By Sheridan Wimmer on January 31, 2019
Make time this spring to check your spices, nuts, seeds, oil, flours and more
After keeping the windows shut tight all winter, spring is the perfect time to fling open those windows, organize things you meant to get to last year and deep-clean the nooks and crannies. While you’re already working on making your house less cluttered and more intentional, include your kitchen.
“This is the perfect time to empty the cupboards and give everything a thorough look,” Karen Hanson, dietitian for the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, says. “Be sure to take inventory of what you have, what you’re low on and what you need to restock. Help your future self by having regularly used items on hand for food prep.”
How Long Do Pantry Staples Keep?
When you’re trying to determine what needs to be tossed and what you can keep, consider the shelf life of different items in your kitchen.
“Spices typically have long shelf lives, but they lose their kick over time, especially ground ones,” Hanson says. “A good idea is to write the purchase date on your spice jars when you buy them so you’ll always know which are freshest and which to use first.”
- Whole spices and herbs: 1-2 years
- Whole seeds: 3 years
- Ground spices and herbs: 1 year
- Ground roots (e.g., ginger): 1-2 years
NUTS, SEEDS AND OILS
Nuts, seeds and oils can turn rancid with fluctuating temperatures and humid conditions.
“Keep your pantry cool and dark,” Hanson suggests. “This will help extend their life. Off-flavor or bittertasting 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 or by date on can
- 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
FLOURS AND WHOLE GRAINS
Flours and whole grains need to be stored in airtight containers to avoid absorbing moisture and odors.
“Storing flour and whole grains 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,” Hanson says.
- 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 ITEMS
Shelf lives for these products can be long but it’s 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
- Jams and jellies: 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)
Don’t Forget the Fridge
We all keep items in the fridge assuming they’re fine since they’re refrigerated. But be sure to keep a few things in mind as far as placement of items in the fridge.
“Keep eggs, milk and yogurt in the main compartment of the refrigerator for optimal freshness,” Hanson says. “The door is the least cold part of the fridge and is best for condiments, pickles, salad dressings and other foods with a high acid content to resist bacterial growth.”
The coldest shelf is the middle of the fridge and is best for highly perishable foods like fish, deli meats, eggs and dairy items.
Raw, defrosting meats should be kept on the bottom shelf in a container with sides to contain leakage that may contaminate other foods if dripping occurs.
“The middle and lower shelves are great for leftovers,” Hanson says. “Just make sure they’re wrapped well and date the leftovers.”
The bottom drawers are best for fruits and vegetables so they maintain crispiness in the high humidity drawers.
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends the following for food storage in the fridge or freezer:
IN THE FRIDGE
- Fresh meats: 1-2 days
- Lunch meats: 3-5 days
- Hot dogs: 1 week opened
- Salads: 3-5 days
- Chicken, fish: 1-2 days
- Hard cheese: 3-4 weeks
- Milk: 5 days
- Yogurt/sour cream: 7-10 days
- Leftovers: 3-4 days
IN THE FREEZER
- Beef: 3-4 months
- Soups/stews: 2-3 months
- Chicken: 9-12 months
- Cheese: 6-9 months