Overstocked pantries happen to the best of us, and beyond the unseemliness of clutter comes the risk of holding onto food that should be tossed in the trash. Contrary to popular belief, everything in your kitchen eventually goes bad — and several items are commonly consumed well beyond their expiration dates.
To avoid ingredients that have lost their taste or — even worse — could result in adverse health effects, take a closer look at these pantry items.
Because they do not house bacteria, it can be hard to see when your favorite oil has gone bad. Unopened cooking oil can last over a year in storage, but consistent use will reduce shelf life to around four months.
Giving your oils a good sniff for chemical or unusual smells is an easy way to check their freshness. To keep your oils in rotation for longer, seal them tightly and store them in dark, cool places, since cooking oils are most sensitive to oxygen, heat, and light.
You can expect the following shelf lives from your cooking oils:
If you’re anything like the TSL staff, you probably hold onto spices until they run out. Growing up, your parents probably told you they never go bad.
Spices don’t go bad in the sense of mold or spoiling, but they do lose potency as they age and dry. Check the expiration dates of everything on your rack
Dry spices such as oregano, basil, and sage have a shelf life of one to three years. Ground spices such as powders, cinnamon, and blends last an average of two to three years. Whole, unground spices such as whole peppercorns, cloves, and seeds have the longest shelf life, and can last up to four years if stored properly.
Unless you’re a baker, you likely don’t go through many bags of flour — and most people have several unopened bags tucked away. Depending on the type of flour, however, it may go bad in as few as three months.
White flour lasts the longest (up to one year) because of its fat content, while gluten-free and whole-wheat flours may have shorter shelf lives. When properly stored in a sealed container away from heat and light, flours can last three to 12 months — and even longer if frozen or refrigerated.
Remember to check your flour for staleness or souring smells, and be especially careful of mold or bacteria growth. Consuming expired flour can lead to serious stomach problems or food poisoning.
If you just started baking during lockdown, there’s a good chance your leavening materials have expired. Unopened baking powder lasts only about six months, while baking soda can last up to 18.
If opened, both should be used within six months. Yeast lasts around four months when refrigerated. Using expired products can lead to sickness and potentially disastrous baked goods!
To test if your powder is still good, combine it with vinegar in hot water. If the powder or soda fizzes, it is still usable. If there’s no fizz, it’s time to throw it out.
FYI: As you remove expired goods from your kitchen, it’s a good time to reassess your home’s protection. To learn more, read our guide to the best home insurance for seniors.
It’s hard not to go nutty when shopping for these healthy snacks, but too much of a good thing may end up sitting unattended in a cabinet. Because of their low fat content, nuts have a shelf life of only about six months before they go bad.
That’s still true of nuts stored in a properly sealed container. Eating rancid or stale nuts won’t make you sick, but it will give you indigestion. If the nuts in your pantry give off odd smells or taste stale, it’s probably time to chuck them.
Did you forget that souvenir bottle of real Canadian syrup you got as a gift years ago? Then it’s probably gone bad. It isn’t harmful to consume, but old syrup tastes pretty bland. Luckily, syrup lasts up to a year unopened, and the same amount if opened and properly refrigerated. Put it next to your ketchup!
The idea of frozen food going bad may seem like an oxymoron, but, like oils, it is affected by consistent use. Every time you thaw frozen food for use, you expose it to air, heat, and light, which increases the likelihood of it being contaminated by bacteria. Eating contaminated food can lead to sickness like food poisoning, even if it comes out of the freezer. Consider portioning out your frozen foods, and wrap the items tight in order to prevent freezer burn.