Regular readers of Consumerist likely know there’s a big difference between the “use-by” date and the “sell-by” date on food labels. But while most people take note of this information on highly perishable items like meat, eggs, and dairy, we often ignore those dry goods stashed in our pantries. And these unrefrigerated items are often allowed to sit around until we go to use them and realize, “Oh no… that went bad back when Bush — the first one — was president.”
Rather than wait for that discovery when you’re in the middle of a recipe, take a few minutes to check your shelves.
We’ve covered some of this ground in our recent Spoilage Wars series, but one never stops learning tips on how to properly store all the food we eat.
Without further ado, here’s how to not suck at cleaning out your pantry.
Unopened bread crumbs can last for two years in the fridge, or up to six months in a cool and dry place. Make sure to keep ’em in an airtight container after opening.
These will be the freshest if used in two weeks, but they won’t be “bad” after that. Keep them in a dark, cool place, or freeze the beans for up to a month.
Pasta can last for a year in an airtight container.
If you store all-purpose flour in an airtight container and in a cool and dry location, it should last for 10 to 15 months.
Whole wheat flour can last for two months if refrigerated and in your freezer for six months.
Honey can last longer than most other items if kept at room temperature. As it gets older, the honey may crystalize, but it’s not spoiled. Soak the honey bottle in warm water and the contents will look like liquid honey again.
As we noted in one of the Spoilage Wars stories, there’s a caveat to buying honey in large containers: If the whole jug o’ sweet stuff crystalizes, you’re going to have to fill up a stock pot’s worth of hot water to return the to honey to its liquid form.
That depends on the condiment and whether or not it has been opened. This comprehensive list from StillTasty.com will give you info on just about everything you could want, but here are a few:
• Ketchup: Unopened, it should stay okay in your pantry for about a year. Once it’s opened, it’ll go six months in the fridge. The same figures go for BBQ Sauce, since most commercial sauces are heavily ketchup-based.
• Mustard: That unopened jar of mustard in your pantry can last about two years. An opened container of mustard could hold in the pantry for a month or two, but you’ll do better in the fridge, where it should still taste fine for about a year.
This can last for a year in the fridge, and pretty much forever if you freeze it. The experts say syrup in glass bottles helps to prevent mold, so watch out for interesting science-experiment-type growths if you have the plastic type.
It depends on the kind of nut and how you store it. They’ll last longer in the refrigerator or the freezer.
Corn, canola and olive oil can stay in the pantry, sealed tight and away from heat, but more delicate and fancy oils — truffle oil, walnut oil, etc. — should be kept in the refrigerator to preserve the flavor. Depending on the oil, it can last for several years.
This just needs to pass a simple smell test. If it’s unopened, you’re good to go doe six months, but it will start to degrade once it’s exposed to air or heat. Read the bottle to see if refrigeration is recommended.
White rice in an airtight container can last practically forever. Just don’t store it in a container where bugs can get it.
Brown rice doesn’t last as long because of oils that can get nasty over time. Expect a shelf life of six months, or a year if frozen.
An unopened jar is good for a year — but really, who waits that long to eat salsa?
After you open the jar, you can refrigerate it for two weeks. And to avoid unwanted growths, spoon out your salsa rather into a bowl instead of dipping your chips — and fingers and god knows what else — into the jar.
Expiration dates on soda are something that never seemed to make sense, but beverages — adult and otherwise — can lose something over time.
Keep it in a cool dark place, but once it’s opened, stick it in the fridge.
You can keep this for several years, but the color may darken and the taste may change after a year.
To test if your spices are still virile, use your nose. If the smell is dull or not at all vibrant, it’s time for a new bottle.
To prolong the life of dried spices, keep them at room temperature and away from the oven or other sources of heat. That means you shouldn’t store them in the cabinet above your stove or even in a spice rack next to your stove.
Granulated sugar stays good pretty much forever if you keep it in an airtight container, but brown sugar is a different story.
It will harden when it dries out and is exposed to air for prolonged periods, so zip it up in a plastic bag and freeze it. When you defrost it, it will be soft again. Brown sugar is usually good for six months.
If you have an unopened container, it can last forever. The clock ticks down six months for opened packages.
Twelve years. Really, that’s what they say. Twelve years.
The flavor is actually supposed to get better with age. Keep it in a dark and cool place.
You can learn more about the shelf life of food here but keep in mind the authors of that site are less concerned with keeping your pantry in order and think more about preparing for a catastrophe like a zombie apocalypse or some other emergency that requires survival skills.
Have a topic you’d like to see covered in How To Not Suck? Or maybe you’re an expert who would like to share your insight with Consumerist readers? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read Karin Price Mueller’s stories for The Star-Ledger at NJ.com, follow her on Facebook, and on Twitter @kpmueller.
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