Pantry Food Storage

HYG-5401
Family and Consumer Sciences
Date: 
12/09/2010
Lesley Fisher, Student Research Assistant, Department of Human Nutrition
Lydia Medeiros, Extension Specialist and Professor, Department of Human Nutrition

How long will a food stay safe to eat and still have the same nutrient content it had when purchased? Storing food in the pantry usually means keeping it in cool, clean cabinets. Cabinets tend to be warmer above the range, near the dishwasher, or next to the refrigerator exhaust. These are good places to store dishes, pots, and pans, but these cabinets are too warm for keeping food safe and at top nutritional quality.

Here are some things to remember when it comes to storing foods in cans. The color, flavor, texture, and/or nutritive value may be adversely affected after a length of time. Don't keep canned goods longer than one year. Do not keep canned fruit juices for more than nine months. Canned goods should be kept at moderately cool, but not freezing, temperatures. Canned foods stored above 70 degrees F will have a shorter shelf life. Do not store canned goods above 95 degrees F, such as in a storage shed or garage. Sometimes in the winter, canned goods may freeze. Canned goods may be frozen and thawed once but it may result in a slight breakdown of texture. If cans are bulging, the food inside is spoiled and they should be thrown away. Cans with dents on the side seam or the rim seams mean the food was exposed to air, a good environment for harmful bacteria to grow. Do not buy or use cans that have leaks. Food in rusty cans should not be eaten since you cannot be sure the food is safe.

Below are some additional tips on how to properly store certain foods on the counters and in the cabinets:

  • Store leftover French bread at room temperature either tightly wrapped in foil or in a zipper-lock bag with all of the air pressed out. Use within 2 days.
  • Store flour and sugar in an airtight container that can easily accommodate a 5 pound bag with an opening wide enough for a measuring cup to be dipped, measured, and leveled.
  • Whole wheat flour and cornmeal should be kept in a zipper-lock bag stored in the freezer to prevent the oil in the product from becoming rancid.
  • While airtight containers are suitable for brown sugar storage, it will likely still harden after a few months. To soften brown sugar, place in a bowl with a slice of bread. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 10 to 20 seconds. The brown sugar will be soft enough to scoop and measure but will harden again once cooled.
  • Granulated sugar, honey, and molasses can last indefinitely; but, maple syrup unopened has a shelf life of 2 years and only 1 year when opened. Store granulated sugar in an airtight container. Molasses, honey, and unopened maple syrup should be kept in the pantry. Once opened, keep maple syrup in the refrigerator.
  • Do not throw out old vanilla; its alcohol content makes it shelf stable for several years. Make sure it is stored in a tightly sealed container away from light and heat.
  • Chocolate should not be stored in the refrigerator or freezer where it is more likely to pick up other flavors. If chocolate is exposed to rapid changes in humidity or temperature, the surface may "bloom" or become discolored. Bloomed chocolate is safe to eat and cook with. To extend the life of chocolate, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in a cool dry place. Milk and white chocolate have shelf life of 6 months and dark and unsweetened chocolate have a shelf life of 2 years.
  • Vinegars have a long-lasting shelf life; they may be kept in a cool, dark place almost indefinitely.
  • Keep canola, corn, peanut, and vegetable oil in the pantry. Sesame and walnut oil go in the refrigerator. All of these oils may be stored for up to 6 months after opening.
  • The shelf life of an unopened bottle of olive oil is one year but, once opened, will last three months. Keep olive oil in a dark pantry or cupboard, away from exposure to sunlight.
  • After washing and drying fresh herbs, place on a clean paper towel and microwave on high for 30 to 40 seconds. Crumble the dried herbs and store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
  • The shelf life of whole spices is 2 years and of ground spices/dried herbs is one year. Do not store spices on the counter close to the stove because heat and light will shorten their shelf life.
  • If you can finish a bag of coffee beans in less than 10 to 12 days, store the coffee in an airtight container on the counter. Keep the coffee beans away from air and light. Freeze coffee beans you plan to keep longer than 12 days.

Pantry Food Storage Chart

Here is a chart with information on the appropriate length of storage in the pantry for various foods.

Food
Recommended Storage Time at 70°F
Handling Hints
Staples
Baking powder 18 months Keep dry and covered.
Baking soda 2 years Keep dry and covered.
Bouillon cubes or granules 1 to 2 years Keep dry and covered.
Bread crumbs (dried) 6 months Keep dry and covered.
Bread, rolls 3 days  
Bulgur 6 to 12 months  
Ready-to-eat cereal (unopened) 6 to 12 months Check date on package. Refold package liner tightly after opening.
Ready-to-eat cereal (opened) 2 to 3 months
Cooked cereal (before preparation) 6 months
Pre-melted chocolate 12 months Keep cool.
Semi-sweet chocolate 18 months Keep cool.
Unsweetened chocolate 18 months Keep cool.
Cocoa Indefinitely  
Chocolate syrup (unopened) 2 years  
Chocolate syrup (opened) 6 months Cover tightly, refrigerate after opening.
Cocoa mixes 8 months Cover tightly.
Coffee (unopened) 2 years  
Coffee (opened) 2 weeks  
Instant coffee (unopened) 1 to 2 years Refrigerate after opening. Keep tightly closed; use dry measuring spoon.
Instant coffee (opened) 2 months  
Coffee lighteners (dry, unopened) 9 months  
Coffee lighteners (dry, opened) 6 months Keep lid tightly closed.
Cornmeal 12 months Keep tightly closed. Can be frozen.
Cornstarch 18 months Keep tightly closed.
White flour 6 to 8 months Keep in airtight container. Can be frozen.
Whole wheat flour 6 to 8 months Keep refrigerated. Store in airtight container.
Gelatin 18 months Keep in original container.
Grits 12 months Store in airtight container.
Honey 12 months Cover tightly; if crystallizes, warm jar in pan of hot water.
Jellies, jams 12 months Cover tightly. Storage life lengthened if refrigerated after opening.
Molasses (unopened) 1 to 2 years  
Molasses (opened) 6 months Keep tightly closed. Refrigerate to extend storage life; remove any light surface mold and use.
Marshmallow cream (unopened) 3 to 4 months Cover tightly. Refrigerate after opening to extend storage life. Serve at room temperature.
Marshmallows 2 to 3 months Keep in airtight container.
Mayonnaise (unopened) 2 to 3 months Refrigerate after opening.
Condensed or evaporated milk (unopened) 12 months Invert cans every two months.
Non-fat dry milk (unopened) 6 months Put in airtight container.
Non-fat dry milk (opened) 3 months  
Pasta 2 years Once opened, store in airtight container.
Egg noodles 6 months  
Pectin, liquid or dry 1 year  
Pectin, liquid (opened) 1 month Recap and refrigerate.
White rice 2 years Keep tightly closed.
Brown, wild rice 6 to 12 months  
Flavored or herb rice 6 months  
Salad dressings, bottled (unopened) 10 to 12 months  
Salad dressings, bottled (opened) 3 months Refrigerate after opening.
Salad dressings, made from mix 2 weeks Refrigerate prepared dressing.
Salad oils (unopened) 6 months  
Salad oils (opened) 1 to 3 months Refrigerate after opening.
Shortenings, solid 8 months Refrigeration not needed.
Brown sugar 4 months Put in airtight container.
Confectioners’ sugar 18 months Put in airtight container.
Granulated sugar 2 years Cover tightly.
Sweeteners sugar 2 years Cover tightly.
Syrups 12 months Keep tightly closed. Refrigerate to extend storage life; remove any light surface mold and use.
Tea bags 18 months Put in airtight container.
Instant tea 3 years Cover tightly.
Loose tea 2 years Put in airtight container.
Vinegar (unopened) 2 years Keep tightly closed. Slightly cloudy appearance doesn’t affect quality. Distilled vinegar keeps longer than cider vinegar.
Vinegar (opened) 12 months  
Mixes and Packaged Foods
Biscuit, brownie, muffin mix 9 months Keep cool and dry.
Cakes, purchased 1 to 2 days If butter-cream, whipped cream, or custard frostings, fillings, refrigerate.
Cake mixes 9 months Keep cool and dry.
Angel food 12 months  
Casseroles, complete or add own meat 9 to 12 months Keep cool and dry.
Homemade cookies 2 to 3 weeks Put in airtight container.
Packaged cookies 2 months Keep box tightly closed.
Crackers 3 months Keep box tightly closed.
Canned frostings 3 months Store leftovers in refrigerator.
Frostings from mix 8 months  
Hot-roll mix 18 months If opened, put in airtight container.
Pancake mix 6 to 9 months Put in airtight container.
Pie crust mix 8 months Keep cool and dry.
Pies and pastries 2 to 3 days Refrigerate whipped cream, custard, and chiffon fillings.
Instant potatoes 6 to 12 months Keep airtight package.
Puddings mixes 12 months Keep cool and dry.
Rice mixes 6 months Keep cool and dry.
Sauce and gravy mixes 6 to 12 months Keep cool and dry.
Soup mixes 12 months Keep cool and dry.
Toaster pastries 2 to 3 months Keep in airtight packet.
Canned and Dried Foods
Canned foods (unopened) 12 months Keep cool.
Canned fruit juices 9 months Keep cool.
Canned baby foods (opened) 2 to 3 days All opened canned foods—refrigerate and cover tightly; to avoid metallic taste, transfer foods in cans to glass or plastic storage containers.
Canned fish and seafood (opened) 2 days
Canned fruit (opened) 1 week
Canned meats (opened) 2 days
Canned pickles, olives (opened) 1 to 2 months
Canned poultry (opened) 2 days
Canned sauce, tomato (opened) 5 days
Canned vegetables (opened) 3 days
Fruits, dried 6 months Keep cool, in airtight container; if possible refrigerate.
Vegetables, dried 1 year  
Spices, Herbs, Condiments, and Extracts
Catsup, chili sauce (unopened) 12 months  
Catsup, chili sauce (opened) 1 month Refrigerate for longer storage.
Mustard, prepared yellow (unopened) 2 years  
Mustard, prepared yellow (opened) 6 to 8 months May be refrigerated. Stir before using.
Whole spices and herbs 1 to 2 years Store in airtight containers in dry places away from sunlight and heat. At times listed, check aroma; if faded, replace. Whole cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon sticks maintain quality beyond 2 year period.
Ground spices and herbs 6 months
Herbs 6 months
Herb and spice blends 6 months
Vanilla (unopened) 2 years Keep tightly closed; volatile oils escape.
Vanilla (opened) 12 months  
Other extracts (opened) 12 months Keep tightly closed; volatile oils escape.
Vegetable, dehydrated flakes 6 months  
Other Foods
Cheese, parmesan, grated (unopened) 10 months Refrigerate after opening. Keep tightly closed.
Cheese, parmesan, grated (opened) 2 months
Coconut, shredded, canned, or packaged (unopened) 12 months  
Coconut, shredded, canned, or packaged (opened) 6 months Refrigerate after opening.
Meat substitutes—textured protein products (such as imitation bacon bits) 4 months Keep tightly closed; for longer storage, refrigerate.
Metered-caloric products, instant breakfast 6 months Keep in can, closed jars, or original packets.
Nuts, in-shell (unopened) 4 months Refrigerate after opening. Freeze for longer storage.
Nutmeats packaged in vacuum can (unopened) 1 year Unsalted and blanched nuts keep longer than salted.
Nutmeats packaged in other nut packaging (unopened) 3 months  
Nutmeats (opened) 2 weeks  
Peanut butter (unopened) 6 to 9 months Refrigeration not needed.
Peanut butter (opened) 2 to 3 months Keeps longer if refrigerated. Serve at room temperature.
Peas, beans—dried 12 months Store in airtight container in cool place.
Popcorn 2 years Store in airtight container.
Fresh onions 2 weeks Keep dry and away from sun.
Fresh white potatoes 2 to 4 weeks For longer storage, keep about 50 degrees F.
Fresh sweet potatoes 1 to 2 weeks Do not refrigerate.
Dry whipped topping 12 months Keep cool and dry.
Dry yeast Expiration date on package  

References

  • FDA/CFSAN. Food safety A to Z reference—refrigerator and freezer storage chart. Retrieved June 1, 2009, from vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fttstore.html
  • Food safety education: Chill. Cold storage chart. (2004). Retrieved June 1, 2009, from foodsafety.gov/~fsg/f01chart.html
  • FSIS, USDA. Food product dating. (2007). Retrieved May 28, 2010, from fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/food_product_dating/index.asp
  • Garden-Robinson, J. (2007). Food storage guide: Answers the question. Retrieved June 1, 2009, from ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/foods/fn579-1.htm
  • Kimball, C. (2004-2010). Cook's Illustrated, volumes 66-103.
  • K-State Research and Extension. Cupboard storage chart. Retrieved June 1, 2009, from oznet.ksu.edu/dp_fnut/hrap/storage/cupstor.htm
  • K-State Research and Extension. Freezer storage chart. Retrieved June 1, 2009, from oznet.ksu.edu/dp_fnut/storage/freezsto.htm
  • K-State Research and Extension. Refrigerator storage chart. Retrieved June 1, 2009, from oznet.ksu.edu/dp_fnut/hrap/storage/frigstor.htm
  • National Restaurant Association. (2001). Cold storage chart. Educational Foundation's International Food Safety Council.
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