Stored properly, these pantry staples will last a lifetime—or longer.

Karla Walsh
April 17, 2020
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Trying to cut down on food waste? (USDA research shows that Americans toss 30 to 40% of the food we grow and manufacture.) Or limiting trips to the grocery store to slow the spread of the coronavirus? Attempting to keep your supermarket bill more budget-friendly? These pantry staples, which will last nearly indefinitely when stored properly, deliver on all three fronts.

Stock up on these pantry items, then mix them with the long-lasting produce you have handy for easy dinners in a pinch.

Getty / Brian Hagiwara

Just remember, when in doubt—and if any food has a foul odor, visible mold (aside from the good kind, like in blue cheese) or unexplainable discoloration—throw it out. This USDA recommends the FoodKeeper app to keep tabs on the lifespan of all of your groceries.

Honey

Don't be scared off by any crystallized portions hanging out in your honey bear—archaeologists discovered 3,000-year-old honey buried in Egyptian tombs that was still edible! Bees convert nectar into honey using an enzyme in their stomach that makes the sweetener just 17% water. That, plus its low 3.9 pH, makes it nearly impossible for microbes to grow in the sweetener. If your honey does happen to grow a few crystals, run the container under warm water or microwave the honey briefly to soften it back up.

Dried beans

Canned products, including beans, last a long time, but not forever. While Brigham Young University researchers found that 32-year-old canned pinto beans lost none of their protein content over time and were still safe to eat, most recommendations for canned beans estimate two to three years.) Stored in a cool, dry place, though, dried beans pretty much never expire. "Mature" dried beans take longer to cook and do best when you soak them overnight before cooking, but you won't be putting your health at risk if you find a circa 2014 bag of beans in the back of your pantry.

Vinegar

Since it's so acidic, with a pH around 2.4, vinegar essentially preserves itself and does not require refrigeration. In fact, it's often used to preserve other foods. Some haze or color changes may occur in certain varieties, but this does not affect the vinegar's safety. If you prefer your vinegar to be spotless and long-living, stick to distilled white vinegar, which seems to stay crystal clear for decades. (Bonus: It can help you clean your dishwasher!)

Rice (most varieties)

Higher-fiber, richer-in-oils brown rice doesn't last as long, but dry (uncooked) white, jasmine, basmati and arborio (risotto, anyone?) last up to 5 years when stored in a cool, dark place like your pantry. For even longer storage, seek out vacuum-packed grains, which can last up to 25 years.

Powdered milk

Ultra-pasteurized shelf-stable milks can last up to 90 days unopened, according to Cornell University scientists. Nonfat powdered milk, though, can last more than a decade when stored in a cool, dry place, and it will basically never go bad if you keep it in the freezer. To reach its powdery consistency, the two portions of the milk that cause it to go bad (water and milk fats) are extracted from the milk. You can rehydrate powdered milk to drink—just note that it won't taste quite the same as the milk you buy in a carton—or add it to cookie batter, soups or your coffee for a creamy element.