9 Things in Your Pantry You Should Throw Away
If you're anything like us, your kitchen pantry is probably bursting at its seams. We utilize every inch, nook and cranny to store everything from canned beans and seaweed snacks to BBQ sauce. Although we'd like to say that all our pantry items are fresh, the truth is we know there are some items that have gone bad or are past their best-by date. Here are the nine types of items in our pantries—and probably yours—that should be thrown away.
Cooking oils such as canola oil and olive oil don't last as long as you might think. According to the USDA, they last about four months when stored unopened. However, they can degrade even faster when exposed to light, air and heat. To check if your oils are still good, take a good whiff to see if you smell any off odors. If you detect a smell that is stale or reminds you of chemicals, a fermented funk or even crayons, the oil is past its prime or may be completely spoiled. It's time to toss that oil.
Sometimes a tiny taste test may be the best route. If the oil smells OK but tastes sour, soapy or not quite right, then get rid of it. Trust your senses. More than likely, when an oil is bad, you'll know it.
Herbs & Spices
If you're an adventurous home cook and like to try out new recipes, you're probably like us—guilty of hoarding dozens of dried herbs and spices that have only been used once or twice. Dried herbs and spices technically never go bad, but they will lose their flavor over time. According to the USDA, ground spices last about two to three years, while whole spices can last up to four years. Go through your spice drawer and throw out any that have been around for longer than those time frames—they're not doing your cooking any favors.
Are you a lifelong baker or, like so many of us, did you pick up baking as a hobby during lockdown? Either way, you likely have half-used bags of flour tucked away in your pantry. It may be time to throw those in the compost bin. In general, flour will stay fresh for about eight months when stored at room temperature. However, certain flours, like whole-wheat, gluten-free and nut-based flours, have a shorter shelf life due to their higher fat content. If your flour was bought at the beginning of the pandemic, it's probably time to throw it away. (Here's how to tell if flour is bad and how to store it properly.) If it's been less than a year since you purchased it, do a smell test. If it has a stale, sour or off aroma, throw it out.
Dry Rice & Pasta
Whether you're a pasta fanatic who just loses track of all the different shapes of noodles in your pantry, or you rarely touch the stuff, there are likely opened or lost bags or boxes of pasta deep in your shelves. And most of us have that bag of rice that we're not sure exactly how long it's been in there. Lucky for us, rice and pasta can last years in the pantry, but it may be time to re-order them first-in, first-out style. When doing this, throw out any containers that were left open and unsealed, or pasta or rice that is misshapen, discolored or smells rancid.
Baking Powder, Baking Soda & Yeast
Again, if you're not baking as much now, chances are your leaveners have expired. Unopened baking powder has a shelf life of about six months, while baking soda can last up to 18 months, according to the USDA. If opened, they both should be used within six months. If you're not sure how long your leaveners have been open, you can conduct a test. To do so, add some baking soda to hot water with vinegar. If it starts to fizz, then it's still good. Perform the same test with baking powder but just use water without the vinegar.
For yeast, check the expiration dates on the packets and throw out any that have expired. If you have an opened container of dry yeast that hasn't been stored in the freezer, it's probably time to toss that, too. Dry yeast lasts about four months when stored in the fridge and a few years when frozen.
Ever go nuts and buy one too many pounds of a certain variety only to have them sit in your pantry basically untouched? Don't worry, we've all been there. Sadly, nuts have a short shelf life due to their fat content. If more than six months have passed since you purchased yours (and they haven't been stored in the freezer), there's a good chance those nuts have turned rancid. If you want to be 100% sure before you toss them, do a sniff and taste test. If they have an off odor or taste, chuck them.
If you're not a big pancake-and-waffle household, you may have a container or two of opened maple syrup that needs to be thrown out. Unlike honey, maple syrup will go bad. Unopened, pure maple syrup will last about one year in your pantry, while opened maple syrup is good for about one year in the fridge, according to the USDA. Unrefrigerated, opened maple syrup may grow mold. Check yours and toss it if you see any mold growing.
Food Gifts and Souvenirs You'll Never Use
Gifting, buying and receiving gourmet food is something that brings us a lot of joy. But the truth is, sometimes we spend so much time admiring the product and packaging, and remembering the person or memory associated with it, that we never get around to actually using it. Or maybe you just felt bad throwing out a gift and forgot about it in the pantry. If something has been around, unopened for more than two years, we say toss it. At that point, the chances of it hanging out, taking up precious pantry space for another two years are higher than the probability of you consuming it, and it's likely bad anyway or at least past its prime.
We love a festive baking project, especially if includes seasonal sprinkles. But we hardly ever need an entire bottle for the bake. So oftentimes we'll put them on the uppermost pantry shelf and forget about them for a few years. Sprinkles are made up of mostly sugar, and can last much longer than their best-by date (sometimes even by years), but that doesn't mean they don't ever go bad. Along with sugar, sprinkles include food dyes, flavorings and other additives that can go rancid or lose their quality over time. If your last baking project featuring sprinkles happened pre-2000, it's probably time for those pretty fellows to go. However, if you're not sure, you can do a see-and-smell check. If they've started to discolor and they have an off odor, it's time to say goodbye to those jimmies.