How long will a food stay safe to eat and still have the same nutrient content it had when purchased? Storing food in the pantry usually means keeping it in cool, clean cabinets. Cabinets tend to be warmer above the range, near the dishwasher, or next to the refrigerator exhaust. These are good places to store dishes, pots, and pans, but these cabinets are too warm for keeping food safe and at top nutritional quality.
Here are some things to remember when it comes to storing foods in cans. The color, flavor, texture, and/or nutritive value may be adversely affected after a length of time. Don't keep canned goods longer than one year. Do not keep canned fruit juices for more than nine months. Canned goods should be kept at moderately cool, but not freezing, temperatures. Canned foods stored above 70 degrees F will have a shorter shelf life. Do not store canned goods above 95 degrees F, such as in a storage shed or garage. Sometimes in the winter, canned goods may freeze. Canned goods may be frozen and thawed once but it may result in a slight breakdown of texture. If cans are bulging, the food inside is spoiled and they should be thrown away. Cans with dents on the side seam or the rim seams mean the food was exposed to air, a good environment for harmful bacteria to grow. Do not buy or use cans that have leaks. Food in rusty cans should not be eaten since you cannot be sure the food is safe.
Below are some additional tips on how to properly store certain foods on the counters and in the cabinets:
- Store leftover French bread at room temperature either tightly wrapped in foil or in a zipper-lock bag with all of the air pressed out. Use within 2 days.
- Store flour and sugar in an airtight container that can easily accommodate a 5 pound bag with an opening wide enough for a measuring cup to be dipped, measured, and leveled.
- Whole wheat flour and cornmeal should be kept in a zipper-lock bag stored in the freezer to prevent the oil in the product from becoming rancid.
- While airtight containers are suitable for brown sugar storage, it will likely still harden after a few months. To soften brown sugar, place in a bowl with a slice of bread. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 10 to 20 seconds. The brown sugar will be soft enough to scoop and measure but will harden again once cooled.
- Granulated sugar, honey, and molasses can last indefinitely; but, maple syrup unopened has a shelf life of 2 years and only 1 year when opened. Store granulated sugar in an airtight container. Molasses, honey, and unopened maple syrup should be kept in the pantry. Once opened, keep maple syrup in the refrigerator.
- Do not throw out old vanilla; its alcohol content makes it shelf stable for several years. Make sure it is stored in a tightly sealed container away from light and heat.
- Chocolate should not be stored in the refrigerator or freezer where it is more likely to pick up other flavors. If chocolate is exposed to rapid changes in humidity or temperature, the surface may "bloom" or become discolored. Bloomed chocolate is safe to eat and cook with. To extend the life of chocolate, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in a cool dry place. Milk and white chocolate have shelf life of 6 months and dark and unsweetened chocolate have a shelf life of 2 years.
- Vinegars have a long-lasting shelf life; they may be kept in a cool, dark place almost indefinitely.
- Keep canola, corn, peanut, and vegetable oil in the pantry. Sesame and walnut oil go in the refrigerator. All of these oils may be stored for up to 6 months after opening.
- The shelf life of an unopened bottle of olive oil is one year but, once opened, will last three months. Keep olive oil in a dark pantry or cupboard, away from exposure to sunlight.
- After washing and drying fresh herbs, place on a clean paper towel and microwave on high for 30 to 40 seconds. Crumble the dried herbs and store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
- The shelf life of whole spices is 2 years and of ground spices/dried herbs is one year. Do not store spices on the counter close to the stove because heat and light will shorten their shelf life.
- If you can finish a bag of coffee beans in less than 10 to 12 days, store the coffee in an airtight container on the counter. Keep the coffee beans away from air and light. Freeze coffee beans you plan to keep longer than 12 days.
Pantry Food Storage Chart
Here is a chart with information on the appropriate length of storage in the pantry for various foods.
Recommended Storage Time at 70°F
|Baking powder||18 months||Keep dry and covered.|
|Baking soda||2 years||Keep dry and covered.|
|Bouillon cubes or granules||1 to 2 years||Keep dry and covered.|
|Bread crumbs (dried)||6 months||Keep dry and covered.|
|Bread, rolls||3 days|
|Bulgur||6 to 12 months|
|Ready-to-eat cereal (unopened)||6 to 12 months||Check date on package. Refold package liner tightly after opening.|
|Ready-to-eat cereal (opened)||2 to 3 months|
|Cooked cereal (before preparation)||6 months|
|Pre-melted chocolate||12 months||Keep cool.|
|Semi-sweet chocolate||18 months||Keep cool.|
|Unsweetened chocolate||18 months||Keep cool.|
|Chocolate syrup (unopened)||2 years|
|Chocolate syrup (opened)||6 months||Cover tightly, refrigerate after opening.|
|Cocoa mixes||8 months||Cover tightly.|
|Coffee (unopened)||2 years|
|Coffee (opened)||2 weeks|
|Instant coffee (unopened)||1 to 2 years||Refrigerate after opening. Keep tightly closed; use dry measuring spoon.|
|Instant coffee (opened)||2 months|
|Coffee lighteners (dry, unopened)||9 months|
|Coffee lighteners (dry, opened)||6 months||Keep lid tightly closed.|
|Cornmeal||12 months||Keep tightly closed. Can be frozen.|
|Cornstarch||18 months||Keep tightly closed.|
|White flour||6 to 8 months||Keep in airtight container. Can be frozen.|
|Whole wheat flour||6 to 8 months||Keep refrigerated. Store in airtight container.|
|Gelatin||18 months||Keep in original container.|
|Grits||12 months||Store in airtight container.|
|Honey||12 months||Cover tightly; if crystallizes, warm jar in pan of hot water.|
|Jellies, jams||12 months||Cover tightly. Storage life lengthened if refrigerated after opening.|
|Molasses (unopened)||1 to 2 years|
|Molasses (opened)||6 months||Keep tightly closed. Refrigerate to extend storage life; remove any light surface mold and use.|
|Marshmallow cream (unopened)||3 to 4 months||Cover tightly. Refrigerate after opening to extend storage life. Serve at room temperature.|
|Marshmallows||2 to 3 months||Keep in airtight container.|
|Mayonnaise (unopened)||2 to 3 months||Refrigerate after opening.|
|Condensed or evaporated milk (unopened)||12 months||Invert cans every two months.|
|Non-fat dry milk (unopened)||6 months||Put in airtight container.|
|Non-fat dry milk (opened)||3 months|
|Pasta||2 years||Once opened, store in airtight container.|
|Egg noodles||6 months|
|Pectin, liquid or dry||1 year|
|Pectin, liquid (opened)||1 month||Recap and refrigerate.|
|White rice||2 years||Keep tightly closed.|
|Brown, wild rice||6 to 12 months|
|Flavored or herb rice||6 months|
|Salad dressings, bottled (unopened)||10 to 12 months|
|Salad dressings, bottled (opened)||3 months||Refrigerate after opening.|
|Salad dressings, made from mix||2 weeks||Refrigerate prepared dressing.|
|Salad oils (unopened)||6 months|
|Salad oils (opened)||1 to 3 months||Refrigerate after opening.|
|Shortenings, solid||8 months||Refrigeration not needed.|
|Brown sugar||4 months||Put in airtight container.|
|Confectioners’ sugar||18 months||Put in airtight container.|
|Granulated sugar||2 years||Cover tightly.|
|Sweeteners sugar||2 years||Cover tightly.|
|Syrups||12 months||Keep tightly closed. Refrigerate to extend storage life; remove any light surface mold and use.|
|Tea bags||18 months||Put in airtight container.|
|Instant tea||3 years||Cover tightly.|
|Loose tea||2 years||Put in airtight container.|
|Vinegar (unopened)||2 years||Keep tightly closed. Slightly cloudy appearance doesn’t affect quality. Distilled vinegar keeps longer than cider vinegar.|
|Vinegar (opened)||12 months|
|Mixes and Packaged Foods|
|Biscuit, brownie, muffin mix||9 months||Keep cool and dry.|
|Cakes, purchased||1 to 2 days||If butter-cream, whipped cream, or custard frostings, fillings, refrigerate.|
|Cake mixes||9 months||Keep cool and dry.|
|Angel food||12 months|
|Casseroles, complete or add own meat||9 to 12 months||Keep cool and dry.|
|Homemade cookies||2 to 3 weeks||Put in airtight container.|
|Packaged cookies||2 months||Keep box tightly closed.|
|Crackers||3 months||Keep box tightly closed.|
|Canned frostings||3 months||Store leftovers in refrigerator.|
|Frostings from mix||8 months|
|Hot-roll mix||18 months||If opened, put in airtight container.|
|Pancake mix||6 to 9 months||Put in airtight container.|
|Pie crust mix||8 months||Keep cool and dry.|
|Pies and pastries||2 to 3 days||Refrigerate whipped cream, custard, and chiffon fillings.|
|Instant potatoes||6 to 12 months||Keep airtight package.|
|Puddings mixes||12 months||Keep cool and dry.|
|Rice mixes||6 months||Keep cool and dry.|
|Sauce and gravy mixes||6 to 12 months||Keep cool and dry.|
|Soup mixes||12 months||Keep cool and dry.|
|Toaster pastries||2 to 3 months||Keep in airtight packet.|
|Canned and Dried Foods|
|Canned foods (unopened)||12 months||Keep cool.|
|Canned fruit juices||9 months||Keep cool.|
|Canned baby foods (opened)||2 to 3 days||All opened canned foods—refrigerate and cover tightly; to avoid metallic taste, transfer foods in cans to glass or plastic storage containers.|
|Canned fish and seafood (opened)||2 days|
|Canned fruit (opened)||1 week|
|Canned meats (opened)||2 days|
|Canned pickles, olives (opened)||1 to 2 months|
|Canned poultry (opened)||2 days|
|Canned sauce, tomato (opened)||5 days|
|Canned vegetables (opened)||3 days|
|Fruits, dried||6 months||Keep cool, in airtight container; if possible refrigerate.|
|Vegetables, dried||1 year|
|Spices, Herbs, Condiments, and Extracts|
|Catsup, chili sauce (unopened)||12 months|
|Catsup, chili sauce (opened)||1 month||Refrigerate for longer storage.|
|Mustard, prepared yellow (unopened)||2 years|
|Mustard, prepared yellow (opened)||6 to 8 months||May be refrigerated. Stir before using.|
|Whole spices and herbs||1 to 2 years||Store in airtight containers in dry places away from sunlight and heat. At times listed, check aroma; if faded, replace. Whole cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon sticks maintain quality beyond 2 year period.|
|Ground spices and herbs||6 months|
|Herb and spice blends||6 months|
|Vanilla (unopened)||2 years||Keep tightly closed; volatile oils escape.|
|Vanilla (opened)||12 months|
|Other extracts (opened)||12 months||Keep tightly closed; volatile oils escape.|
|Vegetable, dehydrated flakes||6 months|
|Cheese, parmesan, grated (unopened)||10 months||Refrigerate after opening. Keep tightly closed.|
|Cheese, parmesan, grated (opened)||2 months|
|Coconut, shredded, canned, or packaged (unopened)||12 months|
|Coconut, shredded, canned, or packaged (opened)||6 months||Refrigerate after opening.|
|Meat substitutes—textured protein products (such as imitation bacon bits)||4 months||Keep tightly closed; for longer storage, refrigerate.|
|Metered-caloric products, instant breakfast||6 months||Keep in can, closed jars, or original packets.|
|Nuts, in-shell (unopened)||4 months||Refrigerate after opening. Freeze for longer storage.|
|Nutmeats packaged in vacuum can (unopened)||1 year||Unsalted and blanched nuts keep longer than salted.|
|Nutmeats packaged in other nut packaging (unopened)||3 months|
|Nutmeats (opened)||2 weeks|
|Peanut butter (unopened)||6 to 9 months||Refrigeration not needed.|
|Peanut butter (opened)||2 to 3 months||Keeps longer if refrigerated. Serve at room temperature.|
|Peas, beans—dried||12 months||Store in airtight container in cool place.|
|Popcorn||2 years||Store in airtight container.|
|Fresh onions||2 weeks||Keep dry and away from sun.|
|Fresh white potatoes||2 to 4 weeks||For longer storage, keep about 50 degrees F.|
|Fresh sweet potatoes||1 to 2 weeks||Do not refrigerate.|
|Dry whipped topping||12 months||Keep cool and dry.|
|Dry yeast||Expiration date on package|
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Kansas State University. 2009. "Cupboard Storage Chart." K-State Research and Extension. Manhattan, Kansas. PDF.
Kansas State University. 2009. "Freezer Storage Chart." K-State Research and Extension. Manhattan, Kansas.
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