There’s an old joke about how Twinkies and cockroaches will be the only things to survive a nuclear holocaust because they last forever. That’s obviously not true, but do you know how long a Twinkie does last? We’ll actually get to that shortly, but it brings to mind a curious question about the shelf lives of a lot of substances. We take it for granted in our world of convenience that we have access to things that are usually fresh and usable all the time. But how long do common things last? Some are likely much longer than you ever imagined. And others? Not so much at all.
10. Gasoline Lasts 3 Months to 3 Years
This is a tough pill to swallow for fair-weather doomsday preppers and those who have pondered how they might handle a zombie apocalypse. In a lot of very popular fiction, gasoline seems to be immortal. The only trouble most dystopian survivors have is finding gas, not whether it’s any good. But in real life, hoarding end of the world gas will only help you out for so long.
There are different grades of fuel and also better and worse ways to store it to keep it usable. But for the most part, if we’re talking regular fuel in the gas tank of a car, then you have between three and six months to make use of it before it starts breaking down into something useless. Diesel fuel can keep you going for a whole year if you’re lucky, though.
If you opt for fuel like ethanol made from organic materials, like the kind you’d have to start making for yourself out of corn or something like that after the world ends, you’d only get one to three months of viability.
Heat, oxygen, and humidity can all affect fuel’s viability which is why it’s hard to give a solid answer for how long gasoline will last. In a tank that’s open and exposed to air and sun? Not very long. In a closed tank in a cool, dark garage? Likely much longer.
But regardless of how it’s stored, because of all the compounds and processes involved in refining fuel, it’s not nearly as stable as crude oil. The light hydrocarbons begin to evaporate quickly, changing the chemical composition of the fuel until, eventually, a combustion engine is no longer able to burn it.
9. NASA and Taco Bell Made Tortillas That Stay Fresh for 9 Months
For a lot of people, a tortilla is superior to a slice of bread in many ways. One way is shelf life. A pre-made, packaged grocery store tortilla will outlast a packaged slice of bread by at least a week or two under normal conditions.
If you get the good people at NASA involved in your tortilla making, alongside Taco Bell, then what you end up with is a tortilla that shames all others with a shelf life of nine entire months.
NASA and Taco Bell may not seem like a typical pair of collaborators but astronauts need to eat and tortillas are a space saving and convenient choice for food in space. The fast food chain had far more experience making tortillas than NASA so the partnership made sense.
As for the why, there aren’t crumbs like you’d get with bread which can cause havoc in zero gravity, and tortillas are easier to manage. So making them last as long as a full mission in space required some work and Taco Bell was happy to help.
With tortillas able to resist bacteria growth for 9 months, astronauts can make wraps that work better than sandwiches. The toppings, like beef, actually stick to the tortilla because of how the physics of moisture works in space.
8. A Human Life Probably Can’t Go Beyond 150 Years
Do humans have an expiration date? Our life span in 2022 was calculated at 71 years but that takes into account a number of factors. Where you live, access to food and water, all these things throw off averages when it comes to calculations like this. And when you look at the past people make jokes about how the average lifespan was 30 years which wasn’t technically true because it was calculating infant mortality as well. If four babies are born, and only one survives but lives to 100, their average lifespan is still just 25 which is a silly way to look at these numbers.
So, under ideal circumstances, and assuming you avoid accidents and disease wasn’t a factor, how long could a human last? Recent research suggests that medical technology isn’t going to take us a lot further than it already does and humans may never live longer than 150 years.
The “absolute limit” for human life could be between 120 and 150 years. After that, nothing short of a miracle could make us live longer as our bodies just aren’t designed to keep going forever. It’s believed that, at that point, the body would have used up any power it had to overcome illness, stress and injury. You’d basically be done at that point and death would be the only option.
There’s always a chance technology will find some way to make a human body sturdier and more resilient but, for now, this seems like the natural end of things. Not that it’s a big loss for most of us considering no one has ever lived 150 years yet, anyway.
7. Twinkies Only Last for 25 Days
Here it is, the infamous Twinkie. The movie Zombieland made the fear of a Twinkie expiration date a plot point for Woody Harrelson’s character, but he was very much correct that the little snack cakes don’t last forever. This is despite an urban legend that once said there was a Twinkie that looked just as edible as ever after 30 years.
In fact, despite being sealed in plastic and the prevalent belief that they are pumped full of preservatives and artificial ingredients, a Twinkie will last 25 days or so. Like any food, after that 25 day mark it’s going to start tasting and looking worse and may be subject to the growth of dangerous bacteria as well.
Is 25 days a long time for a cake? Sure. But that’s due in no small part because they are sealed in plastic to stay airtight and there is no dairy used in their manufacturing, which cuts back on spoilage considerably. The rest of the ingredients, things like flour, eggs, sugar and assorted normal ingredients for cake, along with some preservatives, can only carry it so far, though.
6. Human Blood Lasts About 42 Days
Any time a major disaster happens you’ll hear organizations like the Red Cross making a plea for blood donations. People give blood fairly consistently in America, about 6.8 million people donate a total of 13.6 million units. With that much blood it seems like we should have enough to deal with any disasters but timing is everything.
Human blood is only good for 42 days. So even though current demands are for 29,000 units per day, which works out to 10.5 million per year, the surplus that seems to exist isn’t a real surplus at all since it will spoil.
For example, after the September 11th attacks, Americans donated an extra 500,000 units beyond the normal over the following month. But only 260 units were needed to treat victims of the attack. The result was that 200,000 units ended up being thrown away because a use couldn’t be found for them in time. This is why it’s important to donate all the time, rather than just after a disaster, to ensure your donation is actually useful.
5. VHS Tapes Only Last About 25 Years and CDs and DVDs Will Degrade Too
If you grew up in the age of VHS tapes, you already know those things only last for so long. In fact, many VHS tapes from the heyday of the medium are probably on their last legs right now if they haven’t been well stored to keep them preserved.
A VHS tape works thanks to magnetism, and that magnetism degrades naturally in time. You can expect noticeable degradation in 10 to as much as 25 years for most tapes according to Kodak, while other sources drop it to 15 to 20 years. This short lifespan is, in part, what drove and continues to drive the push to digitize media. There was a big boom for years to put old media on CD, DVD and Blu-ray.
Digital media also comes with a lifespan and it really depends on what kind you choose whether it will outlive you. Some cheap DVD+ dual layer discs only last 5 to 10 years which makes them almost pointless to use. However, a CD-R made with phthalocyanine dye and that gold metal layer can last over 100 years.
4. Honey Has an Unlimited Shelf Life
Guns N’ Roses once said nothing lasts forever and while that’s empirically true for cold November rain, it’s not the case for honey. This is one of the few edible products that has no expiration date and can potentially stay good indefinitely.
Honey has a natural pH level of 3 to 4.5. Because it’s acidic by nature, bacteria isn’t able to take root because it would just die off. If it was left open, honey would eventually go bad. It’s hygroscopic and will absorb water from the air. But sealed, and resistant to bacteria as it is, it can last not just years but thousands of years. Honey found in jars inside Egyptian tombs was still edible.
3. Beer Will Last About 6 Months
Alcohol like wine and whiskey are known to get better with age. The sugars and alcohol in wine can change over time to significantly alter the flavor profile. A spirit like whiskey changes by absorbing flavor from the wooden barrels in which it is stored. So what happens with beer?
The compounds in beer don’t respond to age the same way wine and whiskey does. If stored properly, away from heat and light which can break it down, your beer will probably last four to six months. In the fridge you might get another couple of months out of it.
2. Bottled Water Has an Expiration Date
In 2021, 15.3 billion gallons of bottled water was sold in the US. So it’s safe to say people really enjoy bottled water and some other people have probably gotten pretty rich off of the idea. But that’s neither here nor there.
Given how popular it is, it’s safe to assume most of us drink it sometimes, or are at least familiar with it. So have you ever noticed an expiration date on a bottle of water? They all have them these days, and it may seem a little confusing.
Disposable, plastic water bottles will have a two-year lifespan. The lifespan of water isn’t regulated by the USDA or the FDA, but manufacturers put the date on because of the plastic bottle, not the water in it. This is due to the chemicals in the plastic that can start leaching into the water after that point.
If you keep your bottled water stored in a cool, dark, dry place then chances are it’s going to outlast that two-year mark, possibly even for a very long time. And if you store it in containers where chemicals aren’t an issue then water can last indefinitely as well.
1. Fruitcake Lasts Maybe a Year If Stored Properly
Few things are more divisive around the holidays than fruitcake. In recent years it’s become a punching bag on social media with people proudly proclaiming how much they hate it or how they’ve had one in the cupboard since Christmas of ‘86. And while there’s comedy to be mined from the concept of a 40-year-old fruitcake that’s as hard as a rock, that’s not technically a “good” fruitcake anymore.
While a properly preserved fruitcake made with alcohol as a preservative can last a while, you probably won’t want it after a year and that’s in the freezer. The USDA recommends one month in the pantry and six months in the fridge and that’s it.
Of course people have found fruitcakes that were over 100 years old. Right now 143 years seems to be the oldest on record. But you can keep anything for 143 years, it doesn’t mean you should eat it.