18 Pantry Foods That Keep Longer Than You Think

by Brittany Lyte on 25 August 2014 3 comments

There's a big difference between the "use-by" and "sell-by" dates on a bottle of ketchup.

Americans in particular are notorious for throwing out perfectly good eats, a habit that has recently given life to a grocery store of expired foods, that are still safe to eat. And while it's pretty easy to detect fresh milk from sour milk, it can be tricky to discern the difference when it comes to condiments and other dry goods. (See also: You're Wasting One-Third of the Food You Buy)

Tricky, but not rocket science. So we've figured it out for you. (We recommend printing this comprehensive guide to freshness and keeping it in the pantry, right next to the Worcestershire sauce.)

Coffee Beans

When it comes to coffee beans, air is the enemy of flavor and freshness. So you'll want to store your beans in an air-tight container. Even so, coffee beans are best within the first one to two weeks after purchase. They won't ever go bad, but they will slowly grow stale and lose their boldness.

Honey

Like coffee beans, honey never spoils. But it loses its perfectly goupy consistency when it's not stored at room temperature.

Honey stored at cooler temperatures will sometimes crystallize, a natural chemical process that is no cause for alarm. In fact, crystallized honey tastes just as delicious. But if you want to revert it back to goupy goodness, simply run the container under warm water or relocate it to a warmer part of the house.

Maple Syrup

A sealed canister of maple syrup will last up to two years in the pantry before discoloration begins to take hold. Even still, syrup can last on the shelf this way for up to four years without much flavor adulteration. Once unsealed, maple syrup will stay fresh for several months in the refrigerator.

Syrup bottled in glass stays fresher longer than syrup kept in plastic containers. So if you make pancakes once in a blue moon, it's probably better to buy syrup that's packaged in glass.

Pasta

When stored at room temperature in an air-tight container, dry pasta can retain freshness for eight to 10 years. Pasta stored at warmer temperatures or in containers that are not air-tight will last up to two years. After that, you'll be stuck with stale-tasting fettuccine alfredo.

Nuts

Nuts are chock-full of oil, which causes them to go rancid after four to 12 months on the shelf. Hazelnuts and pistachios fall on the lower end of that spectrum while almonds and brazil nuts land on the higher end. Falling somewhere in the middle, around four to seven months, are cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, and walnuts.

The only exceptions are pine nuts, which have a shelf life of about two months, and pistachios, which stay fresh for about three months.

Peanut Butter

A sealed jar of peanut butter has a shelf life of two years. But once the seal is broken, it'll only last about three to six months — depending on the brand. All-natural spreads tend to last longer, while processed spreads like Jif and Peter Pan perish more quickly.

Bread Crumbs

A sealed package of dried bread crumbs will last two years in the refrigerator or up to six months when stored in a cool, dry place.

Flour

Flour can last up to five years when stored at room temperature in an air-tight container. But opened flour packages only have a shelf life of about a year.

Ditto that for all other food products made of cracked or ground seed, such as all cornmeal, cracked wheat, germade, and gluten. Same rules also apply to refried beans and wheat flakes.

Sugar

Sugar will last indefinitely when kept sealed away from moisture.

Salt

Salt will never perish so long as it is stored in a dry place.

Spices

Whole spices have a shelf life of two years. Dried or ground spices stay fresh half that time. All spices should be stored in a cool place away from direct sunlight. That means don't store your spices near the stovetop or toaster oven. (See also: How to Store Herbs to Make Them Last Longer and Taste Better)

Oils

Canola, corn, peanut, and vegetable oil should be stored in the pantry, while sesame and walnut oil should be refrigerated. All of these oils will stay fresh up to six months after opening.

Ketchup

An unopened bottle of ketchup has a shelf life of about 15 months. Once that seal is popped, its life shortens to about six months when stored in the refrigerator. Same rules apply to barbecue sauce.

Mayonnaise

An unopened jar of mayo will stay fresh on the pantry shelf for two to three months. It will last another two to three months if it's refrigerated after opening.

Mustard

An unopened container of mustard has a shelf life of two years. Once that seal is popped, mustard will last six to eight more months when refrigerated.

Rice

White rice has a shelf life of eight to 10 years. Brown rice, on the other hand, is full of oils that go rancid as they oxidize, which is why it has a shelf life of only six months — though it can last up to two years when stored in an air-tight container.

Beans

Beans of all types have a shelf life of eight to 10 years when stored at room temperature.

Dehydrated Fruit

Dried fruit such as raisins will stay tasty and fresh for up to five years when stored in a cool dry place. It's also best to keep them out of direct light, which speeds up the perishing process.

How often do you check your pantry items for freshness?

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Guest's picture
Rebekah

Have you ever tried to boil beans which are older than 1 year? Even if you soak them beforehand, it will take you at least 4 hours if not more. Unless in an emergency, I wouldn't rely on eating food that is that old. The taste will not be the same and the nutrients are going to be minimal anyway.

Guest's picture
Nixifer

Idk about the beans, I tried boiling some that were about a year old and they were so powdery in the bag. Then they were...weird.
I use what I get within a month of purchasing them. I wish they lasted a while though, I feel like they would be a great stock-up food for emergencies.

Guest's picture
Guest

We've had a can of Crisco since the 80s. It still looks like Crisco anyway.