Considerations for Pet Food Bulk Buying and Shelf Life

As a pet owner, you’re probably familiar with the idea of buying pet food in bulk. It can be a convenient way to save money and ensure you always have enough food for your beloved pets. However, with the current economic situation and the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, it’s important to reconsider this practice. While it’s understandable to want to stock up on essentials, including pet food, there are some things to keep in mind.

Industry data sources show that many pet owners have stocked up on pet food, often purchasing enough to last for months. While this might seem like a smart move, it can actually lead to problems, particularly if packages are opened or damaged. In this article, we’ll explore why buying pet food in bulk might not be the best choice right now, and what you can do instead to ensure your pet stays healthy and well-fed.

Let’s take a look at the specific types of pet food for more information:

Considerations for Buying Dry Pet Food in Bulk

An unopened bag of dry pet food (kibble) can last up to 24 months, but fish-based food may only last for a little over a year. This is assuming that the manufacturer has ensured proper levels of tocopherols as natural preservatives. However, once the bag is opened, the shelf life of pet food becomes relatively short and should be consumed within 30-45 days. You can extend the shelf life of pet food by freezing it and using airtight containers, but be cautious when using plastic bins as they may pose health concerns. Unfortunately, most pet food companies do not evaluate the stability of their food and its nutrients after the bag has been opened.

The Risks of Improper Storage

When pet food is stored for a long time, especially if the package is opened or damaged, there is a significant risk of fats spoiling, mycotoxin contamination, pathogenic bacteria, and storage mites. Dumping bags of kibble into dry food storage containers is one of the most common mistakes. Improper storage of kibble is a major reason for food-related illness in pets, which is often not considered until it’s too late. To learn more about the dangers of pet food storage containers, read our other blog here

Caution When Buying in Bulk

If you have a small pet or one that only eats a small amount of kibble, be cautious when purchasing a large bag of pet food. While the affordability of a large bag may seem tempting, bacterial growth, infestation, and rancidity may make your pet ill and erase any cost savings. To purchase in bulk, it’s best to buy smaller bags and store them in a freezer if possible. Remember to rotate the stock and avoid mixing old food with newly-opened bags to reduce the risk of cross-contamination and rancidity.

Considerations for Buying Canned Pet Food in Bulk

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 pet 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. Therefore, 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. 

Considerations for Buying Freeze-Dried Pet Food in Bulk

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. Lastly, 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 Northwest Naturals and SmallBatch.

Considerations for Buying Frozen Raw Pet Food in Bulk

As of the publication date of this article, it is likely that a meat shortage will affect the pet food supply. The closure of slaughter and packing outlets due to COVID-19 infections among workers is taxing the supply chain. This, in turn, is already having a domino effect on the number of animals that will be bred and raised for consumption. 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. While 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.

About the Author: Nicci Cammack

Nicci is the owner of award-winning NorthPoint Pets & Company, in Connecticut. She is also the Founder & CEO of Undogmatic Inc. Her undergraduate and graduate education includes biology, chemistry, business, and nutrition. She has worked in the pharmaceutical industry on multiple R&D projects and has had the privilege to learn from leading international figures in the human and pet health industry. She regularly lectures at national conferences, including federal, state, and municipal K9 events. Her current research involves identifying pathogenic risk factors and transmission among raw fed pets through a comprehensive worldwide survey.