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Despite the saying, when in doubt, you don’t always have to throw it out. The shelf life of some of your pantry staples might be longer than you think — especially if the food has been stored properly.
Nearly 20% of food waste at home is a result of consumer uncertainty about food dates, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Using information from the Foodshare food bank, we’ve listed common pantry items and how long you can keep them on the shelf unopened. To decrease the amount of food waste in your household, we've included how to read food labels correctly and general pantry item dates you should keep in mind.
Dates on food are one of the great food debates. To clear any confusion, the expiration date means that the nutritional value determined by the manufacturer is no longer guaranteed. You should not consume foods past an expiration date.
You’ve probably seen “best if used by” dates. This means that the food will be at its best quality until and on that date, but is still safe to consume after that date. If you’ve properly stored items with a use-by date, you don’t need to dispose of those foods right away.
The sell-by date is for inventory management and should not be used for determining food safety. This is for workers at grocery stores to know how long to display each food item. Depending on which kind of food it is, items with a sell-by date can last a few days to a few weeks beyond the date.
The pack date is for manufacturers to determine stock rotations. The dates are either “open” or “closed” and consist of a date or code that will tell the manufacturer when the food is at peak quality. Typically, food items you purchase with pack dates have long shelf lives.
A yummy addition to many Mexican dishes, canned beans can last three years past the pack date and dry beans are safe to eat for one year after opening.
Make your dinner at home feel like a restaurant by incorporating your favorite foods from your favorite restaurants. If you love crab cakes, make them with canned crab meat. It’s good for six months after the pack date.
Once you’ve cooled your cakes upside down, you can begin frosting them. Canned frosting will last for up to 10 months past the pack date.
When fruit isn’t in season, you might be inclined to munch on the canned or dried alternative. Canned fruit is safe to consume one to two years past the pack date. Dried fruit is good for six months once opened.
One of the most searched recipes right now is hamburger meat, and if pickles are a must have on your burgers, know that pickles in jars are safe to consume for one to two years after the pack date.
Rainy days are the perfect excuse to cook quick dinners out of cans. Canned soup is good for two to three years after the pack date.
Going through your pantry first is just one of the ways to make shopping easier. Your canned gravy will still be good to use two to three years past the pack date and dry gravy is consumable for two years after the pack date.
Canned cream sauce is an easy way to add some flavor when you’re cooking pasta at home. Stock up — it will last two to three years past the pack date.
You should never skip breakfast, so if you’re tired of the usual, switch up your Sunday brunch with corned beef hash. Canned beef is safe to consume for two to three years after the pack date. The same goes for canned poultry — perfect for simple lettuce wraps for lunch.
Being inside more often might have you baking some of the country’s most iconic pies. If you have canned pie filling in your cabinets, it’s good for three years past the pack date.
Adding barbecue sauce can make for some next-level burgers. This bottled condiment is good for one year past the pack date.
Pasteurized honey will never expire. That’s right. You can use it as a sweetener for your homemade oat milk honey latte, or drizzle it over pork chops for dinner and then store it in your pantry indefinitely without worrying about an expiration date.
If you’re treating yourself to some breakfast in bed, toast or biscuits with jelly is a great side to have. Your jam, jelly and preserves will all last 18 months past the pack date.
We learned a lot of cooking tips from our parents — salad dressing as marinades being one of them. So if you’re cooking and need a dry salad dressing, you can use it up to two years after the pack date. For bottled salad dressing, you can use it up to one year after the pack date.
Lots of iconic American breakfast foods wouldn’t be complete without ketchup. This condiment is safe to consume for 18 months after the pack date.
There are so many ways to make cookies. If you’re craving molasses cookies the next time you bake, know that the molasses on your shelf will last for two years past the pack date.
Perfect for salad or pizza toppings, olives can be kept for 18 to 24 months past the pack date.
A necessity for dipping nachos on game days, salsa is good for one year to 18 months after the pack date.
After you’ve mastered cooking spaghetti perfectly every time, you’ll need to add the sauce. Whether it’s canned or jarred, your spaghetti sauce will last for 18 months.
You can’t go wrong with pancakes for breakfast — especially when you spice them up with unexpected ingredients. Your pancake mix will last for nine months after you’ve opened it.
Throw a fun kid’s birthday party and make it even sweeter with brownies and cake. Both brownie and cake mix can be stored for one year to 18 months after opening.
When you’re tired of store-bought cookies and need to bake from scratch, you might find that the recipe calls for baking powder. This pantry staple is safe to use for 18 months after opening.
An ingredient that is common in many difficult and impressive desserts, baking soda has an indefinite shelf life even after opening.
If you’re in the bad habit of throwing out vegetable scraps rather than making your own stock, you probably have bouillon cubes in your cabinet for homemade soups. They will last for one to two years once their packaging has been opened.
Did you know you could use your slow cooker to bake certain breads? If you buy your bread rather than bake it, though, it will last for three to five days after opening.
There are so many ways to cook eggs, but one of the best has to be when they’re added to cakes. If you’ve bought a pre-made cake from the store, they’ll last for two to four days after being opened.
Wondering how long your Rice Krispies will snap, crackle and pop after you’ve opened them? Cereal will last for one year after being opened.
Instant oatmeal is perfect for people with busy schedules. Whether you have regular or quick-rolled, the grains are safe to consume for one year.
Eating your favorite cookies helps soothe everyday stress, right? Once a package of cookies is opened, they’ll last for four months.
One of those ingredients your grandma probably had on hand for home-cooked treats, cornmeal is used in many baked goods like muffins and scones. It’ll last for one year once the package has been opened.
Ideal for soups or for some added crunch on your mac and cheese, crackers can be stored for up to eight months after being opened.
If you spend your free time baking bread, then chances are you have wheat on hand. Whether it’s hard or red wheat, it will last for two to four years once the packaging is opened.
Flour is in a lot of recipes you can make with pantry staples, and it lasts for one year after being opened. Keep in mind that whole-wheat flour is only good for three months.
Whether you’re cooking an easy, five-ingredient recipe or a dessert that requires a bit more skill and time, sugar is probably going to be an important ingredient. If you buy in bulk, know that brown sugar and powdered sugar last for 18 months after the bag is opened, while white sugar lasts for two or more years.
Mac and cheese is one of those classic childhood dinners that never gets old. This food will last nine months to one year after the box is opened.
Did you know that snacking on nuts can boost your happiness hormones? Nuts that are out of the shell will be good for six months to two years. Nuts that are still in the shell can last from six months to one year.
Using quality oil is just one restaurant secret every home chef should know. Olive oil and vegetable oils will last for six months after opening.
After doing low-impact workouts, add peanut butter to some wheat toast or to a smoothie for a protein boost. Once you’ve opened your peanut butter, it will last for 18 months.
Popcorn makes for a yummy everyday snack, but it’s also a staple when you’re at the movies. Popcorn kernels can be stored for up to two years after the package has been opened, and microwavable popcorn will last for one year.
Working from home and taking care of kids all day is a lot. Sometimes you don’t have time to make a whole feast for dinner. When instant potatoes are the only side you have time to make, know that they last for one year after opening.
Many Cajun and Creole recipes call for rice. Know that not all types of rice last for the same amount of time, though. Brown rice will be safe to eat for one year after opening, while white rice will last for two years once opened. You can keep rice mixes for six months after opening the package.
When you’re making biscuits for brunch and realize you’re out of butter, you can use shortening. Dry vegetable shortening can be consumed for eight to 12 months after being opened.
Once cooked, your Thanksgiving leftovers might last only a few days. Your dry stuffing mix, however, will last for nine months to a year after opening.
Remember the days of eating Pop-Tarts for breakfast? Toaster pastries with fruit fillings will last for six months after being opened, whereas the ones without fruit will be good for up to nine months.
Did you know that the original corn tortilla can be traced back nearly 8,000 years? Your tortillas will last for three months once the package is opened.
Having a family game night is even more fun when hot cocoa is involved. That cocoa mix you bought last Christmas is probably still good considering it lasts for up to 36 months after opening.
Eating breakfast can jump-start your morning and help with productivity while you work. If you don’t have time for a full meal, an instant breakfast can still give you an energy boost, and it will last up to six months after opening.
After you keep kids busy all day with indoor activities, they’ll probably just want to chill on the couch with some juice and snacks. Bottled juice is OK to drink for up to nine months after opening. Boxed juice is safe for four to six months after opening, and canned juice is good for up to 18 months after opening.
Evaporated and condensed milk comes in handy when you’re baking and need to make an easy ingredient swap for heavy cream. Both of these milk alternatives are good for one year after opening.
Though it might not work well in different coffee drinks because it doesn’t have the creamy consistency to froth properly, rice milk is a good alternative for milk if you are lactose intolerant. After opening the shelf-stable carton, rice milk will last six months.
Another alternative for those who are lactose intolerant, soy milk works well as a creamer for your coffee. Once the shelf-stable carton is opened, it is safe to consume for six more months.
Supplementing your meals can be a helpful way to build muscle after a workout. Nutritional supplement beverages such as Boost or Ensure should be consumed by the expiration date and thrown out if past that date.
After opening, your spices will be safe to eat for four years whole and two years ground. Note that the flavor will not be as strong the longer you keep the spices, though. Now that you know how long your pantry food will keep, make sure you know how long your meat and other items will last in the fridge and freezer.
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