Being familiar with the recommended shelf life of various foods helps you be sure that the food you are eating is safe.
"Knowing how to store food properly and how long it will keep means fewer food dollars wasted," says Tim Roberts, Virginia Cooperative Extension food safety specialist at Virginia Tech. "When we store food, we want it to retain all of the nutrients it had when we purchased it."
Non-perishable food items such as cereals, snack foods, and dry-packaged foods, such as rice, retain quality best in dry relatively cool environments. Cabinets over the range, near the dishwasher, or by the refrigerator exhaust may be too warm for food. Warm temperatures may affect the nutritional quality of the food and allow microorganisms to grow causing food spoilage.
While canned foods have a long shelf life, Roberts recommends that you try not to keep canned foods for more than one year. The color, flavor, texture, and nutritive value may have deteriorated in old canned goods. Canned goods should be stored at an optimum temperature of 70 degrees F and no higher than 95 degrees F.
Looking at the condition of the can is one indicator of how safe the food is inside the can. Discard bulging cans because the food inside may be spoiled. Avoid buying cans with dents on the side seams or around the top and bottom rim seams. If a can is leaky, throw it away. Check for leakage in rusty cans. The rust may have penetrated the can and contaminated the food inside.
Bread stays fresh longer if stored in a cool, dry place. "Refrigeration hastens staling of bread by retarding mold growth," says Roberts. High moisture breads such as English muffins and brown-and-serve breads should be stored in the refrigerator. Hard-crust breads, such as French bread, should be stored at room temperature and used within one or two days of purchase. Freeze fresh bread if you want to store it for a longer time.
Flour should be kept in an airtight container. In hot and humid weather, flour may draw moisture permitting the growth of microorganisms. Whole wheat flour should be kept refrigerated year round because the natural oils in the flour may become rancid quickly if stored at room temperature.
Vegetables such as dry onions, potatoes, rutabagas, and winter squash keep best in cool dark places. Most fruits and vegetables should be ripened at room temperature and then refrigerated until ready to use.
Cereals, crackers, and snacks should be consumed by the "best if consumed by date" or "use by date," Roberts suggests. Normally, if ready-to-eat cereal is opened, it can be kept for two to three months provided the package liner is tightly refolded after opening.
Coffee in cans can be stored for one year if unopened and for two weeks if opened. Unopened instant coffee can be stored for six months and for two weeks if opened.
Cornmeal, grits, honey, jellies and jams, and unopened molasses all have a shelf life of one year.
Spaghetti, macaroni, and other pastas keep for two years if stored in airtight containers.
An unopened bottle of salad dressing can be stored for ten to twelve months. Once opened, however, it should be refrigerated and can be kept for three months.
Solid shortenings do not require refrigeration and can be kept for eight months.
Biscuit, brownie, cake, and muffin mixes can be stored for nine months if kept cool and dry.
The shelf life of crackers is three months.
Pudding mixes and soup mixes both keep for one year.
Unopened catsup and chili sauce can be stored for one year; if opened, one month. Mustard may be stored for two years if unopened and for six to eight months if opened.
Parmesan cheese can be kept for twelve months if unopened and for two months if opened.
Peanut butter can be stored for six to nine months if unopened and for two months if opened. If stored in the refrigerator, peanut butter keeps longer.
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