Have you ever looked into your cupboard and wondered how long an item had been there and if it’s still ok to eat?
I often see magazines that tell us how long our food-stuffs last and advising us to be diligent about throwing out the expired ones. But, in the real world, how do you remember when you bought that packet of pasta, the Earl Grey tea that your Aunty drinks when she visits, or the mung beans that you bought when you wanted to go on that health diet? Yes, there are ‘best before’ dates on most foods, but what happens when you put your rice and sugar into the glass jars that look so nice? Maybe some people are so organised that they write this stuff down somewhere. Even if I did, I would probably forget where I wrote it, or one day find a piece of paper that says ‘Honey 29032020’ and wonder who Honey is and why she has such an odd telephone number!
So, how long does it last? The good news is that it’s probably a lot longer than the suppliers say. It’s worth remembering that the reason foods were dried, bottled or preserved in any other way, was to ensure a supply until the next time they could be harvested – i.e. at least a year away. Therefore, most of your preserved groceries should last at least that long and generally much longer.
But, honestly, if you cannot remember buying it, haven’t cooked it by now, and can’t see yourself ever cooking it, it’s time to chuck it out.
For those foods that you plan to keep, here are some guidelines on storing them, which might even make them last a little longer.
Most dried products, such as beans, pulses, flours, rice, seeds and fruits will benefit if they are decanted into glass or tin containers. I prefer glass as it always seems much cleaner and an added bonus I can see what is inside and don’t have to write a label.
Weevils are often a problem with dried foods, especially whole-wheat items. Usually if they get into one packet they will soon move into the others, which is another reason why it’s better to put dried foods into containers. Bay leaves are a great deterrent so get into the habit of putting a leaf into every container. Of course, if you do have weevils it means that your food still has some life in it. I have never seen weevils in commercial dried white pasta.
Dried beans, peas, pulses: Up to two years, although the flavour does deteriorate, especially in lentils. The older beans are, the longer they take to cook.
Rice: up to two years.
Pasta: Dried, up to a year
Vinegars: most will last indefinitely. Some vinegars have sprigs of herb inside which will start to lose their colour after about 6 months.
Oils: good quality, cold pressed oils should be stored in a cupboard, away from light and heat. Some, such as wheat germ are better kept in the fridge. They should last at least a year in the right conditions. If they taste rancid throw them away. Regular cooking oil will keep for a lot longer.
Herbs: Dried herbs last for a maximum of 6 months. After that they lose their flavour and you may as well add cardboard to your cooking!
Spices: About a year
Honey: FOREVER!! Apparently the honey found in the Egyptian tombs is still edible (No, I don’t know who tested it)
Jams, chutneys: Jams and chutneys were originally made to preserve seasonal fruits and vegetables, so they really should only last about a year, when the food is back in season.
Tinned foods: Most have a shelf life of a year. The coating of the tin begins to deteriorate after a year which can damage the contents
Frozen: Most food-stuffs are best eaten within a year. They are generally still edible for longer, but flavours do deteriorate.
Sauces (bottled). Again, about a year if unopened. After opening, keep in the fridge and use within a month