They don't need refrigeration and we always have them on hand, but just what is the shelf life of essentials like flour, sugar, oils, and pasta?

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A well-stocked pantry can be a lifesaver: With a few essentials on hand, you can make a meal without taking an extra trip to the grocery store. Wondering how long your stash of staples is good for? We've covered some of the most common items below. It's important to keep in mind that purchasing any of these items in a sealed container instead of a bulk bin will almost always help ensure their freshness, since they'll likely have had less exposure to air.

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Credit: Janelle Jones

Cocoa Powder

Although spices tend to lose their flavor over time, cocoa powder does not, so you can keep a container in your cupboard for years. Store it in an airtight container and keep moisture out, and a batch of brownies or a mug of hot cocoa will never be far away.

Dried Beans

Keep dried black, garbanzo, Great Northern, kidney, or pinto beans in an airtight jar in a cool, dry place, and they'll last for at least a year, although the USDA says they can go much longer, even withstanding harsh or tropical environments.

Flour

This baking essential lasts anywhere from three to eight months, and the range is largely due to the wide variety of flours found in kitchens. In general, the more processed a flour is, the longer it'll keep. That means white flour (which is highly refined) will last up to eight months while whole wheat flour (which still contains bran and germ and therefore is richer in oil) is more vulnerable to spoilage and best used within three months. Likewise, coconut flour, almond flour, and other gluten-free flours are also higher in oil than white flour, so they have a shorter shelf life—some may even be prone to mold (especially those made from nuts or roots) because of their high moisture content. As with most pantry staples, air, light, and moisture speed up spoilage, so store all flour in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. You'll know if it's gone bad if it smells off—think musty, rancid, or sour.

Maple Syrup

Here's one pantry staple that actually shouldn't be stored in the pantry. Once opened, you should stash this natural sweetener in the refrigerator to keep it fresh. Be sure to remove it 15 minutes to a half hour before you want to use it so it can come to room temperature.

Nuts

The length of time you can store nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts depends largely on the storage temperature and humidity. They'll retain their quality for a couple of months at room temperature, but if you want to store them longer, stash them in the refrigerator for up to a year or in the freezer for up to two years. An airtight container is a must, as exposure to air can cause the oil in the nuts to become rancid.

Oil

It's fine to keep your go-to bottle of olive oil on the counter, but avoid putting it on a windowsill, as that can make it go rancid more quickly. Many olive oils come in green or dark glass which definitely helps keep out some light, but you'll want to avoid direct sunlight and plan to finish the bottle within a few months of opening it. Safflower oil, a great multipurpose oil, keeps for several months, too. It's best kept in the pantry (not near the stove) to protect it from heat and sunlight. Grapeseed oil, another everyday oil, can also keep for up to six months in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator. With all oils, keep the lid on tightly as air will make the bottle's content go bad more quickly.

Pasta

Dried pasta can keep for a very long time—most manufacturers say two years, but it's possible it can last even longer. Pasta won't actually go bad, per se, but it can lose some of its flavor, so it's a good rule of thumb to use it within two years. If you use only a portion of a box or bag, store the rest in an airtight container.

Rice

White rice, as well as arborio, basmati, jasmine, and wild rice, will keep indefinitely in the pantry when stored well. Brown rice doesn't have quite the same longevity due to the oil in its bran layer. Most experts say it lasts three to six months at room temperature, six to 12 months in the fridge, and 12 to 18 months in the freezer.

Sugar

Sweet news about this staple: Sugar keeps (almost) forever. Like salt, sugar actually prevents microbial growth, which is why it sometimes acts as a preservative in foods such as fruits (like jams and jellies) and milk (such as sweetened condensed milk). That's good news for home cooks. Just make sure to store sugar the same as you would flour: in an airtight container in a cool, dry cabinet.

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