With the arrival of spring, it’s time to think about cleaning our homes inside-out: closets, cabinets, appliances, even under the couch cushions. But one place we often neglect? The pantry.
If you’re wondering why your pantry smells off, look to the expiration dates for your kitchen staples.
The Difference Between Expiration and Best-Before Dates
To start, you should know that there is a difference (and an important one, at that) between expiration and best-before dates.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, there are three basic food labels to be aware of: best-before dates, packaged-on dates, and expiration dates.
- The best-before date tells you how long you can expect an unopened item will maintain its taste, freshness, and nutritional qualities.
- The expiration date lets you know when the foods no longer have specified nutritional specifications. Foods should not be used beyond expiration dates.
- Packaged-on dates are used on packed food that needs to be consumed in 90 days or less.
Many pantry items last beyond the best-before dates, especially if you store them in an airtight container. While these expired foods may not make you ill, they often have little taste or nutritional value after that date passes.
Expiration Dates for Kitchen Staples
Many items expire sooner than you may think. Here’s a guide to some basic kitchen staples in your pantry:
- Coffee – To ensure your morning cup of java keeps tasting as it should, use freshly ground coffee within one to two weeks. Roasted coffee beans can keep up to three weeks. Vacuum-packed ground coffee can be kept for up to one year, unopened, and once opened should be used within two weeks. If instant coffee is what you prefer, use it within two to three months after opening.
- Teas – If tea is more to your liking you should know that teas lose their antioxidant goodness over time, so best not to let them sit for too long. Just keep your tea supply small.
- Flour – One year at the most, and less for whole wheat flour. You can keep both in a fridge or freezer, but make sure to keep it moisture-free. Whole wheat flour has a telltale rancid odour when it has sat beyond its’ shelf life.
- Oats – Buy amounts you can use in a 4 to 6-month period. They can go rancid, though not as quickly as whole wheat flour.
- Spices – Most are best used with two to three years. If you want the benefits of taste and antioxidant properties, you should not hang on to spices for too long. When in doubt, throw it out.
- Baking soda, baking powder and baker’s yeast – Yeast will have an expiry date that you should stick to. If the yeast dies, you won’t get any good results next time you try to make pizza dough. Baking soda loses its fizzing power and can take on odours, which is why it is great as a fridge deodorizer. But an open package will give you six months of good Baking powder is best used within 18 months.
- Salt — Can be kept indefinitely.
- White granulated sugar, icing sugar, and brown sugar — can be kept indefinitely. Brown sugar can harden, and if it does, you can soften it by adding a few apple slices or a piece of bread to its container. If you need it right away, you can place it in the microwave, with a damp cloth over and heat in 20-minute
- Baking chocolate – Baker’s chocolate is good between six months to one year, however semi-sweet chocolate pieces can be kept for up to two years, unopened.
- Cornstarch – Should be used within 18 months.
- Oils – They can last one to two years if unopened and up to a year if opened. Avocado, grapeseed and sesame oils have a shorter shelf life.
- Nut Butters – 3 months after opening, and another three to six months in the fridge after opening. If the oil starts to separate, keep turning the jar over. Unopened, for up to a year.
- Honey – They say honey can be kept indefinitely, but once opened liquid honey can solidify. If this happens, you can gently heat it on the stove or in the microwave to liquefy it once again.
- Shelled nuts – Shelled nuts will only keep for four months. Once unshelled, they will last for up to six months and will keep longer in the fridge. If you have ever shelled your own nuts, you will know how very fresh and tasty they are. If you can’t shell nuts right away, they can be kept in the freezer until you are ready to use them.
- Garlic – Whole garlic is best used within 3-4 months. Minced garlic will keep, unopened for about two years.