insights into this dilemma, I have pledged to test some of my older supplies when the opportunity arises. One such endeavor with yeast, vacuum packed and frozen, was posted some time ago. I also dug into an old MRE and JWR was kind enough to share the findings. I encourage my brother and sister preppers to do the same, so that we can all learn better how to optimize the efficiency our storage space. I can think of nothing worse that settling my family down to a meal of precious storage food, when no options remain, only to find that it is spoiled beyond consumption!

Today’s experiment deals with an old “backpacker” package of Mountain House lasagna. I purchased this around 2003 or 2004 for an anticipated backpacking trip, but somehow, it survived. Since that time it has been stored in my long-term larder, at controlled room temperature ranging from 75-80° F.

The lasagna was prepared following the manufacturer’s instructions, with one exception: after adding 16 oz of boiling water, stirring well, closing the bag, and returning it to the foil bag to retain heat, I let it sit for 15 minutes, rather than the 5-10 minutes recommended, in order to allow it a good chance at rehydration after so many years. Anyway, I don’t recall ever timing things exactly around the campfire!

Here are some photos, showing the packaging, and my reconstitution and taste test:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evaluation: The lasagna had a mild tomato aroma – not unpleasant. Upon sampling several fork-fulls, I found the noodles to be tender, the meat chewy, and the flavor somewhat understated, with a tangy feel. I did not experience any unpleasant after-taste or texture. Overall, I would rate it as reasonably palatable. I was unable to complete the toxicity phase of testing, as my wife was screaming: “STOP EATING THAT STUFF!!!!”.

Summary: I had planned to reconstitute the second package in a boiler, allowing it to simmer for a while, but found no need to do this, as the lasagna was adequately hydrated following the manufacturer’s in-package instructions. In fairness, I haven’t had any “fresh” Mountain House lasagna lately, so no comparison could be made, though I recall it being a bit more flavorful when newly-purchased. Of course, the #10 cans are said to have a much longer storage life than the packets. Nutritional value could not be evaluated.

Based on this experiment, I would definitely NOT dispose of Mountain House freeze-dried packets just because they are a decade-plus past their “best by” date. Of course, other menu items may have different results – for example, products containing milk powder may deteriorate faster than a tomato-based product.

If my family and I were really hungry, then this lasagna, served over rice or more noodles, would certainly bring a glow to our bellies and smile to our faces!




40 Comments

  1. Mountain House now says the pouches are good for 30 years, same as the cans. I have no problem with the cans, but I wouldn’t fully trust the pouches that long, especially if the packages were moved a lot. Cans are stored in the basement at 55-70F.

    I do not trust Wise and Alpine Aire pouches! They both seem to have packaging problems, and I’ve lost a lot of food because of it. Alpine Aire pouches had bad spots noticeable by looking into the pouch. Wise had the same. Both are thinner than the Mountain House pouches. I even found some of the Wise bad in the store display!

    1. I concur. I just had a mix of mountain house that was 15 years old in pouches, and Alpine that was 10yrs old. The mountain house was still just fine..I probably ate 90 pouches over 3 months. The Alpine, while 5 years newer, was nasty…soft noodles out of the pack that had absorbed moisture, they tasted awful, couldn’t even choke down 1.

  2. Many folks confuse expiration dates on food and medicine. With food, the expiration date indicates the date it can no longer be sold in stores. If it is frozen, canned, or preserved in some other way, the food can be edible much past expiration date.

    Medicine, the prescription label may have an expiration date on the label, but it indicates the last day it can be refilled, NOT the expiration date of the medicine itself. For over 90% of prescription medicines, the manufacturer expiration date indicates a 5% loss of potency, which means the old medicine is still 95% good.

    YMMV.

    1. Seth: that 10% includes tetracycline’s/doxycycline. These meds undergo a chemical change that can make you physically ill and not kill the bacteria you took them for after their expiration date. So most of us throw them out and buy new.

  3. OMG, can just imagine you chewing away with your wife yelling “stop eating that stuff”! 😉

    It brought to mind when I was finally getting around to reading “Earth Abides” recently, and they were chowing down on canned goods and other grocery store food items over 20 years old! Obviously it didn’t kill them but I can’t imagine they were very palatable or nutritious by that point.

  4. Weird; I took that same exact lasagna packet out of the house yesterday where it had been for probably the same amount of time, and put it in the trunk of my car for emergencies!

    Now I know it will be good, even when prepared with melted snow on top of the engine! Thanks.

    Speaking of water, I remember eating a whole #10 can of MH chili mac by the handful over a week or so, no water needed.

  5. I find many food items that are out of “DATE” to be just fine. When I was in the Army we ate C-rat that had been over stamped since 1940-at least 4 or 5 times as OK to eat. That was in 1962.
    To many people are so spoiled that at the due-date they just throw it in the trash. I guess they have never been hungry. If a can is not bulged out or leaking go for it.
    I liked your articel an hope some people will open there eyes that an “out of date” item may be eaten. Just give it the smell test and a small taste test.

    All the best folks.
    Gman

    1. Agree, that the best by date, means just that, and these items can be good for much longer periods of time, so long as the containers they are in have not been corrupted or through big swings in temperatures during storage. I have eat some canned meat 7 years after the best buy date and it was just fine, no problems. Just be careful. If the container is corrupted in any way best not to eat without seeing if your dog will eat it, just saying.

  6. As a backpacker I will attest that freeze dried food is the least palatable. Dehydrated tastes better, MRE’s are the most flavorful.
    With each step up in taste comes more weight and bulk.
    All will keep you alive, but better taste has a great psychological effect of a morale booster when you need it most.
    Also, I can tell you firsthand when you’re tired, cold, wet and hungry EVERYTHING tastes better in the woods!

    1. Having eaten plenty of each, I would say just the opposite. I guess it depends on the dish you are comparing. I guess it depends the source. In my experience, FD lasagna is far superior to dehydrated, though the MRE is probably better than the dehydrated as well, just not quite as good as the FD. Things like peaches do far better freeze dried than dehyrdrated or retorted (MRE).

      And yes, everything tastes better in the woods, as well in the trenches. YMMV

  7. This is a fun article. Here are our take aways.

    1. Mountain House Breakfast skillet would be eaten in our house tucked into soft tortillas with hot sauce regardless of whether it was fossilized or not.

    2. Good article to remind all of us of food rotation.

    3. KEY reminder….cans are very different from dry pouches. Any can that is bulging at the seam or has rust spots should be thrown out.

    Take care, we love this site.

  8. I routinely feed my family food that is beyond it’s “best by” date, mostly because I do not rotate the way I should. Unless someone happens to see the label, no one is ever the wiser. They appreciate the fare I provide, even though sometimes, it’s quite far from the “best by” date. Carry on!

  9. I have a dozens of pouches of the stuff myself. Some of it dates back to 2001 when I was an avid backpacker in the Cascades. We lived on that stuff hiking parts of the Pacific Crest trail. From time to time I eat one of the out dated ones if im late on dinner. I eat em right out of the pouch. I have a couple of lexan backpacker spoons with long handles I picked up at REI way back. You can stir it without getting any on your fingers or the handle
    I have found the cheese of the lasagna is really hard to scrape off spoon with my teeth. still tasty tho, in fact I ate one last week ( chicken A La King ).

    I figure I’m getting my innards conditioned for the time when we wont be able to be so picky about the quality of what we eat.

      1. re:
        Tobasco sauce

        Yeah, but…

        I am not much for burning my tonsils at supper or my tuchus next morning.
        Accordingly, I usually offer my tiny MRE bottle to the collection plate at church.

        It’s the least I can do.

  10. I was recently cleaning out my food cabinets and found some “Idahoan mashed potato” packets tucked in back. They were 8 years past expiration date. Tried one, all you do is add hot water and stir, in 10 seconds they are ready to eat. These were delicious, as good as brand new. I have since ordered a bunch from their web site to add to my food reserves.

  11. One of the best all-time meals I ate in the woods was a C-ration can of Van Camps Pork and Beans, eaten while sitting against a tree on a mountain in Tennessee in the rain. It was the first thing I’d had for about 36 hours and it was wonderful. Army life provides so many memories.

  12. The bit about “stop eating that stuff” made me laugh out loud. My wife casts the stink eye on certain of my long term preps as well. She was particularly suspicious of a #10 can of Auguson Farms diced chicken, so I reconstituted it and made a chicken pot pie. Her comment: “egg on me, it’s good!”. Still laughing about that!

  13. Hey S.H., excellent article! Even the USDA tells us to ignore all “use by” dates (except baby formula) and to use our five senses to determine if something is safe to eat, just like our ancestors have done since eating that first woolly mammoth. “Tor, you think we can still eat this hindquarter even though smokers and freezers haven’t been invented yet and it smells worse than Mobu’s socks?” Atouk: “It’s pretty green with fuzz so I don’t think so but I think we can make a pretty good chutney out of these plump little maggots after we wash them in the creek.”

  14. A friend of mine, Captain L, retired USMC infantry captain, was helping me in my underground shelter. He spied my 1998 Pop Tarts. “You mind if I try one of your Pop Tarts?” I was going to throw them away, but he said they were fine! Same with Chips Ahoy.
    Above ground, in my Conex container, which freezes in the winter and bakes in the summer, I had two cases of Ham Slices, MRE. Purchased in 1989. Who knows where they had been stored before we got them? I warned him not to try those, as I was going to thrown them away too. But he waded right in and chomped my ham slice ration. I made mental note that the satellite hospital was 15 minutes away.
    Later on, he asked for another one! So he ate that, too. We finished up and went home. Next day, I called his house and his wife answered the phone. I asked about the Captain, and she said he was fine. “Why?” I didn’t comment further.
    So the MRE thing might not be so bad after all.

  15. Recently I tested a packet of Mountain house breakfast skillet that was 13 years old. It was very edible but not delicious; a generous addition of Cholula helped immensely.

    Having been a lifelong outdoorsman, I yearn for the return of “Wilson’s Certified” products. I thought I’d reference that product to make oldsters homesick for the golden age camping and backpacking.

    P.S I still have one can of “Wilson’s freeze-Dry Boneless Pork Pork Chops”. It adorns my mantle.

  16. Thanks for the write-up, James. I had to laugh at some of the comments by OldParatrooper and Paul wrote.

    We had an old timer pass away and while helping his kin clean up the place (he was a major-league Horder) they let me take home canned goods from his cellar. The old fella dated (month/year) all his canned goods with a marker. I opened up a can of corn that was TWENTY-SIX YEARS OLD. Smelled great, looked fine and tasted swell.

    Cheers! “Salvation is of the LORD.” -Jonah 2:9c [KJV]

    http://thehoffmannreport.blogspot.com/

  17. If I remember correctly it was 66 maybe 67 as a young Sgt Platoon commander on Hill 861 “A” Co. got choppered in a pallet of “C” rations dated 1948. We ate. Nobody died. However, the guys would squabble about the ration that everybody wanted. It had a small can of bread in it.

    1. I found an old case of C rations in a building at my grandparent’s house in 2004, that was dated 67, it had some of the rations with the canned bread, and with some kind of chocolate covered coconut bar. They weren’t too bad to be 37 years old. The cigarettes (lucky strikes and chesterfields) were even ok, just really dry by that point.

  18. I am moving south so I have eaten or tossed a lot of older canned and FD stuff. Canned green beans five years past ‘best by’ date are mushy and have little taste. All the FD stuff (7 to 10 years old) has been just fine. Canned dehydrated fruit from Emergency Essentials has been fine. Five year old canned fruit in syrup was tossed unopened- one of the cans was leaking and the rest looked sketchy. 12 year old MREs are bland and give me gas. They might have been bland when new? Food is so cheap and plentiful I am going to start over and toss most all of my decade+ old stuff. My son (who I am moving in with) has had fabulous success with his garden and we already have plenty of canning supplies.

  19. I am USMC ret. I have a commissary close by, Sometimes at my local commissary they have individual MRE’s for sale as well as purchasing whole cases.

    Many of my “Civilian” friends have gone to gun shows and paid a serious premium for what I call “shady MRE’s” . . .Why shady? Technically Civillians are not supposed to acquire MRE’s through military members, Why? probably something a legal eagle can spell out better than me. Anyway, I discourage my friends and family from doing this because they were probably acquired from some Army or Marine, Combat arms warrior, who may have ended up with a case or two after a long field Op, that warrior goes home with them on a “96” or leave. Then the warrior gives the case or the individual MRE’s to family or friends.
    These rations then sit in a garage or a shed, or RV, for who knows how long, then at the end of the shelf life. Warrior’s “Uncle Bubba” who operates a table at a gun show decides that they are close to being bad and sells them for HIGH dollar amounts, sometimes higher than the prices of a Brand new fresh case. (OK, ask me how I know this). Several bad things are going on here, Warrior shouldn’t give these away. “Uncle Bubba” sells these at a Doubling of the actual value, usually to an un-educated civilian buyer, and then this person goes home and puts the case into their Garage, shed, or RV for who knows how long.

    I have done a small amount of research online and discover a web site called mreinfo.com. I would recommend that anyone who is interested in “Uncle Bubbas” goods look into this web site. It even has a link that converts the Julian date and tells you when the ration was produced. This may give the purchaser a little more knowledge before purchasing a possible “shady MRE”. Caveat Emptor

    1. I currently work for the Army as a contractor. The first thing I did when I got my CAC card, was to got to the Commisary and bought 3 cases of NEW MRE’s to place the one’s that were around 18 yrs old in my B-O-B’s. They were $120 per case. Expensive- Yes!!! But they were new and I knew their history…. I look at the price as “What is you life worth to you…??? I have seen 10 year old cases sell for $50 at gun shows….

  20. Food expiration dating is something that was “required by government” beginning many years back. (1970’s?) At the time a friend of mine worked for a large food company, and related what a joke this was, as expiration dates were apparently assigned arbitrarily. He maintained that peanut butter, if found in the pyramids with King Tut, would still be edible. Other foods are not expected to be so long-lived. Occasionally, I run across a can or two I had stashed away for Y2K, and upon careful scrutiny of the can, smell, test taste, could determine its safety. Some cans that old actually rusted through and began leaking. The bottom line for me is: use your God-given brain and knowledge to determine if ANY stored food is safe, I have found and tossed out bulged cans that were less than a year old, too. I also remember as kid in the 60’s eating old GI rations from the 40’s my brother in the National Guard brought home. Hey – what kid playing army back then wouldn’t think that was cool???

  21. Just finished the last of 4 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, dated 2009. That’s 11 years old. The last was as good as the first. They had been in the freezer all that time. Still have 4 boxes dated 2017. They’ll be fine too. Oh, these were all the Thin MInts. Their other cookies last a long time too. One of my junk food indulgences.

  22. Sweet!! I now have faith in the Mountain House pouches I bought back in 2009!!

    Also, now that I have acquired a Harvest Right freeze dryer, I can make my own freeze dried food/ meals. I figure that long term, this machine will produce freeze dried meals that my family will love, especially with the food shortages now, and probably in the future.
    If you are able to afford one, or go in with family or group members, this is a fantastic machine capable of producing food that “could “ end up saving lives.

    Another idea I came up with is to freeze dry fruits and vegetables, then grind them up and put into capsules (much cheaper than the balance of nature products that are so popular right now).

    Thanks for such a great article

    Have a Rockin great day!

    1. RKRGRL68!
      How are you doing? Will hope for an update coming with news of good progress for you! Apologies if you posted news and I missed the SB community memo. Spotted your post here, and wanted to check in. Prayers continue!

  23. SH! I read your post with great interest and found this very reassuring — even as I am not sure I would be able to look quite that far past the expiration date on any package! Great read. Thank you!

  24. I had some old MRE’s that were about fifteen years past their expiration date and had been carried in the back seat of my truck here in the south for another three years. They had been subject to 100 plus degree temperatures a lot of that time. So I opened one of them up and took a big mouthful and had to lean forward and let the food fall out of my mouth. If I had spit it out it would have touched my tongue. I don’t think it was the expiration so much as the fact that it had been all those years in my hot truck. I still have two more cases of them. Maybe I’ll pass them out at a BLM rally.

  25. Having 25 years of mountain house storage experience, with over three thousand meals, in the queue, at some point I created a insulated pantry room dedicated to store my inventory and control temps range from zero as the low to 70 degrees as the high. I installed a small window a/c to maintain the high end during summer months. Over the years have tried and stocked just about every meal selection offered by mountain house (they are my standard for freeze dried foods). I rotate my stock by year each and every year…..so buying a % of your total inventory each year you can hopefully afford and obtain replacements.
    Things I have learned, I buy in the fall, and winter months so that while the items are being shipped to me they are not sitting at a hot depot, warehouse, or transit van and exposed to high temps. Also any bug out meals stored outside the pantry or in a vehicle I keep in a insulated zippered tote to limit exposure to heat. When preparing most selections I always increase the amount of water that is suggested by mountain house by as much as 30%. The amount of time I increase by double, also after adding the boiling water always squeeze the package to help break up the contents in the bag. Amazed at the heat retention of the bags ever after 20 minutes or longer. Cans versus pouches, I prefer pouches as the cans once opened need to be consumed rather quickly, a little trick I use is any can contents not immediately used I put in a seal a meal and store in the freezer. I do not buy any of their low nutrition selections such as corn beans or peas would rather maintain those items by stocking them in cans from the store. The availability of replacements have been limited because of demand in the last couple of years. Another point is the inflation replacement costs have doubled or tripled in the last couple of years …..inflation is really kicking in lately. Over the years I have had my favorites and mountain house has added new selections and discontinued others so if you have a favorite stock up while available. I maintain a complete inventory and store items On shelf’s by type and then By year using a black marker To note that on the box. Have enough inventory for one person long term or several people short term, my other consideration as with all survival items …..have some barter items. Love James adage three is two, two is one, and one is none……so happy trails from north nevada.

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