Chicago Home and Lifestyles – Improving Your Pantry’s Shelf Life!

Last week we talked about reducing food waste – now let’s dig into how to get the best out of what’s already in your pantry! What most of us don’t realize is that many items we regularly stock in our homes are still edible even if it is beyond the manufacturer’s “use by” date. Believe it or not, the dates on food are often arbitrary. Some are government mandated, while other dates tell us the time they will guarantee best quality.

At the end of the day, it’s always wise to have your pantry full of staples that can be put together for a quick meal in a pinch. Pro Tip: regularly check and rotate your stock so the oldest food is up front!

Here is a short list of foods that are shelf stable and will keep for a year in your pantry:

  • Applesauce and other high acid items like canned fruit, juices, pickles, tomato soup and sauerkraut can last up to 18 months.
  • Bouillon, cubed or loose
  • Dried beans – but be advised: these tend to take long longer to cook!
  • Cake mixes
  • Instant coffee
  • Condiments
  • Flour – if wrapped properly, you can actually freeze unopened flour for an even longer shelf life.
  • Dried fruit
  • Evaporated milk
  • Dried fruit and vegetables
  • Jarred nuts
  • Unopened spices 
  • Jellies and jams
  • Jarred spaghetti sauce
  • Oats
  • Unopened olive oil (Opened oil should be used in 6 months for best quality)

These items can last up to two years or more if kept relatively cool and out of the light:

  • Canned food items that are low in acid are safe to eat even well past the “best by” date as long as the cans are free of dents, rust or swelling! That includes vegetables like corn, peas, potatoes, and carrots,  along with meat, fish, gravy and stew. 
  • Dry pasta
  • Non dairy sauce mixes 
  • White or wild rice, brown rice lasts only a year.
  • Soy protein (textured)
  • Shelf stable vegetable juice 
  • Unopened vegetable oil, (Opened oil should be used within the year for best quality) 
  • Nonstick cooking sprays
  • Unopened peanut butter
  • Sugar and sugar substitutes
  • Tea bags
  • Vinegar

But of course, there are certain products you should never use beyond their date, such as baby food and formula. Other pantry items simply lose their effectiveness or nutritional value beyond a certain date. Items like yeast, baking soda and baking powder perform chemical reactions in baked goods so it’s best to use these items within 6 months if you can!

These lists are not comprehensive, and doing your own research on food sustainability could save you a lot of time, money and energy in the future. You can find more helpful information at Happy eating!