Maintaining Your Pantry

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Maintaining Your Pantry

By The Paula Deen Test Kitchen

One really easy, gratifying New Year’s project is cleaning out a closet, so why not start with your pantry.  Here are some general guidelines for expirations of different food types as well as ideal storage conditions to minimize further waste or spoilage.

Moisture, heat, and light propel the spoilage of foods.  For this reason, it is best to have a pantry in a cool, dark, dry (often enclosed or otherwise isolated) part of the kitchen.  So if possible, don’t keep your spice collection right next to the stove.  Airtight re-sealable containers are great for storing partially used ingredients or leftovers in the refrigerator, and can help prevent staling of items at room temperature.

When is it time to replace my pantry items?
In general, most dried herbs and spices can be kept for up to a year.  Dried leafy herbs and whole spices can last 1-3 years, while ground spices sometimes have shorter life spans around 6 months.  Dried herbs tend to lose flavor faster than dried spices.  A good test is to rub a little bit between your fingers to see if it still gives off the proper aroma.  Exercise common sense: if the color is severely faded, it will probably have lost some of its pungency, though it may still be usable. If you’re making your own blends from fresh herbs (such as fines herbes, barbeque mixes, curry and chili powder), they should keep in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Leavening agents such as baking soda, baking powder, and active dry/instant yeast keep for up to a year.  Fresh yeast should be refrigerated, ideally at 40 degrees Fahrenheit for 7-10 days, or frozen.  Baking with old leaveners could result in flat, dense cookies, cakes, and breads, so make sure to replace these if in doubt.

Old flour can also produce similar results, so remember that flour should always be stored properly in airtight containers or sealed bags.  All-purpose flours stay fresh for about a year, while whole grain flours will last about 6 months.

Granulated white sugar should keep indefinitely a cool, dry place. Brown sugars tend to harden and clump within months. For certain purposes, you can still use them if you’re reheating them, but for precise baking recipes, this may affect texture, and you should not re-store reheated sugar.

Cooking oils will vary, with most vegetable, peanut, olive, and corn oils keeping for up to six months once opened. Nut oils turn rancid much faster, which can easily be detected by taste if not smell.  Oils can also be refrigerated but allowed to come to room temperature before use.

Most vinegars last almost indefinitely by nature.

What about perishables?
It is generally easy to determine whether fresh items are still usable through sight, feel, and smell.

For dairy, always buy items with the furthest expiration date, as these will be the freshest in stock.  Sell and use by dates are good guidelines. Eggs can usually be kept in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, and butter for about a month (or frozen for 6-9 months).  It is common to keep shortening in the fridge so that it’s chilled for recipe use, but it can be stored at room temperature for a year.

With fresh meat and fish, you should adhere to the posted expiration or freeze-by dates (and don’t ever thaw and refreeze animal proteins).

What about freezing?
Depending on the type, most meat can be safely frozen for a matter of months. The FDA provides specific guidelines.

With both bread and meat, you can freeze them for months when wrapped in layers of plastic wrap or foil.  Chocolate can be kept in the fridge or freezer.  Nuts and flours can be stored in the freezer for months. Let them come to room temperature before using them in a recipe.  Sauces, homemade pasta, bread, some leftovers, and cookies also freeze well for months (keep icings and frostings separate and apply before consumption).

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Reader Comments:


I will always love Ms. Paula~ and you are welcomed in my home anytime~

By Tyressa Johnson on March 04, 2014


love you paula deen

By carol hicks on February 02, 2014


Always great ideas from Paula

By Maggie on February 01, 2014


I Love You Paula! Thats the bottom line!

By Rhonda Sutherland on February 01, 2014


I miss. See you on. TV I like watch your coo king show

By Myrtle irvin on February 01, 2014


Love your site Paula !

By Laurie Lindsay on February 01, 2014


I am from Fl. And a few years ago we took my Mother to TheLady &Sons; in hopes to meet you. It was a 75 th birthday present . The food was fabulous but we missed you, however they told us you were helping Bubba get opened. So the next day we headed to Uncle Bubba's for lunch. Mom kept me up all night holding on to her book hoping to get it signed. Little did she know I had ALL your books in my suitcase, some well worn. We arrived at Uncle Bubba's and we were seated in the perfect spot....near the raw bar. I forgot to mention there were 4 generations of girls, you were quite taken with that. But I am getting ahead of myself......we ask the waitress if you were there and were told you were working in the kitchen. So much for meeting Paula! NOTSO!!!!Within a few minutes here comes Paula in black pants shirt and black apron covered in flour!! Straight to our table you made my mother's Birthday the best signed all our books and insisted on getting straight who daughter was whose! Of coarse I had spotted Uncle Bubba and ask for his pic with him. We asks had the pleasure of meeting Michael he had the oyster job. My husband and I have retired and moved to Colquitt, we were in Albany a few weeks ago and drove up to Leesburg. Thought of you the entire time. Hope you never go back to Food Network ....Your magazine in great, but if you really ant T.V. We prefer Cooking channel. Also the Diabetes Foundation could use you to do great work for them. I have Parkinson's and there are not enough people fighting for research thank goodness for Michael J. fox. Take time to take of your self..people of color in the south love is white people in the north always fighting the wrong battles.

By Joyce barrongton on February 01, 2014


I miss. See you on. TV I like watch your coo king show

By Myrtle irvin on February 01, 2014


Always enjoy reading your posts and love your upbeat attitude! Most people don't agree with FN's decision to not stand by you. Including my family. Thanks for all the tips above. Sincerely, Maxine

By Maxine Davis on February 01, 2014


Hi Paula! I love your recipes & tips. Love, love your home. You are an amazing woman. I liked these pantry tips. I'm afraid I have to toss MANY of my spices & oils. I like the clear jars shown in the newsletter & wonder if you sell them (or know where I can get them). Thanks!

By Patty D'Ambra on February 01, 2014


I freeze everything almost. Chips, crackers, flour, pasta, etc. No bugs get in and it stays fresh. Especially during the humid summer months.

By Tena on February 01, 2014


The best! wink

By roxana on February 01, 2014


Good article to remind us all to keep up to date with our kitchens and pantries. Would like to know more about time dating and buttermilk. Sometimes it still seems good past the date. What foods should you never use past the date? Also, I have had cans foods that have a weird dating system. It could be a string of numbers. Can you decode these? Thanks Paula, all the best to you and family.

By Nicki Tyrrell on February 01, 2014


Paula Deen is still the best. The Food Network should be boycotted.

By Barbara Glasgow on July 17, 2013


Thank you for the email. I appreciate the tips. I would like to see recipes for sandwiches and salads. Ruth Roos

By Ruth Roos on July 13, 2013


Lived in Savannah for eight years way back in the 1960 until 1972. Loved every minute of it. Love it when you show shots of Savannah on your show. And I love your enthusiasm about your cooking. Just entered a subscription for your magazine. Looking forward to drooling over the recipes. Ignore the nasties in the world and "keep on chugging along." a faithful foodie, Eleinor Ohlzen

By eleinor ohlzen on July 06, 2013


Paula. My heart is breaking for you & your family. Yet, you all are strong & your Faith in GOD will see you through. I am concerned about you though! I, too, have been told how strong I am but, you know, Paula, there are times that my friends & family don't know about that I don't feel so strong. Times when I want to just crumble up & go to bed & cover my head until it's all over. You have many people who are watching over you right now. Leave it to Michael, Jamie & Bobby to look after your business to some extent..take a break for yourself every day. Spend some quiet time however you feel like doing it, every day. This too shall pass, Sweet Lady! So many of us are praying for you because WE KNOW what kind of Southern Lady you are...what we see is what we get & we want you to be healthy & happy. We want this horrendous mess to be over. It may not seem like it will be better but it will. I have faith in you & in GOD's plan. As you said on the Today Show on Wed. June 26 ~ "If GOD brings us it to ~ HE will take us through it!" Love & prayer, Connie Pickett, Oakwood, Georgia 30566

By Anonymous on June 27, 2013


Hi.Paula and family. Greetings from Pennsylvania.Love your shows,magazines and books.I love to cook and entertain,I hope to meet you at the book signing,I notice in magazines that you love milk glass. I have a very huge collection and will be bringing a picture in hope to show you. We can't wait to come and tour your life too. It's a great tribute of your strength and back bone to accomplish all you have. best of health and Best Dishes.Your the greatest and someone to look up to.Hope to see you April 8 Dolly

By Dolly Haworth on January 19, 2013


I love those measuring spoons and cups.!!!! When will they be for sale?

By REMA SCHUYLER on January 19, 2013


thanks for the information on the length of time that we should keep items for cooking. Paula- you are the greatest!

By anna fulmer on January 05, 2013

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