Saturday, September 19, 2015

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Watching the Shelf Life

Recently I was talking to friends about the shelf life of various kinds of rice (as mentioned in a previous blog post).

It reminded me again that one of the most important things one needs to do in a pantry is to become knowledgeable about the shelf life of various foods... and nonfood items.

And the deeper your pantry, the more it becomes necessary to date items and some folks like to keep a record in a notebook or on Excel.

Most items in your pantry will have a shelf life.  Did you know matches have a shelf life?  That would explain why the matches you found in the back of the closet don't work, anymore.

Even the same types of items have different shelf lives due to the way they were processed (or not).  Most spices have a long shelf life (no matter what the companies say about changing them every six months).

However, for long term storage, whole seeds and pods and such stay stronger longer than those which have been ground.  But even then, I have used cinnamon that was a few years old and it was fine.  I just used a little more of it.  Although some spices such as paprika can go buggy.

Herbs are completely different, they have a very short shelf life.  That explains why the four year old basil in your spice cabinet taste like grass.

It is also wise to remember that most items in your pantry are not fine one day and then become inedible the day after their expiration date.  Such items slowly decline in quality and nutrient value.  It is different with various kinds of food and the environment in which they were stored.

Since I am on a tight budget, I love to find foods that are inexpensive and have a good shelf life.  Below are some of my favorites:

I've mentioned old fashioned oats many times but they are a star of the pantry.  I have belonged to a few food co-ops over the year so I used to buy my old fashioned oats in 25# bags (or split a 50# bag with a friend).  They were divided between two containers so one could stay sealed while we used the contents of the first.  I've had old fashioned oats last two years with no decline in quality.

Wheat & Popcorn
Only store wheat if you actually grind it and use it now but it is highly nutritious and stores practically forever if in the proper container.  If you have a wheat (grain) grinder, store bulk popcorn, too.  For it can be ground to use as cornmeal and as... get this... popcorn!

Dried pasta has an exceptionally long shelf life.  I have had pasta in the pantry for two years and it was still fine.  You may need to check online for specific brands.  I store my pasta in the original boxes or packages in a kitchen drawer that was originally a bread drawer.  I have also stored it before in large Rubbermaid style containers when I had a deeper pantry (kept in the original box or packages within the container).

I mentioned rice already but white and converted rice each has a long shelf life.  Brown rice is said to have a shelf life of around six months and then the high oil content can cause it to go rancid.  Obviously, it can be stored in the freezer.

Beans actually do have a bit of a shelf life although they can last for years.  The older the beans, the longer it takes to cook them.  I learned when we had to eat out of the pantry twice that I used the beans purchased in packages and did not use my bulk beans.

So I gave the bulk beans to a friend (who cooked with beans a lot) and forever after only bought packages.  It is just a personal preference.  I store bags of beans in a Rubbermaid style container because they draw mice like crazy.  Ask me how I know.

White sugar has an extremely long shelf life if stored in a sealed container.  Sugar is one item I have read it is not good to use an oxygen absorber with.  It will take out too much moisture and turn the sugar hard as a brick.  Or so I am told.

When I bought sugar in bulk, I stored it in a large Tupperware container.  Now I only stock up the 4-5 lb. bags when they are on sale once in awhile so I place the bags in a Rubbermaid style container as is.  The same with a few extra packages of brown sugar.  In their package, in a sealed container.   That's it... simple.

After Mr. & Mrs. Christopher's wedding, Stephanie left the bulk size bags of confectioners sugar we had left over with me.  It took me two years to use it all up but the last of it was just as good as the first.

Salt is suppose to last indefinitely if kept in a tightly sealed container.  I found a container I forgot I had upon moving one time so the salt was at least a few years old.  It was fine.  After all, salt is in itself a preservative.

Honey & Maple Syrup
Honey supposedly last forever although I have never given it an opportunity for more than a year in our house.  I am a honey purist, I never (ever) buy the stuff at the grocery store.  I buy raw local honey from the "honey lady" at the Farmer's Market.  Raw honey will go rather solid (the consistency of natural peanut butter) but you just have to warm it up and it is fine.

Maple Syrup can go bad, or so I have read.  I have never bought so much of it that it lasted long enough to go bad.  Once I open the jar of maple syrup, I always keep it refrigerated.

Other Baking Products
Baking soda last a very long time (some say indefinitely).
Baking powder has a short shelf life and should be rotated if stored to be sure to use the oldest first.
Cake mixes, cornbread mixes, etc. all have a short shelf life and should be rotated, using the oldest first.  This is due to their having baking powder as an ingredient.
Flavor extracts should last a long time if they have an alcohol base.

Coffee & Tea
I have read that if one is purchasing coffee for long term storage (and not doing anything to process it for such storage), then the whole beans keep fresh longer than the ground coffee. However, these days the ground coffee is processed in cans and bags so that I've never had a problem with them not being fresh.  But then again... we use ours rather quickly.

I've had instant coffee last a long time since I used to only use it for certain baking recipes.  I've written before that I actually like Starbucks VIA instant coffee and they seem to have a good shelf life.

I recall reading an article on a preparedness blog where the writer said tea had a short shelf life and thought it amusing at the large amounts of comments asking if they had really done their research.  I didn't comment but I know tea lasts a whole lot longer than the writer said... from personal experience.  I do store tea.  Just the thought of running out of it gives me a twitch.

I expect whole leaf tea does eventually lose its' strength so you would have to use more of it... or steep it longer.  But tea (as well as spices) used to be on ships for a year at least and kept its' flavor!  I have had boxes of tea be good after a year or more.  Boxes of tea such as Bigelow that is packed in individual foil wrappers has lasted at least two years.  I know because I found some in the back of the drawer... and they were fine.

I did recently throw away two boxes of tea I had planned to use for iced tea and never did.  It was three years past the expiration date.  Even I don't stretch things that far.

As with all food, it will depend on the conditions where the tea or coffee has been stored.  The less any pantry food items are exposed to heat and humidity, the longer they will usually last.

LINKS:  I have links for you but it is already late on Saturday evening so I will include them in next week's Pantry Post.  I have not had a chance to send them over to the Desktop from the iPad where I bookmarked them.

But two of them were The Bluebirds are Nesting posts so you may as well as mosey over and read all of them.  It is Springtime there!  You can get there from... here.

Ummm... by the way... I have been deleting comments that seem intended to cause a flurry of trouble around here.   The original comment I responded to last week did not intend (I am certain) to cause a ruckus.  Some others have.  Not in my online home here on the World Wide Web.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for this very helpful post. There were definitely things here that I didn't know. I am trying to deepen my pantry quite a bit so this information is just what I needed.
Dianne L

Mary Jane said...

Dear Brenda I look forward to every post on your blog. Do you remember when your mother or some other older member of your family said if you dont have anything nice to say, dont say anything at all. I dont think the people who would be unkind to you have read your blog on a regular basis. Dont let it upset you.

lejmom said...

Thanks---I always look forward to the Saturday Pantry posts!! Jane

Anonymous said...

Lots of good info! Timely, too! Thanks for the tip about mice getting into packages of beans! I just bought several bags and will most defintely be putting them into more substantial containers! So thankful for your blog! Keep on keeping on!
Laura C. (WA)

Deanna Rabe said...

Great information, Brenda!

Glad you're deleting the rabble rousers! Lol!

Heading over to Bluebirds now!


Annabel Smith said...

Dear Brenda, Thank you very much for mentioning Bluebirds.
I agree about tea. I know it keeps for years if well sealed and in a dark place. Possibly it eventually loses flavor but still you get a really long time out of it. I would never want to run out of tea!
I am loving your pantry posts and thoughts. And links!
With love,

Ann said...

Glad to hear you're deleting inappropriate comments that would only cause division and upset. There is enough of that going around in the world already. Reading blogs is an exercise in seeking enjoyment and entertainment and usable information. I have a rather large pantry thanks to the design of the house we purchased a couple of years ago and just spent a week going through everything and re-organizing and marking those items that need to be used up soon. It is a rather daunting task sometimes to keep track of it all but I'm sure will come in handy in the future.

Amanda said...

I am going to have to give away some of my brown rice as it is getting close to a year old now and I bet I still have 10 pounds left... We just don't seem to go through it fast enough to warrant a 25 pound bag for our family alone. I will have to see about sharing with another family the next time I order.

Thanks for the good reminders again, Brenda. Always informative and helpful!