When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?

Asia's Tech News Daily

Knowing when to throw out food can be tricky, especially dry goods. Most packaged products come labeled with a use-by, sell-by and best-by date. But when it comes to pantry staples, you might have more time to bake those cookies than you thought. 

When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
© Provided by CNET KitchenAid

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service alongside the Food Marketing Institute and Cornell University maintains an online resource called Foodkeeper. There, you can find a storage guide with information on hundreds of foods and their best shelf life for food freshness and quality. Here’s the rundown of common baking essentials you probably have sitting in the back of your pantry. 

When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
© Alina Bradford/CNET

Baking powder

Unopened baking powder can be stored for up to 18 months and still be fresh and effective. After that, you’ll likely notice a loss of potency when using it in baking recipes. Opened baking powder should be used within 6 months. Many packages include a place to write the date you opened it on the lid, a helpful way to keep track of freshness. 

Baking soda

Baking soda, unopened, can last a surprisingly long time. In fact, it’s good for up to three years. If you’ve opened your baking soda, you’ll want to use it up or throw it out after six months. Baking soda and powder are both important ingredients in baking and to be most effective, fresher is always better. 

When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
© Provided by CNET Opened baking soda can last up to three years unopened at room temperature. Alina Bradford/CNET

Baking powder and baking soda lose potency over time. The science of baking — exact measuring, sifting and allowing things to rest or rise — can be easily dismantled by a bad box of baking soda or baking powder, the agents of change in many recipes. While these might be safe to eat for months after the standard shelf life, fresher is always more effective for baking. 

Flour 

There are several types of flour, but the most common are whole wheat and white. Wheat flour has a shelf life of up to six months if stored unopened in the pantry. Once you’ve opened it, keeping flour refrigerated can extend its shelf life to eight months.

White flour can last up to one year stored in the pantry, unopened. Open it up and the pantry life decreases to eight months. Throw your white flour in the refrigerator and you’ll have fresh flour for up to one year.

Pantry purge: 10 things you need to toss today

When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
When do flour, sugar and other baking ingredients really expire?
If you only bake occasionally, check your yeast’s expiration date. It is only good for a year if it’s sealed. If it’s unsealed and in your pantry it’s probably dead. Next time, refrigerate your yeast right after opening the jar. Coffee beans have one of the shortest shelf lives of all pantry staples. They only stay fresh for one to two weeks. You can extend their lives by putting them in the fridge. Refrigeration gives them around a month’s worth of good brews. Unlike flour, which is good in your pantry for around a year, cornmeal shouldn’t even be stored in the pantry. It should go in an air-tight container in the fridge or freezer. Even then, it only stays good for two to six months. Olive oil can go rancid after just three to four months in the pantry if it has been opened before. If your bottle is sealed, it will stay good for up to a year. You can tell if olive oil is rancid by the smell. Rancid oil smells like rotten eggs. Onions are not impenetrable to the effects of aging. They’re only good for around two to four months. They don’t have a label you can check for an expiration date, so look for soft spots or blackness. Both are signs that your onion is past its prime. Like onions, garlic cloves are another pantry item that seems to stay fresh for an amazingly long time. Also like onions, they last around two to four months and show the same types of grossness when it’s time to toss them. I bet there’s at least one potato in your pantry that is sprouting. Yep. It’s OK. It seems like potatoes are a magical food that stays good forever, but they only have a shelf life of two to five weeks, depending on the type of potato. Any signs of shriveling or softness and it’s time to compost. Many canned foods are only good for one to two years, especially in humid parts of the world. It’s probably hard to believe for those of you in dry climates, but seriously, I’ve had this problem. High acid foods can also cause can corrosion, according to the USDA. If it doesn’t have an expiration date on the can, remember, if the can is deeply dented or is starting to bulge, leak or heavily rusting, tossing it is a must. If your mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup are sealed, then keep them in the pantry for around a year. If not, toss them. These condiments need to be refrigerated to stay fresh. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the fine print on the back label. Unopened, maple syrup can stay in your pantry for around two years. After it’s opened it needs to go into the fridge. If you have an opened bottle in the pantry, toss it or you may be pouring mold spores on your pancakes.

If you found bugs in your flour, it’s probably because the flour wasn’t stored properly. Flour should be stored in an airtight container and in the refrigerator to prevent infestations. Bugs aren’t necessarily a sign of flour going bad, but if you do discover them, it’s definitely time to get a new bag of flour.

Flour is also notorious for harboring bacteria. Whether it’s past its use-by date or not, you should always bake any recipe that includes flour before eating.

Almond flour

Almond flour (also called almond meal) and other nut “flours” should always be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. That’s because nuts contain oils that hasten rancidity faster than oil-free grain products. 

According to Bob’s Red Mill, almond flour can last four to five months after the “sell by” date, so long as it is stored in an airtight container and in the fridge or freezer. 

Sugar

Sugar is a staple of the kitchen. Whether you’re baking or glazing or making a great sauce, every cook needs some of the sweet stuff. Chances are, unless you’re baking batches of cookies every week, you’re likely to keep the same 5-pound bag of sugar around for a while. When should you really throw it out? 

Turns out, sugar takes the cake when it comes to extended shelf life. Granulated sugar can last up to two years in the pantry after opening. Technically, sugar never spoils. While it’s recommended that granulated sugar be discarded after two years, chances are it will still serve its baking purpose even beyond that. The same guidelines apply to brown sugar and confectioner’s or powdered sugar. 

Despite the impressive shelf life of these baking essentials, if you’re ever unsure of an item’s age it’s best to buy a fresh box. Still, next time you get ready to clean out the pantry and toss everything in the trash, try mixing up a batch of cookies instead. 

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