Olive Oil, Brown Rice and Other Foods that Spoil Faster Than You'd Think
Not all shelf-stable groceries are created equal.
David WatskySenior Editor / Home and Kitchen
David lives in Brooklyn where he's logged more than a decade writing about all things edible, including meal kits and meal delivery subscriptions, cooking, kitchen gear and commerce. Since earning a BA in English from Northeastern in Boston, he's toiled in nearly every aspect of the eats business from slicing and dicing as a sous-chef in Rhode Island to leading complex marketing campaigns for major food brands in Manhattan. These days, he's likely somewhere trying the latest this or tasting the latest that - and reporting back, of course. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.
ExpertiseKitchen tech, cookware, small appliances, food innovation, meal delivery and meal kits.
If you're planning for the apocalypse, some foods are better suited for an extended bunker stay than others. Shelf-stable groceries and pantry staples may feel like they'll last forever, but most don't, and some spoil a whole lot faster than you'd think. What I'm saying is it might be time to check the date on that bottle of expesnsive olive oil you've been milking or the 10-pound bag of rice you got on sale at Costco.
Oil just seems like something that would last forever, right? You might even think olive oil gets better with age, but it doesn't. Quite the opposite, in fact. While olive oil has a fairly long shelf life when sealed -- about 12 to 18 months -- it starts to lose oomph as soon as it's bottled and especially once it's opened. While it shouldn't pose a health risk, over time olive oil will be rendered virtually tasteless by the elements or take on a funk that you definitely won't want drizzled on your barramundi.
This is especially good to know if you have an expensive bottle of EVOO that you've been trying to use sparingly. You're better off going for it while it has its full flavor profile intact, within 60 days of cracking the seal. Considering fresh olive oil is good olive oil, you'll also want to check the bottle or harvest date before you buy since it loses some of its flavor even before opening.
Brown rice is another pantry mainstay that appears shelf-stable but should actually be used within a relatively short period of time. While white rice can last years if stored in an airtight container, brown rice really only lasts about three or four months before it starts to turn. This is mostly due to brown rice's higher oil content.
Mayo has a healthy dose of vinegar so you might think it would be good for a while. Not the case. The egg in mayonnaise makes it prone to spoilage, and most mayo should be used within about two months of opening. It's also only good in the pantry unopened for about three or four months.
The same goes for most salad dressings: about two or three months in the fridge after opening. While the vinegar helps keep them in good shape for awhile, other ingredients aren't as resistant to the ravages of time.
While spices don't go bad, per se, they become pretty much useless after a certain point, losing a lot of their flavor even when stored in those little airtight jars. Try to avoid buying large bottles of spices and be selective about what you throw in the cart. It's one of the reasons I love high-quality spice mixes, which I find myself going through more quickly than the odd bottle of cardamom or clove. (You can also grow certain pricey spices, including saffron, at home.)
I know, I know, wine gets better with age. That's true, but it really only applies to red wine, and all wine has to be stored carefully or it'll turn into something you really don't want to drink. I found this out the hard way having been gifted a case one holiday. I confidently stacked the bottles on a wine rack in my very much not temperature-controlled living room. When I uncorked one less than a year later, the damage had been done.
While some varietals can be aged, most white wines should be consumed within one to two years. To last even that long, bottles of white wine should be stored away from light and at a temperature above 40 and below 50 degrees F. To keep red wine from turning on you, cool and dark is the key. Red wine should be stored away from direct light somewhere with a temperature between 50 and 59 degrees F.