13 Foods That (Basically) Never Spoil

Because it’s never a good time to toss perfectly fine pantry staples.

Expiration dates are one of the most problematic parts of our nation's growing issue with food waste. Safety always comes first, but it's important to acknowledge that America voluntarily throws away over a third of its food every year. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), that adds up to over $160 billion wasted annually.

How do expiration dates play into this, you ask? Because date labels like Sell-By or Use-By are not federally regulated and should always be taken with a grain of salt. "Confusion over the meaning of dates applied to food products can result in consumers discarding wholesome food," according to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). "In an effort to reduce food waste, it is important that consumers understand that the dates applied to food are for quality and not for safety. Food products are safe to consume past the date on the label, and regardless of the date, consumers should evaluate the quality of the food product prior to its consumption." The exception is for infant formula and some baby food, which have mandated expiration dates for safety purposes.

As a brief primer, read over the list of the main types of expiration dates and their real meanings below, according to the FSIS.

  • A "Best if Used By/Before" date indicates when a product will be of the best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
  • A "Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date, except when used on infant formula.
  • A "Freeze-By" date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

The best way to discern whether a food or beverage is safe to eat is to inspect it for signs of spoilage. Your nose knows: "Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, flavor, or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria. If a food has developed such characteristics, it should not be eaten," states the FSIS.

We concede that there are a select number of foods that don't really go bad for ages, if ever. Sure, they might not taste or appear brand new, but as long as you're storing these pantry staples under the right conditions (i.e., avoiding heat and direct sunlight), you should be able to keep them for a very long time.

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Bottled Water

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Unopened, commercially bottled water will keep indefinitely, though the taste may be impacted by storage conditions (including what else is stored around it, where it is stored, and whether it's exposed to sunlight).

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White sugar in bowl
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When stored in the pantry in a dark, dry, cool place, sugar won't spoil…ever. But for the best quality, use it within two years.

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Low-Acid Canned Goods

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According to the FSIS, canned foods with a low acid content, like meat, beans, peas, soups, or vegetables (or our favorite, canned tuna), will keep anywhere from two to five years. High-acid canned goods like tomato sauce and canned fruit will keep up to 18 months. For optimal longevity, the FSIS says: "Store canned foods and other shelf stable products in a cool, dry place. Never put them above or beside the stove, under the sink, in a damp garage or basement, or any place exposed to high or low temperature extremes. Temperatures below 85 F are best. Check your pantry every few weeks and use canned goods you have had on hand for a while. Don't purchase bulging, rusted, leaking, or deeply dented cans." The USDA offers a lot of good information on food canning.

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Soy Sauce

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Unopened, this magic elixir will keep for three years (!) or longer in the pantry. Once it's opened, keep it in the fridge and it'll last almost as long.

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Rice and Dried Pasta

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According to the FSIS, you can keep these pantry staples for up to two years.

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Dry Beans

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Easily one of the most underrated foods, dried beans—like black, cannellini, pinto, or Great Northern—are shelf-stable for up to two years.

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You've got two years to use up your honey bear. Just make sure to keep it in a cool, dark place, or it might crystalize. And even if it does, it's safe to eat (and delicious).

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Canola Oil

New Uses for Olive Oil - pouring olive oil on a spoon
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Believe it or not, that giant jug of unopened canola oil sitting in your pantry will stay fresh for two years in a cool, dry place. Store it in the fridge, and it'll keep for longer.

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Dried Fruit


Great news: Your favorite afternoon nosh will keep in the pantry for between a year and two years—so go ahead and buy the massive Costco bulk bag. To keep dried fruit even longer, store it in the freezer.

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Tea Bags

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Indeed, your favorite beverage (after wine, of course) will last up to three years in the pantry if left unopened. Once the box is opened, however, the bags will last just 18 months.

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Hemp Seeds and Chia Seeds

Oatmeal keeps cholesterol in check, helps fight against heart disease, and keeps you full until lunch, thanks to its soluble fiber. Look for old-fashioned or steel-cut varieties. Try this: For a savory breakfast, drizzle cooked oatmeal with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan. Anfisa Kameneva / EyeEm/Getty Images

These pint-sized plant-based protein powerhouses will both keep for a year. Unopened packages of hemp seeds are fine in the pantry, but for optimal freshness, keep your chia in an airtight container in the fridge.

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  1. Foster, Joanna. Environmental Defense Fund. Every Year the U.S. Throws Away 160 Billion Pounds of Food. These Students Set out to Do Something about It. Accessed September 21, 2022.

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