15 Top Pantry Items with a Long Shelf Life

A well-stocked pantry can be a lifesaver when a last-minute grocery run isn’t possible. Start covering your bases with these 15 items — under proper storage, they'll keep their flavor and nutrition, allowing you to focus on other pressing needs.

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Rice

When stored in a cool, dry place inside an airtight container, white rice can keep indefinitely. Just watch for bugs or other contaminants (and if you find any, toss the whole container). Brown rice won't keep for as long, and will look oily and give off a rancid odor if spoiled.

Dried Beans

With all their protein and fiber, dried beans make hearty meals possible when leaving the house isn't an option. Though older beans may take longer to get tender, they can keep for several years when stored in an airtight container.

Dried Pasta

An unopened package of dried pasta can keep up to several years past its printed date. After opening, store the remaining pasta in an airtight container to prolong its shelf life, and toss it if you find any bugs or off odors. 

Oats

This versatile grain can be eaten as cereal, made into granola or ground into flour, so it's a good thing it keeps for a long time. Like rice, oats will keep indefinitely in proper storage.

Dried Lentils

Lentils are an excellent source of B vitamins for energy, plant-based protein, fiber and minerals like iron, zinc and potassium. If stored in an air-tight container in a dry and cool place, they will last for years.

Powdered Milk

Like the foods previously listed, powdered milk will keep indefinitely under proper storage conditions (cool, dark and dry). Use it for desserts, baked goods and soups when you're in a pinch.

Low-Acid Canned Goods

Think carrots, corn, beans, potatoes, pumpkin and spinach (not tomatoes). These low-acid canned vegetables will last for 2 to 5 years, according to the USDA. Stock up on the commercial kind rather than home-canned, and discard any that have a bulging end, which most likely mean some unsavory organisms at work.

Jerky

On the pricey side, jerky could be considered a special treat in your emergency stockpile. Unopened commercially processed jerky can last up to a year, and should be eaten within a few days of tearing into a bag.

Dark Chocolate

When it comes to hoarding chocolate, go for dark — 70% or higher — cocoa. It will last a couple years unopened. Avoid milk and white, which have dairy products in them and will spoil quicker. Once you start rationing littles squares, eat within a year.

Peanut Butter Powder

The powdered form of peanut butter is an excellent source of calories and protein. Make small batches of PB by adding enough water to make a paste. An unopened container has double the shelf life — about 12 months — of regular peanut butter, which is 6 to 9 months for an unopened jar. Once opened, use it within 4 to 6 months.

Honey 

Honey has a low moisture content, which makes it extremely uninhabitable for bacteria — unless moisture is introduced to it, it will pretty much last forever. If it crystallizes over time, you can eat it as is, or heat the glass jar gently in a pot of simmering water just until it becomes liquid again.

Sugar

While white and brown sugars won't go bad, both will harden over time if not stored in airtight containers. You can easily soften white sugar by laying it onto a baking sheet in a warm oven (150 to 200 degrees F) for about 15 minutes, or until the sugar comes apart when tapped with a spoon. Save rock-hard brown sugar by placing it in a zip-top bag with a slice of bread overnight.

Salt

Though not really edible on its own, salt makes food taste, well, more like food. Stock up so you're not caught without it in the middle of a storm — it'll last indefinitely when kept in an airtight container.

Vinegar

Vinegar's high acidity extends the shelf lives of canned and pickled foods, so it makes sense that it's basically self-preserving. Stored in a cool, dark place, it'll last forever.

Hard Liquor

Unopened bottles of distilled alcohol, like brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka and whiskey, have an indefinite shelf life. Once opened, they may (very, very slowly) begin to lose flavor after extended amounts of time, but will still be safe to drink.