Does Flour Go Bad? Here's When You Should Replace Your Baking Staples

Food storage containers are always a good idea.


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If you step inside anyone’s pantry, chances are you’ll find all the necessary baking essentials. But the question is: how long have they been sitting on that shelf? Whether you’re an avid baker or someone who gets an occasional craving for homemade chocolate chip cookies, it’s important to know how to keep those staple ingredients fresh so you can use them for as long as possible.

Let’s be honest, most people are guilty of buying a bag of flour or a canister of baking soda and using it over the course of several years without thinking twice. The truth is, using expired baking ingredients can greatly alter the taste and texture of your scratch-made sweets. Before you purge your pantry of these items, there are a few things to look out for to see if they need to be replaced, or can still be used to create a bevy of delicious baked goods.

Does Flour Go Bad?

Have you ever noticed that flour almost always comes in a giant paper bag? While flour is considered to be non-perishable, it will certainly go bad if left in that bag for too long. In fact, flour will only stay fresh for about three months if not stored properly. That’s why you should transfer any store-bought flour to an air-tight container after you open it. By moving the flour to a designated food storage container, you can extend its shelf life for up to two years.

If you use alternative types of flour, like oat or almond flour, make sure they’re also stored in a similar air-tight container, because they will spoil much faster than all-purpose white flour. If stored properly, almond flour has a shelf life of about one year.

Does Sugar Go Bad?

Unlike flour, granulated white sugar truly has an indefinite expiration date, especially when stored in a dry, dark place. This is the reason why foods like jelly and peanut butter can stay good for so long—because sugar acts as an effective preservative.

However, brown sugar is a bit different because it hardens when it’s exposed to air. That’s why you’ll notice that brown sugar turns into a brick when left in its original packaging. To make the most of your brown sugar, store it in an air-tight container and use it within two years for optimal freshness and flavor. You can also store brown sugar in the freezer, but keep in mind that it will need to thaw for a few hours before use.

Confectioners' or powdered sugar can also last a lifetime if stored the same way. However, just like white and brown sugar, if confectioners' sugar is exposed to moisture or air, it won’t taste as good. Your best bet is to transfer any type of sugar to an air-tight storage container and keep in the back of the pantry.

Does Baking Soda Go Bad?

There are so many uses for baking soda in your household aside from just baking. It can be used to treat fabric stains, deep-clean clothing, or deodorize your refrigerator. Despite its many uses, baking soda has a relatively short shelf life. In fact, once a box of baking soda is opened, it only stays good for about six months. To extend the shelf life a bit more, store your baking soda in any type of sealed container and place it in the pantry or cabinet. If you want to test if the baking soda is still good, sprinkle a tablespoon of it in a bowl with vinegar. If it fizzes, it’s still fresh and safe to use.

Does Baking Powder Go Bad?

The expiration rules for baking powder are similar to those for baking soda. Since it's sensitive to moisture and humidity, baking powder should be transferred to a container and stored in a dark, dry place to prolong its shelf life. The biggest risk of using expired baking powder or baking soda is that your recipe may not properly rise, resulting in a flat, dense baked good.  

Does Salt Go Bad?

Not all salts are created equal. While regular salt will last a lifetime, iodized or flavored salt will go bad over time because it contains other ingredients. Even though most salts can last for years, you may want to invest in a wooden salt cellar or some type of container to keep it fresh for as long as possible.

Does Vanilla Extract Go Bad?

Pure vanilla extract can truly enhance a recipe and, just like salt, it has an indefinite shelf life. If stored in a cool, dry, dark place, an opened bottle of vanilla extract will likely last for years, but it’s always a good idea to smell it before cooking or baking with it. If the vanilla extract doesn’t have that typical, sweet scent, chances are the flavor isn’t as strong anymore and you should buy a new bottle.

Does Cornstarch Go Bad?

Cornstarch is another pantry staple that’s proven to last, but that doesn’t mean it can’t go bad. Proper storage with minimal exposure to moisture and light will help cornstarch stay fresher for longer. If you notice your cornstarch has a funky odor, sour taste, or is discolored, it’s probably best to toss it in the trash.

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