Time for a little spring cleaning of the kitchen pantry. What to keep, what to throw, and how long do those shelf stable items really last?
Outside my window I can see the water drip, dripping from glistening icicles off the roof. Spring is coming, and winter is moving silently through the backdoor like an uninvited guest, slinking into the shadows. Soon the snow will melt, revealing a brown lawn and gardens full of sad, brown plants and empty dirt, but as spring emerges, small bits of green will start to poke out, starting over anew for another growing season.
Changing seasons always captivate me, watching life turn and run its course, popping up from the once frozen ground. While my backyard is getting a makeover and starting over, it’s the perfect time to shake out the rugs that have a winter of collected dust and dirt, sweep out the corners, and open the windows to let a bit of fresh air in.
I find it helpful to empty the cupboards in the kitchen and give them a good shake out periodically. Sometimes I find hidden treasures in the back, candied ginger I had forgotten after tucking it away during the chaos of holiday baking or bags of hazelnuts, only partially used. Taking inventory and rotating helps me waste less food and serves as a good reminder for when I’m planning meals and snacks each week.
How Long Do Pantry Staples Keep?
Spices have pretty long shelf lives, but buying a pound of cinnamon if you only use it sporadically isn’t doing you any favors on saving a penny. They lose their kick over time, especially ground ones. Clean out the cupboard and then start anew, storing spices in a cool, dark place in airtight containers.
- Whole Spices and Herbs: 1-2 years
- Whole Seeds and Roots: 3 years
- Ground Spices and Herbs: 1 year
- Ground Roots: (e.g. ginger) 1-2 years
Nuts, Seeds, and Oils
Nuts, seeds, and oils are particularly susceptible to turning rancid with fluctuating temperatures and humid conditions. Be sure your pantry is cool and dark to help extend their life. Bitter tasting nuts and oils should be thrown out.
- Oils: up to 18 months unopened, 1-6 months opened in cool, dark conditions
- Dried Beans: 1-2 years unopened
- Canned Beans: 2-3 years
- Raw Nuts (without shell): 4 months
- Raw Nuts (with shell): 6 months
- Peanut and Nut Butter: 6-9 months unopened, 2-3 months opened (shelf stable varieties)
- Raw Seeds (without shell): 2-3 months
- Roasted Seeds (without shell): 3-4 months
- Roasted Seeds (with shell): 4-5 months
Flours and Whole Grains
Flours and whole grains need to be stored in airtight containers to avoid absorbing moisture and odors. Storing in the refrigerator can extend shelf life, which can be useful for whole grains that have a shorter shelf life due to the oils found in their bran and germ. These are estimates and not a complete list and information on shelf life in the refrigerator.
- Barley (pearled):12 months
- Brown Rice: 6 months
- White Rice: 2-4 years
- Wild Rice: 2- years
- All-Purpose Flour: 8 months
- Bread Flour: 3-6 months
- Brown Rice Flour: Store in the refrigerator due to the high oil content.
- Corn Flour: 1 year
- Flaxseed: 2-3 months
- Spelt Flour:4-5 months
- White Rice Flour: indefinitely when properly stored
- Whole Wheat Flour: 2-3 months in a cool place, 6 months in the refrigerator
Sauces, Condiments, and Other Pantry
Shelf lives for these products can be long, yes, but it’s always a good idea to check the expiration date on condiments and sauces or canned goods.
- Baking Soda: 18-24 months
- Baking Powder: 6 months
- Dried Bread Crumbs: 6 months
- Buttermilk Powder: 2 years
- Oatmeal, Grits, and Hot Cereals: 1 year
- Chocolate: 6-12 months unopened and stored in a cool, dry place
- Corn Meal: 6-12 months
- Corn Starch: 18 months
- Dried Fruits: 6-12 months
- Jam and Jelly: 1 year unopened
- Ketchup: 1 year unopened
- Sweetened Condensed Milk: 2-3 years
- Evaporated Milk: 1-2 years
- Molasses: 1-2 years
- Mustard: 2 years unopened
- Olives: 1 year unopened
- Pasta (dried): 2 years
- Sauces: 1 year
- Sugar (Brown): 6-12 months
- Sugar (Confectioners’): 2-3 years
- Sugar (Granulated):2-3 years
- Vanilla and Other Extracts: 2 years unopened, 1 year opened
- Vinegar: 2 years unopened, 1 year opened
- Yeast (packets): 2 years (check expiration date)
Home-Canned Fruits and Vegetables
Home canning is a wonderful way to preserve the harvest from local farmers and your own gardens. Store glass jars in cool, dark places that are free from large temperature fluctuations. Home canning generally has a recommended shelf life of 1-2 years before they need to be consumed. Always check the seal when opening and discard any broken seals. Discard any jars with leaks or that have an “off” odor to them.
As always, you can check out what others are writing about transitioning their kitchens from winter to spring in the Eat Well, Spend Less series: