Cooking 101: Shelf Life for Pantry Items

Cooking Tips 101: Shelf Life for Pantry Items by Lacey Baier, a sweet pea chef

For our first lesson, I’d like to talk about the pantry.  Ahhh, the pantry..the place where it all starts…or possibly ends before it even gets started.  Keeping a well-stocked, up-to-date pantry is near and dear to my heart because I feel it is the foundation of what makes food good.

Cooking Tips 101- Shelf Life

Take a good look at your pantry.  Is it organized, or is it a battle to simply locate the ground nutmeg?  Are pantry items packed and stored well in air-tight containers, or are they sitting, half-opened on the floor?  Are the wet ingredients stored away from the dry ingredients?  Are there multiple jars of dried basil that may very well be from the 1970’s?  Is there or isn’t there an unsightly layer of caked dust?  Are ingredients labeled clearly, or do you have to really ask yourself if the cumin is actually the cinnamon?  Are there random ingredients in there you have absolutely no plan to ever use whatsoever?  These are all good questions to ask yourself in order to get an honest appraisal of your pantry.  It’s ok…this is gonna be a process.

Cooking Tips 101: Shelf Life for Pantry Items by Lacey Baier, a sweet pea chef

I’d like to give you a list of common pantry items and their expiration dates.  Now, we all know we can “use” a teaspoon of baking powder that is more than a year old, but pay attention the next time you do because you’ll likely notice your cake isn’t rising as much as you think it should.  Trust me.  I’ve been there.  But, I know better now.  Put love in your cooking by putting good ingredients into your food.

Cooking Tips 101: Shelf Life for Pantry Items by Lacey Baier, a sweet pea chef

Baking

  • All purpose flour – 12 months unopened, 6-8 months opened
  • Whole wheat flour – 12 months unopened, 6 months opened (if refrigerated)
  • Granulated sugar – 2 years unopened, 6 months opened
  • Brown sugar – 4 months unopened, 4 month opened (in freezer)
  • Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar – 18 months unopened
  • Shortening – 8 months unopened, 3 months opened
  • Powdered cocoa – 2 years unopened, 1 year opened
  • Baking soda – 18 months unopened, 6 months opened
  • Baking powder – 6 months unopened, 3 months opened
  • Cornstarch – 18 months

Spices

  • Whole spices: (like peppercorns, whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks) 2-4 years
  • Ground spices: (like oregano, cumin, ginger) 2-3 years

Canned Goods

  • Tomato products: 1-2 years unopened
  • Fruit juices: 1-2 years unopened
  • Soups: 3-5 years unopened
  • Vegetables: 3-4 years unopened

Random Pantry Items

  • Pasta (dried, no eggs): 2 years unopened, 1 year opened
  • Pasta (dried, with eggs): 2 years unopened, 1-2 months opened
  • Salad dressings: 1 year unopened, 3 months opened (in refrigerator)
  • Honey: 1 year
  • Ground coffee: 2 years unopened, 2 weeks opened (in refrigerator)
  • Jams and jellies: 1 year unopened, 6 months opened (in refrigerator)
  • Peanut butter: 6-9 months unopened, 2-3 months opened
  • Oils: Olive oil is best if used within a year of its harvest date, but only if stored properly. Keep it tucked away in a cool pantry. If you are unsure about an oil (sesame, canola, vegetable, olive, etc.) being usable, heat some of it in a skillet.  If it produces a weird smell, toss the bottle. Also, avoid storing oils in clear bottles out in the open because they are not fans of light.

Keep in mind these are simply guidelines and that you should always go by the date (if there is one) printed on the package.  Also, feel free to throw anything out if it looks or smells bad.  This is always a good choice.  My theory is, “Better safe than sorry.”  Like I said, this is a process, but I think it’s important to start off on the right foot with your pantry because it is the basis for your meals.

Lacey Baier

Hey y’all, I’m Lacey Baier and I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a healthy lifestyle influencer and the creator of this clean-eating blog and YouTube channel, A Sweet Pea Chef. My recipes have been published on Food Network, Good Morning America, FoxNews, Tastemade, Fitness Magazine, and much more. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband and four kiddos. Let’s get started!

20 thoughts on “Cooking 101: Shelf Life for Pantry Items

  1. I really like your blog.I like the tips you give.I have used some of your recipes.Your tips on the veggies and fruits are good.Thanks for your info.I just found some jars for spices that dry them out.Great for this time of year.

  2. Hi Lacey,
    I’d love to know where you got the cute little tins for your spices?? 🙂
    I LOVE YOUR WEBSITE!! I’ve made a few of your recipes so far, and they are a huge hit with my family (husband and 4 kids).
    Thanks!
    Tricia

    1. Hi Tricia! I’m so glad you like my website — thanks so much. I actually picked up those little tins at Bed Bath and Beyond, though I’ve also seen them at The Container Store. They are magnetic, so you could even stick them to a magnetic strip if you’d like, though I don’t. Enjoy!

  3. I read once and have been doing ever since (for several years now) that flour lasts so much longer if it’s stored in the freezer. What do you think?

    1. Hi Lisa! Very good question! I did some research to better answer your question and found this information which I think is very useful and answers your question:

      “The refrigerator is a very good storage area for flour, but the use of a sealed container is even more important to prevent the flour from absorbing moisture as well as odors and flavors from other foods stored in the refrigerator. The freezer compartment can be used for long-term storage, but when using a sealed container or a freezer bag, make sure it is full to eliminate as much air as possible. Most types of flour can also be tightly wrapped for freezer storage, but wrapping is often an awkward method for storing large quantities. Wrap the flour tightly in plastic followed by a layer of aluminum foil. Avoid refrigerating or freezing flour in its original paper packaging because paper is porous and the flour may absorb moisture and odors, however if the flour has not been opened, the paper package can be stored in the refrigerator of freezer if the package is tightly wrapped with plastic.”

      Source: recipetips.com

      I hope that helps! Thanks for asking.

  4. Great information! I should seriously send this off to my parents…I am always afraid of using their pantry items. Even worse is the stuff in the fridge. 3 bottles of opened ketchup? Check. Yogourt over a year past its expiration date??? Definitely. *gag*

  5. My mother in law needs to see this. We helped her clean out her pantry and she wouldn’t let go of much, regardless of the expiration date. Even canned meats!

  6. Wow!! I’m looking forward to more of “Cooking 101”! I’m not really a new cook anymore, but I am still learning. I remember my mom would leave things in the pantry and we’d find things that were 5 years old in there! I’ve learned to go through mine at least once a year. It’s worth the cost, and in my mind you save money by doing that! I know I’ll cook something specific to an item that is about to expire rather than throw that item away. Thanks for these great guidelines….very very helpful!

  7. Thanks Lacey for the cooking tips! I always wonder about the life of some of my spices, this was very helpful info. Here’s a question for you. I see in the picture that you have your corn meal, baking soda and a few other dry ingredients in sealed containers. Do they store longer like that and what other dry ingredients would you suggest putting in sealed containers? I never thought about doing that to the corn meal and the baking soda box goes in a baggie in my house, but I live the container idea !

    1. Hi Karen! I don’t believe those particular ingredients store “longer,” per say, but I feel the packaging they come in (those lousy boxes with the flip-open spouts) aren’t very conducive for good storage. I also need access to my corn meal so often for when I’m making my pizza that I like to have it handy and easy to “pinch.” I have also tried the baggie approach, but I find the air-tight containers are less messy and easier to stack and store. I hope that helps!

      1. Lacey, this helps so much as well all the other comments and suggestions (especially the flour). Thanks so much for doing this.

      2. Ladies : Not only are items easily stacked or stored theis also saves space in the long run. The sealed container also keeps “critters,” which may already be in a box from the store, from spreading into other things. If U live where ther’s a lot of moisture it keeps them from aborbing tastes that aren’t there, or sprouting; If in a dry climate they don’t get the moisture sucked out of them… At the price of spices it just makes sense to get rid of my old ‘Tin’s w/ the sliding top’ stored in baggies, and get some of them new fangled plastic containers. LOL

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