I just had a can of Beanee Weenee for lunch that was over two years old. Since money has been tight lately (hasn’t it been for everybody?), we’ve been making our grocery budget stretch by dipping into our emergency stores, and it’s a good thing. Since making sure we had several weeks’ worth of canned goods on hand (a lesson we learned thanks to the 2007 ice storm that blanketed much of the midwest) shortly after we moved into our house three years ago, we haven’t touched that food ever since.

So here’s something that might not be obvious to everybody (as my over two-year-old lunch makes it plain that it wasn’t obvious to us): canned goods and other types of stored food don’t last forever. Most canned goods start losing both flavor and nutritional value after about two years. Much longer than that, and they can start to become unsafe to eat. That’s why it’s important to rotate your emergency stash.

Of course, if you’re just starting out, you’ve got a while before you need to worry about this. Your main concern as a beginner prepper is just to get enough food to get you through an emergency. Once you’ve obtained enough to help you sleep better at night, and figured out a way to store it, then you should develop a plan to rotate it, ensuring that the foods you’ll have to rely on in a disaster will be fresh enough to provide maximum nutrition.

One common — and common-sense — method of food rotation is pretty simple: Keep the oldest foods in your kitchen pantry, and place newer foods in long-term storage, and make the canned goods in your kitchen a part of your regular diet. Once you run out of canned goods in the kitchen, replace them from the oldest selections in your long-term storage, and then go shopping for newer food to restock your long-term storage.

Although the ice storm prompted us to have emergency food on hand, we’ve only recently gotten serious about preparing for other types of disasters, and as such have only recently become educated enough to realize that we need to use and replace our outdated cans of food. So now I’m passing that lesson on to you, dear readers.

Of course, this also serves to drive home the point that having extra food on hand can help mitigate all kinds of emergencies, both large and small — even if your “disaster” is something as “minor” as running out of money well before your next paycheck. It’s definitely a comfort during lean times to know that at least you’ve got plenty to eat.