11 Pantry Items You've Had for Too Long
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If your spices all smell like the wood your cupboard is made of, they probably aren't doing your cooking any favors. While they’re not harmful, ground spices will lose their potency after 1 to 2 years. Check any suspiciously old spices with a quick sniff and taste — if they’re not identifiable, it’s time to say goodbye.
Baking Powder and Baking Soda
Like spices, these baking essentials will lose their leavening powers long before ever "going bad." To avoid being unpleasantly surprised with a flat cake, perform these simple tests: Mix baking soda with vinegar, and baking powder with hot water. If fresh, both concoctions will foam up with lively bubbles.
Frugal parents, beware: Stored at room temperature, most candy will stay good for only up to 12 months past its printed date, and chocolate for as little as 2 months after. To be safe, avoid seasonally themed candy so that any extra can be used as stocking stuffers come Christmas. If you can't remember what year those M&M's are from, just be a good neighbor and buy some new candy.
There are few things more disheartening than toasting the perfect marshmallow only to discover the graham crackers are stale. Being exposed to moisture in the air will accelerate this, but even unopened graham crackers can lose their crunch if kept too long. Steer clear of disappointing s'mores — store the crackers in a cool, dry place and in an airtight container after opening. (And definitely check them before your next camping trip.)
Most canned vegetables will last up to 2 years stored at room temperature, and tomatoes will actually acquire an unpleasant, tinny flavor in as little as 1 year. For starters, if you can't remember buying something you haven’t touched in the past year, toss it. From there, a good defense is the best offense: Buy only the canned goods that you like or use often.
When you stock up on your favorite brew, keep in mind beer can go bad — especially at room temperature, or in a clear glass bottle (or both!). Light, heat and air (which can seep through bottle caps over time) will all contribute to spoilage and leave you with a sour, stale drink. Bottled beer kept at room temperature is good up to 4 months. You can stretch that out a few months by storing it in the fridge.
An essential for chicken fingers, meatballs, and crunchy-topped mac and cheese, these are best used within 6 months. Panko, the large-flake Japanese-style breadcrumbs, should be used within 3 months.
A stale bowl of cornflakes is no way to start your day. After 3 months, an opened box of cereal will suffer from exposure to air, so toss or compost it. A sealed box should last up to 1 year.
Anyone who has found a rock-solid mass when reaching for this favorite oatmeal sweetener knows that brown sugar will dry up and harden over time — and refrigeration won't help. Brown sugar is good for 4 months at room temp. Slip the package into a resealable plastic bag or transfer it to an airtight container to keep it soft and pliable.
Light and heat are the enemies here. After 6 months, an open bottle of olive oil can start to taste off. Look for oil that's sold in a dark (not clear) glass bottle, and keep it in a cool dark place in your kitchen. Unopened bottles are good for up to 1 year.
The oils that make whole grains such as bulgur, quinoa, barley and farro so good for you are also the culprit when it comes to shelf life. After prolonged exposure to light and air, they can start to turn rancid at room temperature. Avoid the giant value packs and purchase just the amount you know you'll use within 3 months. Or wrap them tightly and stow them in the freezer, where they'll keep for up to 6 months.