Storing food right
Christopher Kimball is the founder of
America’s Test Kitchen, home to Cook’s
Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines
and the company’s growing book publishing
program. He is also the host of the hit public
TV shows America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s
Country. He lives in Boston and Vermont
with his wife and four children.
Buying food in large quantities can save you money, but not if the
food goes bad. So what’s the best way to store common kitchen staples
and how long will they really last? Cook’s Illustrated offers these tips:
When stored in the refrigerator, butter (even when wrapped) can
pick up odors and turn rancid within a few weeks. Keep butter in the
freezer and transfer it, one stick at a time, to the fridge.
Never put chocolate in the fridge or freezer. Wrap opened bars of
chocolate tightly in plastic and store in a cool pantry. Milk and white
chocolates will keep for up to six months; semisweet, bittersweet and
unsweetened chocolate are fine for one year.
Ground coffee belongs in the freezer. If you have an extra 10
minutes, measure frozen ground coffee into the filter and let it warm
to room temperature. It will make better-tasting coffee than super-
Do not store eggs in the egg tray in your refrigerator. The paper
carton protects eggs from picking up odors. Keep the eggs on a shelf
in the fridge, not on the door. Keeping eggs in their carton also lets
you track their expiration or sell-by date.
Humidity is the biggest enemy for flour. Transfer flour to an airtight
container. Make sure to use a container that’s wide enough to dip a dry
The natural oils in whole-wheat flour and cornmeal go rancid
after just a few months. If you go through whole-grain flours slowly, slip
packages into large zipper-lock bags and store them in the freezer.
Keep all nuts in the freezer; they’ll stay fresh for at least 1 year.
Avoid light and heat. Even when stored in a cool pantry, flavorful
oils (like olive and toasted sesame) will become rancid after several
months. Keep toasted sesame oil in the fridge. Keep olive oil in the
pantry; don’t buy more than you can use in a few months.
Don’t keep neutral-tasting oils, such as canola and vegetable,
for longer than 6 months. If in doubt, heat a little oil in a skillet. If the
oil has an off smell, throw out the bottle. Also, over-the-hill oils become
viscous with time and sticky under the cap.
Spices and dried herbs
Whole spices will last about twice as long as ground spices. The
flavor of ground spices will go downhill after a year, as will the flavor
of dried herbs. Write the purchase date on stick-on dots to track the age
of spices and herbs. To maximize the flavor from any dried herb, push
the herb through a mesh sieve (or crush the herb between your fingers)
to release flavorful oils.
Granulated sugar will keep indefinitely if stored in an airtight
container. Brown sugar can become rock-hard after a few months. An airtight container slows down moisture loss, but once brown sugar gets hard, use
this trick to revive it: Place the hardened sugar in a bowl, add a slice of sandwich bread, cover the bowl and microwave for 10 to 20 seconds.
Honey and molasses will last indefinitely. Keep honey out of the fridge,
where it will crystallize. The biggest issue over time with these sweeteners is that
the lids become stuck in place. Dip a paper towel in vegetable oil and wipe the
threads of the jar with the oil. This keeps the lid from sticking.
Once opened, keep maple syrup in the fridge for up to 1 year.
Unopened bottles are fine in the pantry for a few years.
Reprinted with permission from Cook’s Illustrated
magazine. Selected articles and recipes are available
online at www.cooksillustrated.com.