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Shelf-stable food is great because you can leave it in the pantry for a super-long time to eat at your leisure, unlike that browning banana you bought and left to die on the counter or that long-forgotten avocado.
So whether you’re prepping for an emergency situation or you just don’t want to go shopping more often than you need to, you’ll be pleased to know that these groceries have long shelf lives.
The National Honey Board says that honey stored in tightly sealed containers can last decades, and even centuries. However, it will darken and lose its aroma and flavor or crystalize if it’s not properly processed, packaged and stored. Therefore, a shelf life of two years is often printed on the label. Pro tip: Crystalized honey can be brought back to liquid form by placing the honey container in a pot of hot water. Glass containers work best when reheating, but plastic will work too.
Salt will last forever. In fact, what you’re eating may have already been around for billions of years before it was harvested from rock deposits or the ocean. Kosher and sea salt do not expire, but table salt will because it contains additives. Iodine and anti-caking agents spoil over time, so the shelf life for table salt is about five years.
Like salt, white sugar does not expire. If sugar is compromised by moisture, it might clump. Brown sugar also lasts forever, but it is best to eat it within six months for peak flavor. If your brown sugar clumps, put it in a bowl and cover it with a damp paper towel. Microwave for about a minute and a half to restore it.
While cooked rice only lasts days and is best used in a great rice recipe, an unopened bag of dry white rice is good for up to 30 years. Once you break into the original packaging, transfer any unused contents to an airtight container or freezer bag.
The Whole Grains Council says that whole intact grains such as barley, corn, farro and rye can last up to six months on a cool, dry pantry shelf or up to one year in the freezer so long as they’re stored in an airtight container. Whole-grain flours and meals spoil sooner because their protective bran layer is broken, allowing oxygen to compromise them. These will keep for just one to three months in the pantry or two to six months in the freezer.
Get ready for a drive-in movie night by stocking up on popcorn. Popcorn kernels can be stored for five years if the packaging is unopened, but only two years if the seal has been broken on the packaging. Microwavable popcorn will last for one year.
Baking soda is technically good indefinitely, but most packages will have a “best by” date because it will lose potency over time. Note that baking soda only has an indefinite expiration date if it’s kept dry, making this one of those foods you should never refrigerate.
Evaporated and sweetened condensed milk can both last up to one year when unopened. If it’s already opened and in the fridge, your senses might be able to more accurately detect the milk’s expiration date by seeing discoloration or noticing a sour smell.
One of the biggest food mysteries of all time stems from a rumor that Twinkies never expire. But that’s simply not true. This treat has a shelf life of 25 days, which doesn’t sound like much, but in the grand scheme of things that’s actually a long time for a baked good. The reason for this is that there are no dairy products used in Twinkies, so they spoil relatively slowly. Little Debbie’s Zebra Cake, Nutty Buddy and Oatmeal Creme Pie are guaranteed fresh for 60 days, or six months when frozen.
Dried beans expire after 30 years if the packaging is unopened, and they last for one year if the packaging is opened. If you have a lot of beans to use up, try using some of these recipes to make your favorite Mexican dishes at home.
The true shelf life of oatmeal depends on the variety, packaging and storage, but as a rule of thumb, it’s good for one year. Great for easy breakfasts, quick-rolled and regular oats can last up to 30 years when stored properly.
If you’re trying to make dinner at home feel like a restaurant, then you might want to opt for real potatoes. Potato flakes, or dehydrated mashed potatoes, are good for quick dinners, though, and are good for seven years so long as they’re kept unopened. After opening, they’re still good for 12 months.
Dried fruits are good for about five years if they’re stored in a cool place and kept away from oxygen. If the packaging is opened, they’ll last for six months.
Dried pasta stays fresh for up to 30 years because it contains no eggs or moisture. Cooked pasta has a relatively short shelf life of three days in the refrigerator or one month in the freezer. So make sure you know how to use your leftovers to make a delicious meal.
In a pantry, instant coffee can last around two years. Some coffee shop blogs say that unopened containers have an indefinite shelf life. If you break the seal on the original packaging, there’s a chance that moisture could get inside and mold could grow. If you see mold or any sort of bacterial growth, don’t risk it. Although instant coffee lasts the longest, it isn’t the best coffee in America.
There are a lot of cooking and baking ingredients you should have if you like making things from scratch, but when you’re in a pinch, brownie mix is an easy way to make a delicious fudgy dessert. You can keep it up to five years if stored properly.
Lunchtime isn’t that difficult if you have peanut butter ready for quick snacks and sandwiches. You can store it in your pantry for a year and a half if it’s been opened. If stored properly, it is safe to consume for up to four years. Just don’t refrigerate your peanut butter unless it’s all-natural. Otherwise, that’s just one of the groceries you’re storing incorrectly.
Whether it’s a chilly night or you’re just not in the mood for a homemade cup of coffee, having hot cocoa mix on hand is a must. If stored in an airtight container, cocoa mix can last up to 15 years.
Frozen juice concentrate can stay fresh for two years. If you find yourself wanting to put it to good use, consider making some refreshing mocktails.
For store-bought jam, jelly and preserves, a year and a half is the recommended shelf life. If you have home-canned jams or jellies, the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends that it be used within a year.
Drinking tea has many health benefits, including easing throat pain or settling an upset stomach, but how long do tea leaves stay fresh? As long as they are kept in a dry area away from any high heat or bright light, the leaves can last up to two years before they start losing flavor and phytochemicals.
Tuna, salmon and sardines are common canned fish items that are the base of a few vintage recipes that need to make a comeback. The shelf life of canned fish is generally three years as long as the packaging isn’t damaged and the cans aren’t stored in extreme temperatures.
Many Thanksgiving leftovers may not last, but if you have canned gravy that hasn’t been opened yet, it can be stored between two and three years. A dry mix envelope will last about two years if unopened.
Baking pies from scratch can be fun, but it’s also time-consuming. Luckily, pie filling comes in a can so when a cherry dessert craving hits, you can pull the can out of your pantry and cut out the prep work. Store the cans in your pantry for no more than three years. And if that isn’t the only item in your pantry, you may want to read up on the shelf life of all your common pantry items.
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