Food

Best Before Dates: How Long Do You Really Have To Eat Your Pantry Staples?

Are you unsure how long you’ve had that packet of rice in the pantry and whether it’s still safe to eat if it’s past the best before date? Don’t throw it out! Here’s your guide to how long you REALLY have to eat pantry staples and how to store them so you can enjoy them for longer.

Hands up if you panic-bought pantry staples just a little bit in the past couple of years and now you have excess to needs? Or just a big ol’ pile of pasta and wondering how much time we have left? Girl, same.

PASTA, I AM LOOKING AT YOU. via GIPHY


Best before and use by dates: what’s the difference?

First and foremost, there IS a difference between ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By’ dates.

A best before date means that the product is still safe to eat after the printed date, as long as it’s not damaged or has started to deteriorate (gone stale or rancid). Though the food can lose some of its quality after the date, so if you want to eat it when it’s at its best, eat it before the date.

A use-by date is more of a hard and fast rule to live by and means that food should be eaten by the date or discarded. After this date, foods may become unsafe to eat (even if they look fine and pass your sniff test) due to a build-up of bacteria and other nasties. Often you’ll find this on perishable products like dairy and meat etc.

While it’s common for fresh foods such as milk, meat, dairy goods, packaged salads etc to have a use-by date and a limited shelf life even in refrigerated conditions, it’s the stuff I’ve squirrelled away in the pantry with best before dates that have me wondering if it’s still safe to eat.

SO LET’S FIND OUT.

Good Food gives us the inside scoop on what’s good and for how long in the pantry!

best before dates
July 2022… Well, this is awkward. But sealed, so safe to eat still! Source: Supplied

10 pantry staples you can eat after their best before dates

1. Flour – Up to 2 years

Good news, if kept in an airtight container at room temperature, your can last quite a while! You have around a year to use it once opened and up to two years if you keep plain flour in the fridge or freezer. Self-raising flour may lose its magical leavening agent potency after this period so if your baking results in flat cakes, it’s time to refresh your flour!

2. Sugar – 12 months

This has a really good shelf lifespan too. Once opened, keep in an airtight container and use within the year. Brown sugar may start to dry out past its best before date, so use it as quickly as you can.

3. Canned vegetables and soups – 12 to 24 months

If you bought a dozen tins of tomatoes and vegetable soup during a panic-buying frenzy, it’s going to be ok. You have 12 to 24 months to get your Masterchef on with those tins. Once the best before date is reached, the quality of contents might reduce, but they’ll still be edible. Bring on the Bolognese!

4. Honey, jam and syrups – 6 months

If you’re not likely to use things before the best before date, pop them in the fridge once they’re opened. You can eat jam and syrup up to six months past the date provided you’ve used clean utensils and not dropped any toast crumbs in the jars. Honey lasts longer, but often a buttery knife spoils its shelf life!

Nature Nate's Honey Co.
Squeeze bottles keep utensils and fingers out which helps retain shelf-life! Source: Supplied

5. Oil – 3 to 4 months

If stored in a cool, dark place, you’ve got 3 to 4 months to use that oil beyond the printed date. If it has turned cloudy though, toss it out.

6. Nuts – Up to 12 months

Nuts can have an extended shelf life of up to 12 months if kept in an airtight container in the fridge and they can even be frozen for 12 – 24 months. If left at room temperature for too long past their best before date, you’ll know if they’ve turned rancid. They’ll have a funny smell and will taste bitter.

7. Breakfast cereals – around 6 months

Yep, you’ve got around six months up your sleeve to eat that cereal if it’s stored in an airtight container! And if you’re not going to eat it as breakfast think about baking with it – ANZAC biscuits, Cornflake biscuits, Weetbix slices etc and freezing them to eat later.

8. Sauces – up to 6 months

This is often a debate that divides families – should your tomato sauce be kept in the fridge or the pantry? For the record, most sauce bottles will say to refrigerate upon opening and from that point, you generally have six months to use it up. Always, always clean the nozzle to keep bacteria at bay.

9. Instant coffee – 20 years?!

 Hold on to your mugs on this one, instant coffee has a surprisingly long shelf life. We’re talking 20 years, provided it’s stored properly in an airtight container, in the dark and doesn’t become contaminated. That tin of International Roast really will feel like it will last forever.

10. Rice and pasta – 12 to 24 months

When stored in airtight storage, you can get 12 – 24 months to cook pasta and rice. Plenty of time for curry nights and Friday night pasta.

best before dates
Pasta tonight or in TWO YEARS. The best before date is all good, so up to you… Source: Supplied

A note to pantry enthusiasts

Pantries have become BIG business the last few years and we’re decanting dry goods more than ever before into pretty jars, coordinating plastic ware or zip-lock bags and discarding the not-so aesthetically pleasing original packaging, along with the best before date.

I urge you all to grab a chalk pen and write on the bottom of the container the use-by or best before date. Easy peasy.

Kitchen and pantry storage Kmart
Living the long shelf life dream with Kmart storage solutions. Source: Kmart

Keep it clean and make the most of the best before dates!

The secret to foods lasting longer is often to minimise the risk of contamination. Some brilliant ways to minimise the risk are:

  • Airtight containers: Airtight containers will save you the tears of a pantry moth or weevil infestation which will see you having to throw out so much food that they get into. No one wants to eat bugs. No one.
  • Light: Contrary to popular trends of pantries flooded with natural light, your food will last longer if kept in a dark place. Sunlight raises the temperature of a room and makes your food spoil faster. So storing your pantry staples in cupboards is a good tip!
  • Clean utensils: Dirty utensils dipped into jars of jam or sauces are practically inviting mould to nestle in and make a home. Always use a clean knife or spoon – and no, licking it clean doesn’t count!
  • Wash up: When you’ve emptied a container and you’re filling it up again, give it a quick wash in warm water and detergent. That way there are no residual contents left behind to potentially spoil the new lot.
best before dates
Airtight storage is a MUST for keeping food for longer. Source: Supplied

Right, well, I know I’ll be spending my weekend auditing my pantry because I know some things I’ve had waaayyyyy longer than the safe zone of time..

Do you have anything you’re still using long past the best-before date? I’m pretty sure my mum used the same bottle of curry powder for about 15 years, is this you too? Share your best ‘best before’ pantry find in the comment section below!

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Avatar of Lexi Klaebe

South Australian mum and self proclaimed foodie, Lexi can most days be found in the kitchen, apron tied firm and armed with a whisk or wooden spoon!

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