Many of us tend to stock up on pantry staples—especially when they’re on sale. But sometimes, this leads to a surplus of random foods. If you’ve got flour for days (or years), here’s how you can keep it fresh.
Different Flour, Different Shelf Life
Flour is considered a shelf-stable food, which means it’s safe to store at room temperature. However, the type of flour makes a difference, too. So, while you can safely stock your pantry shelves with all kinds of flour, some lasts longer than others.
The level of processing categorizes most flours. Anything highly refined, like white, all-purpose flour, stays fresh longer. Whole wheat flour, on the other hand, doesn’t undergo heavy processing and won’t last as long. This is because the less processed the flour is, the more natural oils it retains, making it more likely to go rancid.
While the type of flour you typically purchase makes a difference, the way you store it is also a factor in keeping it fresh.
How to Keep Flour Fresh
Like all other foods you purchase at the grocery store, you’ll find an expiration or best-if-used-by date on flour. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, best-if-used-by dates indicate a product’s quality; however, it doesn’t denote safety. This means the flour might be safe to eat past the date provided, but the quality will begin to decline.
You’ll know your flour is becoming rancid if it gives off a stale or musty odor, or looks a little discolored. Any discolored or foul-smelling flour that shows any sign of mold should most definitely go in the trash. Not all flour molds are dangerous, but some are. They can produce mycotoxins that trigger everything from food-poisoning-like symptoms to death.
You can avoid this by always storing your flour in an air-tight container, in a dry, cool place. For extended storage, you might want to stash your flour in the freezer. If you do, it can last for up to two years. When storing for long periods, place the bag of flour in a plastic sealable bag for extra protection from moisture.
Whole grain flours, like whole wheat, oat, and whole rye, all contain bran, germ, and endosperm, which cause them to spoil faster. For the best quality, store whole grain flours in the freezer for six months or more.
After removing your flour from the freezer, you’ll notice no difference in its texture. For baking, allow it to reach room temperature again to prevent lumping.