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Shelf Life of Pantry and Kitchen Staples

Someone recently asked on our blog how long cooking oil will last in the pantry. In researching that I came across this website: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22593162/

Thought I'd bring the info over here to help out our readers:

Flour
Humidity is the biggest enemy for flour, so don’t store flour in the paper bags used by manufacturers. Besides exposing flour to moisture, these bags are messy. When you get home, transfer flour to an airtight container. Make sure to use a container that’s wide enough to dip a dry measure into. The natural oils in whole-wheat flour and cornmeal go rancid after just a few months. If you go through whole-grain flours slowly, slip packages into large zipper-lock bags and store them in the freezer.

Sweeteners
Granulated sugar will keep indefinitely if stored in an airtight container, like flour. Other sweeteners require gentler handling.

Brown sugar becomes rock-hard after a few months. An airtight container slows down moisture loss, but once brown sugar gets hard you will need to use this trick to revive it. Place the hardened brown sugar in a bowl, add a slice of sandwich bread, cover the bowl, and microwave for 10 to 20 seconds.

Honey and molasses will last indefinitely. Keep honey out of the fridge, where it will crystallize. The biggest issue over time with these sweeteners is that the lids become stuck in place. Try this trick: Dip a paper towel in vegetable oil and wipe the threads of the jar with the oil. This bare film of oil keeps the lid from sticking.

Maple syrup contains more moisture than honey or molasses and is susceptible to mold and bacteria. Once opened, keep maple syrup in the fridge for up to one year. Unopened bottles are fine in the pantry for a few years.

Chocolate
Never put chocolate in fridge or freezer — if you do, a white film (called bloom) will develop on the exterior. Wrap opened bars of chocolate tightly in plastic and store in a cool pantry. Milk and white chocolates will keep for up to six months, whereas semisweet, bittersweet, and unsweetened chocolate are fine for one year.

Oils
Light is the big enemy here, as is heat. So keeping oil in a clear bottle next to the stove is a big no-no. Even when stored in a cool pantry, flavorful oils (like olive and toasted sesame) will become rancid after several months. We suggest keeping toasted sesame oil in the fridge —even if you do a lot of Asian cooking, it will go rancid in the pantry before you finish a small bottle. Olive oil becomes cloudy in the fridge, so it’s best kept in the pantry.

Don’t buy more olive oil than you can use in a few months. And read labels for harvest or expiration dates. Olive oil is best used within one year of harvest date.

Neutral-tasting oils, such as canola and vegetable, are more forgiving, but don’t keep them for longer than one year. If in doubt, heat a little oil in a skillet. If the oil has an off smell, throw out the bottle. Also, over-the-hill oils become viscous with time and sticky under the cap. If you’re having trouble loosening the cap on a bottle of oil, the oil should be thrown out.

Spices and dried herbs
Whole spices will last about twice as long as ground spices. The flavor of ground spices will go downhill after a year, as with the flavor of dried herbs. In the test kitchen, we write the purchase date on stick-on dots to track age of spices and herbs. To maximize the flavor from any dried herb, push the herb through a mesh sieve (or crush herb between your fingers) to release flavorful oils.

Eggs
Do not store eggs in the egg tray that comes with your refrigerator. The paper carton protects eggs from picking up odors. Also, the egg tray is located on the door in most refrigerators and the temperature there is warmer than in the main part of the fridge. Place the carton of eggs on a shelf in the refrigerator. Keeping eggs in their carton also lets you track their expiration or sell-by date.

Butter
When stored in the refrigerator, butter (even when wrapped) can pick up odors and turn rancid within a few weeks. Keep butter in the freezer and transfer it — one stick at a time — to the fridge.

Coffee
Ground coffee belongs in the freezer. Even in an airtight container, coffee stored on the counter becomes harsh and bitter after a few weeks. If you have an extra 10 minutes, measure frozen ground coffee into the filter and let it warm to room temperature. It will make better-tasting coffee than super-cold grounds.

Nuts
Keep all nuts in the freezer, where they will stay fresh for at least six months. Even in a cool pantry, opened bags will go rancid very quickly.

Leaveners
Yeast, baking soda and baking powder will lose their punch over time. Store yeast in the refrigerator or freezer and follow printed expiration dates. Baking powder and baking soda begin to lose effectiveness after six months. Keep them in a cool pantry and, unless you want flat biscuits and cakes, replace them often. Write the date you open baking powder and baking soda on packages.

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NOTE: I strongly believe that most of the above information and lots of what's found on the internet and in books is conservative estimates of time. We don't want to get sued either from people getting sick from using expired items, so we're not going to say much more. Just that you need to use your judgement. If leaveners stop working, replace them. Figure out alternatives. Same with the rest.

The oil situation - that's a main reason that we'll be having goats and/or cows on our mini-farm/homestead. Fresh butter!!!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

As I am very new to this and have had a hard time wrapping my brain over freeze-dried and dehydrated foods. I understand I need to add water to "revive" them. If I buy a #10 can of Freeze-dried ground beef (servings 24 1/2 cups) how long will the food be good? Right now we are two people but we could quickly become 8. But I don't want to have to eat ground beef every meal. All information about freeze-dried or dehydrated food would be appreciated.

NVG-WmsFam said...

I'll work up a posting for probably this weekend or so. Keep an eye-out, okay? Welcome aboard! Vikki