Home Food Safety How Long Should Pantry Items Stay in Your Pantry?

How Long Should Pantry Items Stay in Your Pantry?


By: Keeba Smith

When was the last time you checked the shelf life of the items in your pantry?  Everyone wants to have a well-stocked pantry because that means any item you may need will be within arms’ reach.  However, having a well-stocked pantry could mean some of the ingredients in your pantry may have been there for a while, perhaps even too long.

You may have purchased all those canned goods from the grocery store because they were on sale.  You might have thought it was a good idea to buy certain items in bulk because it would save you money.  But have you ever stopped to wonder, how long will these items actually last? The answer to this questions may be more surprising than you think.

Here are a few pantry items in most pantries that have REAL expiration dates:

Dried Pasta: Up to 2 years

Everyone loves a good pasta meal.  Most people believe that, if stored properly, dried pasta can last indefinitely.  That is not true.  According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for the best quality, it recommends keeping pasta no more than 2 years. It should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, as it is affected by extreme temperatures and humidity.  Throw it out if it is expired, appears blotchy, or discolored. This is for any type of pasta, including grain, rice, or mixture varieties.

Whole-Grain Rice: 6 months

Whole-grain (brown, red, or black) rice deteriorates faster than white rice because of the oils in its natural bran layer. Whole-grain rice should be stored in an airtight container with a shelf life of 6 months. To make it last longer, try storing it in the refrigerator or freezer.

White Rice:  Indefinitely

White rice is sometimes called milled rice.  Milled rice can be white, parboiled, or pre-cooked.  White rice does not have the essential fatty acids that whole-grain rice has because the outer shell has been removed along with those fats.  This is why white rice is not nearly as good for you as whole-grain rice, but it will store longer.  Store it in a cool, dry place in a closed container to keep out dust, bugs, moisture, and other contaminants.

White Flour:  6 to 9 months

If store correctly in an airtight container or dry, cool area, white flour can keep for 6 to 9 months.  If moisture gets into the flour, it may become clumpy and attract Psocids, which are tiny brown and black insects called that live in dry food.  If stored in the freezer, it can keep for 6-12 months. Other types of flours may have different storage needs or deadlines. It is a good idea to check the item’s label too, as companies often place expiration dates on the actual packaging.

Canned Goods:  Up to 2 years

Two years is the average rule of thumb for the shelf life of canned goods.  Anything older than that, it is recommended to be tossed out.  While canned goods, such as tomato sauce usually keep for 12 to 18 months because they have a high acidity, low-acid foods like canned green beans may keep for up to 5 years.  Never store canned goods in area of extreme temperatures, above or beside the stove, under the sink or in a damp garage or basement.

Spices:  6 to 12 months

The shelf life of spices is more about quality than safety.  Older spices will not harm you, but the potency and quality drastically reduces after one year.  Whole spices last longer than ground spices.  While spices are still safe to eat for up to 4 years, for quality assurance, it is recommended they are changed each year.  To protect from moisture, never pour spices directly into a steaming pot, and make sure the spoons are dry before dipping into the spice bottles.

Forever Shelf Life Items

  • Sugar- If stored properly, refined white sugar and sugar substitutes have an indefinite shelf life. While it does not go completely bad, the texture will change over time. A little white rice added to the container can help reduce moisture. It is also a good idea to store sugar in airtight containers, to keep pests out.
  • Vinegar- Its acid nature makes vinegar self-preserving. It does not require refrigeration and will remain unchanged over an extended period of time.
  • Salt- From the basic table variety to fancier versions like kosher and sea, salt is a flavor enhancer that never spoils or goes stale.
  • Baking Soda- Baking soda, as known as sodium bicarbonate, has an infinite shelf life, but after you’ve had it for a few years you should test to make sure it hasn’t lost all its potency.
  • Cornstarch- A must-have for thickening sauces, gravies, and puddings, cornstarch will keep indefinitely if it’s kept dry and free from contaminants.

Unsure about the date on the product

The “Best By” date is the date the manufacturer recommends the product is used by.  It is not an expiration date.  It is the last date by which a product’s flavor and/or quality is best.

The “Use by” date is the final day that the product will be at its best.  The flavor, freshness, and texture will deteriorate.  While the taste and texture are not at their peak, it may still be edible.

The “Sell-By” date is a guide for stores to know how long they can display a particular product.  You can still purchase and store a product after this date as long as it is stored properly and is within its shelf life.

The “Expiration” date is only found on infant formula and some baby food.  DO NOT use this product after the date has passed.

Keep it or Toss it

Most dates on foods refer to quality, not safety.  If stored properly, most shelf-stable foods have an indefinite shelf life.  As long as canned goods are free from rust, dents, or swelling, they can last for years.  However, if you have any question or doubt about a product or its safety, please toss it out.





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