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Guest Post: Decoding the Secrets of Shelf Life and Expiration Dates

We are fortunate enough to have Kira Cowan, TipHero Editor, share some of her wisdom with us.  Read on and learn the secrets of shelf life and expiration dates…

Shelf life, or the length of time a packaged food will last without deterioration, is very important to know if you have or desire a well-stocked pantry.  A pantry can greatly aid you in your attempts to be frugal in the kitchen. There are many things you should know about pantry items, however, before you can be a true pantry master. What are the shelf lives of some of the most popular pantry items? How can you store items so that they will last longer? How do you know if a pantry item has gone bad? Read on, my friends. Read on.

What do the Dates on the Packaging Mean?

Knowing the difference between when something has gone bad and when something is just not at its absolute best quality is extremely important. Throwing away food just because of a “use by” date could be a waste of money and perfectly good food. Let’s wade through the “use-by, best-by, expires-on, sell-by” lingo to uncover what those dates actually mean with some help from StillTasty.com.

So, What Are the Shelf Lives of Some Popular Pantry Items?

If the packaging doesn’t denote when an item expires, that doesn’t mean the item is good forever (unfortunately). Mostly everything perishes or goes bad. Here are the shelf lives of a few popular staples according to Slash Food.


Canned Goods

Other Good Stuff

Note: There are two rules that trump shelf life information. If something smells or looks bad, no matter what its shelf life is supposed to be, throw it away! Also, if there is an expiration date printed on the packaging, go by that as opposed to its supposed shelf life.

What To Do With This Information

A well-stocked pantry is a very important thing to have for many reasons. Firstly, pantry items are what will help you and your family in case of an emergency. Items that have a shelf life of months or years will keep you nourished if, for some unspeakable reason, you are unable to leave your home. Secondly, quick and healthy and frugal meals can be made easily from items in your pantry. Thirdly, buying in bulk can be a money saver when the item A) is featured at an outstanding price, and B) has a long shelf life and will last until you have the opportunity to use it. Fourthly, the well-stocked pantry can often save you from running to the store for that one item you need for your recipe. Running out for that one (or two) item(s) can lead to buying more that you didn’t anticipate. Keeping an organized pantry full of your staples seems like one of the most frugal things you can do in the kitchen.

To make sure you use your pantry items before their shelf lives have expired, make sure to label them with the date of purchase. That way, you’ll easily be able to tell how long the item has been hanging around your home. A quick glance online will tell you how long the shelf life of the item is and you can determine what needs to be thrown away and when.

Preserving Your Staples

Is there anything you can do to make sure you get the longest possible shelf life from your pantry items? There sure is! Here are some general tips from Demesne.

MSNBC offers some more specific storage tips for keeping pantry items from spoiling.

Just For Fun

Just for kicks, wouldn’t it be fun to know what foods have the longest shelf life? Contrary to popular belief, canned items are not high on that list. They lose their texture and nutritional value after about 9 months. Apart from honey (which is the only food I’ve come across that seems to last “forever” on its own), Adam from eHow writes that there are 3 types of food that will last for decades. Here’s what he came up with:

So if you are looking for some intense survival food, those three types of food definitely seem like viable options. You may not want to live off of these on a daily basis if you don’t need to though. Mealtime could get pretty boring pretty fast.

What are some of your best tips for storing your food for optimal quality? What are some foods that you keep in your pantry that you feel like you never have to replace?

Check out these other great Tip Hero articles about food storage:

4 Tips for Longer Lasting Produce

How to Store Cheese so it Lasts Longer

7 Tips for Better Coffee: Storing Coffee Beans and Grinds

How to Prevent Food From Spoiling