food How To

How to determine the shelf life of foods in your pantry, freezer, or refrigerator

Mountain House canned food - 25 year long shelf life
Mountain House canned food – 25 year long shelf life

One common food joke is that Hostess Twinkies can survive through almost anything, with an infinite shelf life.  Truth be told, the common Twinkie’s shelf life is a more realistic 25-days.  Seriously – who even keeps Twinkies in the house that long?

Every once in a while, you should take the time to clean out your pantry.  It’s not just a good idea from a re-organizational viewpoint, but also as a way to rotate the older foods you have stacked in the back of the cupboard towards the front so that they can be used in a more timely manner.

Yes, everything in your pantry has a shelf life – except for honey, which can pretty much be stored indefinitely.  Sometimes things will merely go stale, such as crackers or cereals.  Other pantry items will turn rancid and become inedible and should be tossed to prevent anyone from getting sick from eating it.


  • The temperature of the storage area – ideally, keeping food in a cool, dry place will maximize shelf life
  • The moisture content of the food – 10% or less is best.
  • The atmosphere in the storage container – the less air in the packaging, the better.  This is why FoodSaver’s (or equivalent) store food better than a freezer storage bag does by itself.
  • The storage container itself – use food-grade containers or cans.  #10 cans have an enamel lining, which helps protect the contents from outside influences from the plastic or metal.

While everything you buy at the store should have a “Best by” or “Serve by” date on it, you can always double-check the shelf life of your food on SHELF LIFE ADVICE.

Just search for your favorite products, and follow their guidelines on whether you should keep something or toss it.  If you can’t remember when you bought an item in your pantry and it has no date on it – chances are you should throw it out, just to be safe.

Here are some of the shelf life guidelines seen on Shelf Life Advice:

  • Opened ketchup or mustard:  8-12 months, if refrigerated
  • Opened salad dressings: 4 months, if refrigerated
  • Canned soup:  1-2 years
  • Nuts in the pantry will last about 4 months. Keep them in the freezer for up to 8-12 months
  • Dry cereal, opened: 2 months
  • Luncheon meat/cold cuts: will keep about 2 weeks in the refrigerator if left unopened. But once it’s opened, try to eat it within 3-5 days or so.  Pre-packaged deli meats will last longer in the refrigerator than fresh-sliced deli meats do.