While there is ample advice on safe storage times for food items in the refrigerator, the storage time limits for dry, canned and packaged foods in the pantry are not widely unknown. Do you worry about that old bag of flower, opened packet of pasta or pies hiding on the back of the shelves? Are older items and ingredients safe to eat, edible and will taste nice when cooked? When should older items in the pantry be discarded?
This article provides all the answers you need by summarising safe room temperature storage times for common foods and ingredients. These times are presented in a table with items listed form shortest to longest times. As a bonus the article also includes safe storage times for foods in the refrigerator and freezer for common foods and ingredients.
Nuts - generally should be used within a month because they are prone to molds and fungus and they simply go stale when opened
Dried Herbs - generally they keep well if kept dry, but they lose their flavor and 'punch'. It is best to replace them after 12 months. Ground spices can be kept for 2-3 years. Fresh dried herbs always seem to have more flavor and aroma. Check the use by dates on the packages as these items may stay on the shop shelves for long periods before being bought.
Brown and White Rice - Brown rice has a much shorter shelf life because of its high oil content and germ within the grains. Brown rice should be used within 3-6 months; white rice can be kept for 3-4 four years. Brown rice that goes rancid will have a distinct 'bad' odor. It pays to look for weevils and moths.
Flour - the shelf life is much shorter than you think. Flour can quickly go rancid due to humidity, especially the wholemeal varieties. Old flour simply tastes stale when cooked. Discard flour after 6 months.
Pasta - absorbs moisture when the package seal is broken and should be used within 12 months. Pasta should be stored in an air-tight container in the pantry.
Tea - generally keeps well, but it can lose flavor and aroma when opened. Unopened boxes and packets of tea can last 12 months, but opened packets should be used within 2-3 months.
Honey and Jams - use unopened honey and jams within 6 months. Opened honey and jams should be stored in the refrigerator due to possible contamination by bacteria, moulds and fungi.
Stock Cubes - generally should be used within 12 months of purchase when unopened. Opened packets and cubes can be stored briefly in the refrigerator.
Vegetable Oils - should be used within 12 months as they gradually oxidise and go rancid.
The table below provides data on the safe storage times for various foods at room temperature. the foods are listed from the shortest to the longest. You can click on the food name heading to show the foods in alphabetical order.
Periodically sorting the food items on shelves with various 'dispose by dates' will help you keep track of what needs to go and when. You cannot rely on 'use by dates' as these often apply to sealed packages and some items may not have these dates as the packaging may have been discarded. Changing the dates and labels will help you to know which foods are nearing the end of their shelf life at room temperature.
The table below list the recommended maximum storage times for foods in the refrigerator and freezer. The food are listed alphabetically. The two tables provide a comprehensive list of safe storage times for common foods and ingredients.
|Fresh white potatoes||0.5|
|Salad oils (opened)||1|
|Canned pickles, olives (opened)||1|
|Catsup, chili sauce (opened)||1|
|Ready-to-eat cereal (opened)||2|
|Instant coffee (opened)||2|
|Cheese, parmesan, grated (opened)||2|
|Peanut butter (opened)||2|
|Non-fat dry milk (opened)||3|
|Salad dressings, bottled (opened)||3|
|Nuts, in-shell (unopened)||4|
|Bread crumbs (dried)||6|
|Chocolate syrup (opened)||6|
|Coffee lighteners (dry, opened)||6|
|Whole wheat flour||6|
|Non-fat dry milk (unopened)||6|
|Brown, wild rice||6|
|Salad oils (unopened)||6|
|Sauce and gravy mixes||6|
|Mustard, prepared yellow (opened)||6|
|Ground spices and herbs||6|
|Herb and spice blends||6|
|Vegetable, dehydrated flakes||6|
|Coconut packaged, canned||6|
|Peanut butter (unopened)||6|
|Pie crust mix||8|
|Ready-to-eat cereal (unopened)||9|
|Coffee lighteners (dry, unopened)||9|
|Biscuit, brownie, muffin mix||9|
|Casseroles, complete or add own meat||9|
|Canned fruit juices||9|
|Salad dressings, bottled (unopened)||10|
|Cheese, parmesan, grated (unopened)||10|
|Instant coffee (unopened)||12|
|Pectin, liquid or dry||12|
|Canned foods (unopened)||12|
|Catsup, chili sauce (unopened)||12|
|Whole spices and herbs||12|
|Peas, beans – dried||12|
|Dry whipped topping||12|
|Bouillon cubes or granules||18|
|Chocolate syrup (unopened)||24|
|Mustard, prepared yellow||24|
|Coconut shredded, packaged||24|
|Breads, baked with no preservatives||14||2|
|Breads, quick, baked||2|
|Broccoli, brussels sprouts,
green peas, green onions,
lima beans, rhubarb, greens,
summer squash, mushrooms
|Cabbage, cauliflower, celery,
cucumbers, snap beans, lettuce,
|Cake, baked, frosted||1|
|Cake, baked, unfrosted||2|
|Canned fruit juices||3|
|Canned or dried vegetables||1|
|Canned or dry milk (unopened)||6|
|Carrots, beets, parsnips, radishes, turnips||14|
|Cinnamon rolls, partially baked||2|
|Clams, oyster (shucked) and scallops||7|
|Cooked meat, gravies made with meat stock||2||2|
|Cookies, baked, homemade||14||6|
|Cured pork and lunch meat||7|
|Dried or pickled fish||21|
|Egg-containing products: custards,
custard sauces, puddings,
custard-filled pastries or cakes
|Fresh ground meat, stew meat||1||3|
|Fresh livers, hearts, kidneys, other variety meats||1||3|
|Fresh roasts, steaks, chops||3||2|
|Fruit juice concentrates||12|
|Hard sausage-pepperoni, jerky sticks||14||1|
|Hotdogs – opened||7|
|Hotdogs – unopened||14||1|
|Lobster (shelled or unshelled)||3||6|
|Meat pies, stews, casseroles, meat salads||2||3|
|Melons, most varieties||7|
|Other fresh fruit||3||9|
|Pears (mature but not fully ripe)||30|
|Pies, pumpkin or chiffon||2||1|
|Poultry pies, stews, creamed dishes, gravies||1||6|
|Raw yolk, whites||2||12|
|Rolls and bread, unbaked||2||1|
|Salad dressings, bottled||30|
|Sausage, raw from pork, beef, turkey||1||1|
|Sour cream, buttermilk, cream cheese||14|
|Wild duck, pheasant, goose(whole)||1||6|