30 Foods With Shelf-Lives So Long, They're Probably Older Than You Are
About one-third of the food produced in the world never makes it to people's plates, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states. It's not that we're all just super wasteful; those "sell by" and "use by" stamps can be downright confusing. (I know I've thrown away things like old brown sugar or mustard simply to be "on the safe side.") But in many instances, playing it safe is unnecessary, as is the case with these foods with long shelf lives.
Because no one likes to waste their hard-earned cash or make unnecessary grocery runs, we've outlined a host of good-for-you kitchen staples that last for years—yes, we said years—despite what it says on the label.
"Regular and quick-cooking oats can last in the pantry unopened or resealed for two to three years," says Laura Burak MS, RD, CDN, and founder of Laura Burak Nutrition. "This economical and versatile grain is full of cholesterol-lowering fiber, [deeming it a] great staple to keep in your cabinet for your morning bowl of oatmeal, overnight oats, or a swap in for healthier cookies or bread."
There are loads of reasons to give three cheers for chia seeds. Not only do they contain all nine essential amino acids, but they're also a potent source of fiber and ALAs, a type of omega-3s that can decrease the risk of heart disease. And when stored in an airtight container in the fridge, they remain tasty and safe to eat for up to a year.
You may not think much of whether the soy sauce dispenser by your sushi plate is fresh. After all, Asian restaurants must go through gallons of the stuff each month. But if you've got a bottle in your fridge that you don't use too often, you'd be pleased to know that it can last almost forever if it's unopened. Opened bottles that are refrigerated can last between two and three years.
Unopened mustard can last for up to three years. Once the seal is cracked, you've got about a year before it goes bad, although some opened varieties can last for up to two years.
Cooking Oil Sprays
If you've ever looked at a can of PAM, you've likely realized that the cooking spray can almost outlive you. According to Eat By Date, the virtually-calorie-free stuff can last two years in the pantry and for an indefinite amount of time in the fridge.
"Enjoying a delicious glass of red wine will automatically put a smile on my face," Burak says. "In addition to relaxing with a nice glass of red by itself, you can use it as an ingredient in many sauces and recipes. Not only is red wine high in antioxidants and a heart-healthy compound called resveratrol, but bottled red wine can last for 2-3 years unopened. According to Mayo Clinic, the antioxidants found in red wine may increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), aka good cholesterol, and protect against cholesterol buildup."
"Hemp seeds will stay fresh unopened in your pantry for about 14 months," Burak says, adding that "compared to other seeds, hemp seeds are higher in plant-based protein, fiber, [and] heart-healthy omega fats. I love these nutty-tasting seeds for smoothies, sprinkled on my peanut butter toast, and in my yogurt with berries."
If you're anything like us, the giant tub of canola oil sitting in your pantry probably lasts months on end. Luckily, the popular cooking oil doesn't go rancid quickly. It can last up to two years in a cool, dry place and for an indefinite amount of time in the fridge.
Pure, Grade-A maple syrup is one of the best natural sugars out there. It has got a relatively low glycemic index and provides trace amounts of muscle-repairing manganese and anti-inflammatory compounds. It also lasts forever when stored in the refrigerator or freezer, which means you'll be prepared for pancakes or waffles when a craving hits.
Canned Coconut Milk
Like most things packaged in cans, coconut milk has a very long shelf life. If properly stored in a cool, dry place, like your pantry, the keto-friendly milk can keep for a year and a half to two years. That means you've got more time to whip up that curried tofu dish.
Virgin or Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil
Due to its high saturated fat content, virgin or extra-virgin coconut oil can last an indefinite amount of time. On the other hand, expeller pressed and refined coconut oils have a shorter shelf life of about two to three months because they're lacking in protective antioxidants.
"Canned tomatoes do have an expiration date but they can typically last about two years if unopened," says Claudia Sidoti, Head Chef and Recipe Developer at HelloFresh.
"Spam is another product that lasts forever (or almost)," says Sidoti. "While it does have an expiration date, it has high sodium and sugar levels. It does have a best before date, so check the can if you are unsure."
Meat lovers, rejoice! Unopened or in a sealed container or pouch, beef jerky can last between one and two years, thanks to the dried nature of jerky (there's no moisture for bacteria to grow). As a favorite food of campers, hikers, and road-trippers, jerky is perfect for long-term storage. You can easily stash a few jerky sticks or pieces in a bag and keep them there until your next trip—even if that's not until next year.
You can take your time noshing through that Costco-sized bag of Craisins in your cabinet. Dried fruits, one of our long shelf-life foods, take about one to two years to expire. Want to keep them tasting optimal for longer? Pop them in the freezer.
Basmati, wild, jasmine and white rice all keep for years, so long as they remain tightly sealed and that the harvested crop didn't have any bug eggs among them when packaged. (This is more common than you think.) Once you open the box or bag, store the rice in an airtight container or a freezer bag to keep the grains fresh. The only type of rice that these rules don't apply to is fiber-rich brown rice. It contains oils in it that cause it to go rancid after about six months.
"According to Eat By Date, popcorn kernels can last indefinitely if stored unopened in an airtight container," Burak says. " I always keep kernels in my cabinet to throw into my air popper for a quick snack. Air-popped popcorn is one of my favorite go-to crunchy snacks as it is 100 percent whole grain and a relatively good source of fiber. Plus, you get a great bang for your nutritional buck, as the serving size is several cups of popcorn, compared to a serving of only a few chips or pretzels."
Beans should be an essential item in everyone's pantry. They have plenty of fiber and nutrients, as well as long shelf life. According to the U.S. Dried Bean Council, pulses like dried pinto, kidney, black-eyed, lima, and kidney beans will keep for up to a year in an airtight container. Just be sure to store them somewhere cool and dry that's away from direct sunlight.
According to the USDA, low-acid canned goods like vegetables, meat, and fish stay fresh for up to five years. That's because they're sterile, making it impossible for bacteria to intrude and ruin your grub. Word of warning, though: No matter how fresh the can might be, don't eat its contents if a can is bulging or leaking. Although botulism is rarely found in commercially canned goods, damaged products have a higher chance of contamination. In this case, it's better to err on the side of caution.
White vinegar, which is commonly used in pickling and Thai and Vietnamese cooking, is super acidic. As a result, it's self-preserving, and its shelf life is "almost indefinite," according to the Vinegar Institute.
Remember that bottle of fancy tequila your co-worker gifted you three years ago? Well, you can drink it or regift it with confidence, because hard liquor doesn't go bad, so long as it's stored in a cool, dry place at least. That said, we can't promise the flavor will be as perfect as it was when you first cracked open the bottle.
Whether you prefer table salt or sea salt, you can confidently sprinkle it on your food no matter how long it's been hanging out in your spice cabinet. When stored in a cool, dry place, it remains fresh indefinitely. The only exception to the rule is iodized salt, which only lasts for about five years.
Unopened olives can last for up to three years, so go ahead and stock up on a few jars. They're sure to come in handy when last-minute house guests come by. They can be used for everything from martinis to appetizers and salads.
If you're like me, you might avoid recipes that include ingredients you don't use regularly. But if that ingredient happens to be cornstarch, you might as well just buy it. When stored in a cool and dry area, the thickener is safe to eat indefinitely.
Nutrition experts love honey, which carries antiviral and antibacterial properties. Another reason to love the sticky sweetener: its near-infinite shelf life. It may get grainy, hard, or change color, but its antibiotic properties protect the taste and keep it from spoiling. Soften hard containers by placing them in a bowl of warm water and stirring the honey until it melts.
If you typically opt for imitation vanilla over pure vanilla extract because of the cost, you may want to reconsider your habit. While the fake stuff goes bad in as little as two years, the real stuff has an indefinite shelf life—and it tastes better, too.
"Marinara sauce like Rao's Homemade can last for three years. But I use so many jars of this delicious sauce that it never lasts that long in my house," Burak says, adding that she uses our best pasta sauce on veggies, pasta, on cauliflower pizza crusts, and in bolognese sauce. Yum!
Because powdered milk has zero moisture, it's able to stay safe-to-eat for years on end. (That's two to 10 years, to be exact.) Just make sure not to open it if you want it to last that long.
Believe it or not, sugar doesn't ever go bad. To keep the sweet stuff from hardening into chunks or attracting pests, store it in an airtight container or seal it in a plastic bag.
Even if you wouldn't dare dream of sipping the stuff, many cooking and baking enthusiasts keep instant coffee in the kitchen to infuse a coffee flavor into recipes. Because the powder is more concentrated than the freshly brewed stuff, it's a great tactic and an affordable one at that. Once you spend a buck or two on a container, it should last up to two years if left unopened.