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The Low-Down on Food Storage & Shelf Life


You’ve got a pile of last season’s clothing picked out painfully from your busting closet, a box of old books that’s going straight to library donation, and a pile of electronics you’re holding on to until you find a responsible way to recycle them. But what about those foods in your cupboard—how long do those keep? As you get into gear for some spring cleaning, get the skinny on storing common kitchen staples in the whole foods kitchen, and how long they all last.

Beans and Legumes

Beans are best bought dried in bulk for both value and flavor—and many health professionals will argue nutrition, too. Though they hold up well to canning, there’s nothing to compete with a pot of freshly cooked beans on the stovetop. Plump, toothsome and full of earthiness, freshly cooked beans are one of life’s most nourishing foods to eat.

Storage: Dried beans, like other foods, are still susceptible to the damages of heat and sunlight, but they don’t usually need to be kept in the freezer. Store them in sealed glass jars in a cupboard for easy viewing. If you have a mixture of beans—azuki, black beans, cannelloni and any number of local heirloom varieties—you’ll wind up with a gorgeous collage of colors in your pantry, and you’ll always be able to see when certain varieties need a refill at the store.

Shelf life: Dried beans will keep for a few years stored properly, but the older they get, the longer they’ll need to cook in water when it’s time to use.

Whole Grains

Grains are a wondrous thing of plenty here in America (“… for amber waves of grain …”), because grains come from grasses, and we are chockfull of natural grasslands in our country. For this, there is absolutely no shortage of grains to try out: wild rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, bulgur—these body-building carbs give us quick energy, stomach-boosting fiber, and perhaps most importantly, instant feelings of comfort. Buy your grains in the bulk bins instead of the box and save buckets of money each month; it’s incredible the jack-up in price you pay just for a label and a plastic wrapping.

Storage: Keep in mind when storing your grains at home: They should have a dry and cool environment. Grains are more susceptible to moisture-lockage and rancidity than dried beans, so they do well being stored in the freezer. Always use airtight containers (like glass jars).

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From the Organic Authority Files

Shelf life: If you roll through your grains pretty quickly, you’ll do just fine keeping them in the cupboard. They’ll stay fresh anywhere from six months to one year—the older grains may need to cook longer to compensate for water loss over time.

Nuts and Seeds

Oh, crunchy, salty nuts—delicious providers of heart-healthy fats and squelchers of mid-day hunger pangs. Technically, not all “nuts” to us are actually nuts: Peanuts are legumes, pine nuts are seeds, and almonds are actually fruits!

Storage: Always buys nuts in bulk, and buy them in smaller quantities to ensure you’ve always got the freshest bunch to munch on. Also, it’s best to buy them raw and whole to ensure they are fresh, as nuts that come pre-chopped, sliced or toasted are typically regarded as “rancid” on purchase, since the insides of them have already been exposed to light and air for who knows how long. Store them in the refrigerator or freezer in airtight containers. If your nuts are cold when you take them out of the freezer, just give them a few minutes in a bowl to get back to room temperature before you cook with them or eat them raw.

Shelf life: Since nuts are full of fats and moisture, they have a relatively short shelf life. Shelled nuts go rancid quicker than unshelled nuts, as they are missing that protection against the elements and may only keep for up to six months. Nuts still in the shell, and kept in the fridge/freezer, will keep up to a year. When in doubt, smell the nuts; old ones tend to develop an acrid, paint-like odor.


If you’re a coffee drinker, chances are that you’re a loyal devotee to the liquid amphetamine, one of the many slaves to this sensual, potent brew. And to drink coffee means you should know how to properly store coffee. Making a good cup of coffee is an entire article unto itself. But storing coffee is simple enough, if you take the time to give your beans the care they deserve.

Storage: First off, do yourself a favor and forever stop buying pre-ground coffee. Coffee beans—like other whole spices—start to go rancid as soon as they are ground. Their robust aroma and intense flavors begin to fade instantly upon grinding; buy the whole beans and simply grind them in a small spice or coffee grinder before brewing. Store your whole beans in a canister (as most will come in at the store). If you’re buying your coffee beans from the bulk bins, store them in the store-provided paper bags in your refrigerator or in a cool, dark cupboard.

Shelf life: Pre-ground coffee is truly almost dead when you buy it; the stuff will be hardly worthy of drinking after two weeks in the cupboard. Your whole coffee beans will stay fresh a bit longer—give them no more than a month or two in storage for optimal drinking pleasure (in the freezer, the whole beans will keep for a few months).

Image: puuikibeach

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