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16 Pantry Items You’re Probably Keeping for Too Long

Out with the old! In with the new!

close up of glass jars on a Shelf in a Kitchen Pantrycemagraphics/Getty Images

Should you toss these pantry items?

It’s likely that many of the items you store in your pantry have a surprising expiration date months (or even years) from now. But just because a product hasn’t expired yet doesn’t mean that it’s in its ideal state for consumption. While you already know which foods you shouldn’t eat past the expiration date, like milk and cheese, it wouldn’t be surprising if you didn’t give a second thought about the food in your pantry. It may be worthwhile to double check the items you have had sitting in your pantry forever. And make sure you think about removing these foods that shouldn’t go in your pantry in the first place.
Quinoa Real on a wooden spoonMikeele/Shutterstock

Quinoa

The shelf life of whole grains like quinoa and farro is largely dependent on their fat content. Heat, air, and moisture are the top three enemies of whole grains because the elements can negatively affect their healthy oils, which in turn can cause your grains to go rancid sitting in your pantry. “Grains should always look and smell faintly sweet or have no aroma at all,” states the Whole Grains Council. “If you detect a musty or oily scent, the grains have passed their peak.” Check out these storage containers to keep your pantry organized and food fresh.

Close up turmeric powder texture,Jiffy Avril/Shutterstock

Turmeric

Your favorite ground spices like turmeric, paprika, and nutmeg generally lose their potency after about two to three years. Eating old spices isn’t harmful to your health, but they won’t add any flavor to your recipes anymore. Do a quick sniff and taste test to determine if your spice is still fresh. Do you know how to remove turmeric stains?

Background of Starch flour powder texturePawarun Chitchirachan/Shutterstock

Baking powder

The same rules for ground spices apply to baking ingredients as well. Bags of baking powder and baking soda will lose their leavening power over time, which means a sad, flat cake for you. You can test their leavening power with this easy science experiment in your kitchen: Mix baking soda with vinegar and baking powder with hot water. If they foam up and bubble, it means the ingredients are still fresh enough for baking.

Healthy Honey Graham Crackers on a PlateBrent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Graham crackers

You should always place an opened bag of graham crackers in an airtight container to prevent moisture from seeping in because no one likes to make s’mores with stale graham crackers. However, an unopened batch of graham crackers can still get stale in the bag they come in. According to foodsafety.gov, graham crackers will typically stay fresh in your pantry for up to nine months.

different nuts in a heapStudio Mars/Shutterstock

Nuts and seeds

You’ll want to eat un-shelled nuts like almonds and peanuts within a matter of a few weeks to a few months. “Nuts and seeds typically have a high amount of oil in them and that oil will start to go rancid after a couple of months in your pantry,” Tryg Siverson, chef and co-founder of Feel Good Foods, told INSIDER. Signs of rancidity on a nut or seed include a grassy or paint-like odor and dark or oily appearance. For optimal freshness and longevity, place the nuts and seeds in a clear freezer bag and pop them in your fridge for up to a year. Here’s why watermelon seeds are just one of the many food parts you should stop throwing in the garbage.

Toasted oats breakfast cereal up close, for a background image.James E. Knopf/Shutterstock

Cereal

After three months, an opened box of cereal will go stale from air exposure, but a sealed box should last up to a year. Then again, the shelf life can vary, especially if a cereal contains nuts, which are more prone to rancidity. “That said, if you eat cereal with rancid nuts or oils, you’re at very little risk,” Jennifer Kaplan, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, told TODAY Food. “The most common side effect will be an unpleasant taste.”

Toffee candy brown background. Caramel cubes close upDimaSid/Shutterstock

Candy

“If there are safety issues with candy, it’s usually a quality issue, not an issue of expiration date,” Fadi Aramouni, PhD, member of the Food Science Institute, told bestfoodfacts.org. “Generally, it is very difficult for candy to spoil, due to its low moisture content, but it depends on the candy.” Consult the National Confectioner Association for candy shelf-life guidelines. Much like candy, these are the 11 foods that will never expire.

close up of beer with foamMerydolla/Shutterstock

Beer

Storing beer at room temperature isn’t necessarily bad for your beer, but it can spoil it faster. After around four months, heat, light, and air can seep through the bottle caps.  “Non-refrigerated storage accelerates aging and development of off flavors,” Cicerone Certification Program, an education service for beer experts, said in a statement to craftbeer.com. “Refrigerated storage is best for all beers at all times.”

Close-up, a bunch of tea bags lie chaotically.Evgeny Savchenko/Shutterstock

Tea

Your tea bags should be consumed within a year because the oils in the tea will go old and give your morning cup of tea a bad flavor. The same goes for your coffee beans and grounds. According to Isabel Maples, MEd, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist, you’re best off consuming beans and grounds within two to four weeks. Instant coffee lovers have a bit more time: about two months. Find out the kitchen items you need to finally throw out.

Brown, raw sugar backgroundandersphoto/Shutterstock

Brown sugar

An opened bag of brown sugar tends to dry up and harden from exposure to the air after four months in your pantry. Slip the brown sugar into a resealable plastic bag or airtight container to keep it soft and make it last longer.

Different kinds of vegetables such as corn, peas and tomatoes in cansMarkus Mainka/Shutterstock

Canned vegetables

You may think that canned veggies can last a lifetime, but the longer they sit on your shelf, the more likely the can’s texture can break down and give your vegetables a metallic, tinny taste. For example, canned goods with a high acid content like pickles can last for 12 to 18 months, but canned vegetables with a low acid content like corn can last up to five years. But FoodSafety.gov states that canned items are typically safe to eat well past their “use-by” or “best-by” dates as long as they have no dents, rust, or bulging. “Use a first-in, first-out rotation to use up older pantry items first,” Maples told INSIDER.

Golden bubbles abstract light illumination.Phitpibul2014/Shutterstock

Olive oil

Light and heat are not olive oil’s friends. You shouldn’t get sick from an old bottle of olive oil, but an opened bottle of the stuff can taste a bit off after six months. If you don’t use olive oil often, only buy a small bottle so you can use it before the flavor spoils.

the wholemeal flour in wooden spoonJiri Hera/Shutterstock

Whole grain flour

Most people store their flour in the pantry, but you should actually store it in the refrigerator or freezer to keep it fresh longer. And does flour ever expire? Whole grain flour lasts up to eight months in the fridge and up to a year in the freezer. “Whole grain flours turn rancid before white flour does,” Maples said. “It doesn’t affect food safety but does affect food quality and taste.” Here are 11 frozen foods you’re probably storing wrong.

Charlotte potatoes background which are a popular early variety potatoTony Baggett/Shutterstock

Potatoes

The spuds typically last up to two weeks in the refrigerator and two months in the pantry. You’ll know their time is up when they start growing sprouts and developing soft black spots on the skin.

Brown rice background texturephloen/Shutterstock

Brown rice

Although brown rice is a slightly healthier alternative to white rice, it doesn’t last nearly as long on your pantry shelf. “With brown rice, there is oil in its bran layer,” Siverson told INSIDER. “When that oil goes rancid, it gives brown rice a shorter shelf life of about six months. You can store it in the freezer for up to a year.”

White garlic pile texture. Fresh garlic on market table closeup photo. Vitamin healthy food spice image. Spicy cooking ingredient picture. Pile of white garlic heads. White garlic head heap top viewDavdeka/Shutterstock

Garlic

The popular seasoning is best stored in a dark, cool pantry at a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit for three to five months in mesh bags. “When stored for too long, the garlic cloves may shrivel or begin to sprout,” according to University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Neither is harmful, but both are an indication that the garlic is no longer at its peak quality.” Now that you know which pantry items need to be retired, take a look at these pantry organization ideas for smarter storage.

Sources

Ashley Lewis
Ashley is an Assistant Editor at Reader’s Digest. She received her Master’s Degree from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in 2015. Before joining Reader’s Digest, she was a Jason Sheftell Fellow at the New York Daily News and interned at Seventeen and FOX News. When Ashley is not diligently fact-checking the magazine or writing for rd.com, she enjoys cooking (butternut squash pizza is her signature dish), binge-watching teen rom-coms on Netflix that she’s way too old for, and hiking (and falling down) mountains.