Likely you have, at one time or another, sniffed the milk and passed it to someone else for final judgment.
Milk spoils when bacteria converts the lactose into glucose and galactose, which can make it smell bad enough to pass on drinking it or even to noticeably curdle. On average, though, milk and most dairy products have a fairly long shelf life, often many days past the indicated ‘sell by’ date, and you can pretty much rely on your nose or your eyes to tell you when it’s past its prime.
But the stuff in your pantry, from paprika to peanut butter, is typically far harder to gauge. When, if ever, are flour or spices past their usefulness? For the most part, ‘best by’ dates on dry foods are not mandatory.
- Dried Spices and Herbs – As long as the lid is on tight, most whole or ground spices, dried leafy herbs and seasonings have a shelf life of up to three years past the expiration date on the bottle. If the color begins to fade, replace it.
- Baking Basics – If you’re not a frequent baker, these can hang around for a while. As a rule, white flour is good for up to a year, while whole wheat flour, because it has more oil in it, should best be used within three months. Baking powder is good for a year or so, and chocolate chips are good for two years, even if they take on a whitish hue.
- Pastas, Legumes and Beans – White rice, dried beans, lentils and popping corn are good indefinitely. Pasta, oats and quinoa will last for three years or so, while bread crumbs and brown rice should be used within six months or be stored in the freezer for future use.
- Canned Goods and Condiments – Unopened containers of barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard and salsa, as well as jams and jellies stored in the pantry can be stored for up to a year. Mayonnaise should be used within three months. Canned goods, including soups, will be fine for up to two years.