Pandemic: Considerations for Pet Food Bulk Buying and Shelf Life

by Nicole Cammack
May 4, 2020

The current economic situation is a grave concern for most of us: job loss, small businesses closing, and plunging investments. Many people have stocked up on essentials for themselves and likely for their pets as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. We know the shelf life of most human products, and that we can extend the shelf life of certain things by freezing – but what about pet food?

According to industry data sources, pet owners have significantly stocked up on pet food – some enough to last for months. This could be a problem, especially packages that are opened or damaged. Let’s take a look at the specific types of pet food for more information:

Kibble:

While variable, an unopened bag of kibble can last between 18-24 months.  However – if that food is fish-based it is only good for a little over a year, and that is assuming the manufacturer has ensured proper levels of tocopherols (natural preservatives). 

Once the bag of food is opened the shelf life is relatively short – and ideally should be used within 30-45 days.  This could be extended by freezing the food and utilizing airtight containers. Although, be careful of the health concerns of dumping kibble into plastic bins (read more about that here). At the end of the day, the fact is that most pet food companies do not evaluate the stability of their food, and the nutrients contained within it, once the bag has been opened. 

In addition, when food is stored for a long period of time, especially if that packaged is opened or damaged the risk of fats spoiling, mycotoxin contamination, pathogenic bacteria, and storage mites are a significant risk factor. In fact, improper storage of kibble is a large reason for food-related illness in pets – it’s just not something most of us think about until it’s too late!

Use caution when purchasing a large bag of pet food when you have a small pet or one that only eats a small amount of kibble. The affordability of that large bag can be erased if bacterial growth, infestation, and/or rancidity (oxidation) make your pet ill.  

If you want to purchase “bulk” it’s best to purchase smaller bags and to store them in a freezer if possible.  Some people do this year-round. Be sure to rotate stock as you purchase more, and do not mix old food with a newly-opened bag. This prevents cross-contamination and reduces the incidence of rancidity. 

Canned Food:

Once opened, canned food can be refrigerated and stored for a couple of days. However, it should ideally be used within the same day. Many who feed canned food know that many dogs and cats won’t touch canned food after it’s been refrigerated. Depending on the amount your pet consumes you may want to consider brands that offer a smaller can size to avoid tossing out extra food from larger cans. 

The shelf life of most canned varieties of foods is 2-3 years – so stocking up is generally not a problem. Although, when shopping online or at discount retailers it is always a good idea to check the dates on the items you purchase.  One of the benefits of shopping small is that canned food is carefully tracked and rotated within the inventory to ensure maximum shelf life. 

Freeze Dried: 

Easily becoming the “unofficial” pet food of the pandemic, freeze-dried foods offer the best of both worlds – lesser processed food AND shelf-stability.  Generally, these products take up less room and weigh substantially less than kibble and canned food so storage is also a plus. This is actually an option many raw feeders use when traveling to cut down on weight and the use of refrigeration and freezing. Many kibble, canned and raw feeders actually use freeze-dried as a supplement to regular meals, intermittently replacing meals and/or as treats. 

At first, glance, freeze-dried foods may have the perception of being more expensive, but in fact, may be just as or more affordable than canned and raw food options. These foods have had most of their moisture removed, which is also the bulk of the weight and what takes up the most amount of room which gives the perception of less food. Instead what you’re left with is a highly nutrient-dense, and likely a higher digestible product which you can choose to add water back to. Adding to the list of positives – pets love freeze-dried foods since they are typically higher in meat and are generally much more palatable. 

Most of these products have expiration dates of 2 years or more – however, there is evidence on the human side to suggest that these foods have shelf lives of 20-30 years. Not something we would recommend planning on, but if the situation was dire, they are an option.
Check out some of our favorite freeze-dried options from Nobl Pet Foods and K9 & Feline Natural.

Raw: 

As of the date this article is published, we are likely entering a meat shortage for human supply, which will impact the pet food supply. The supply chain is being taxed due to slaughter and packing outlets closing due to workers being infected with COVID-19. This is already creating a domino effect on the number of animals that will be bred and raised for consumption – furthering the shortage for months to come. Farmers and ranchers do not want to invest in raising animals that they will be unable to send for slaughter – a grim aspect of the reality we are facing.

If you have visited a grocery store recently you know our meat prices are rising, and this will likely happen for raw pet products too. If you don’t feed raw and think you are safe, it’s not the case – as this will impact all pet food types, it will likely be seen in raw and fresh food categories first. 

Stocking up more than a couple of months’ worth, depending on the quality of the packaging may yield some of the same problems we see with kibble. Fats within the raw are susceptible to oxidation, and nutrient loss as time passes. If you have the ability to stock up, you may also want to consider supplementing with freeze-dried foods that have a longer shelf life. 

If you are a raw feeder and need more information on switching or supplementing to kibble and other affordable options please read here.

*This article is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to provide medical advice or replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.