Flour is a pantry staple in most kitchens across the globe. An essential ingredient in baked goods, it is used in recipes for cakes, biscuits, bread, and lots more.
It’s not uncommon to discover a bag of old flour at the back of the pantry that looks like its been there for quite some time. Although the temptation may be to toss it out, is that really necessary? We’re about to look at the shelf life of flour and what factors help to extend those dates. We’ll also reveal how to tell if the flour has gone bad so that you don’t whip up a batch of “science experiment” snacks. Let’s dive in and take a look.
How long does flour last?
Flour is a hardy ingredient that can last years if stored correctly, but it will eventually go off. All-purpose flour will last 12-15 months in the pantry and two years or more in the fridge or freezer; self-raising or cake flour will last 4-6 months in the pantry and up to one year stored refrigerated or frozen.
To make flour, manufacturers can grind a range of different raw materials including nuts, grains, rice, or even legumes. The added functionality offered by self-raising flour will also affect flour’s expiration date. To help simplify the expected shelf life of flour, take a look at the following summary table.
|Type of flour||Shelf life (pantry)|
|Almond flour||6-8 months|
|Buckwheat flour||12 months|
|Coconut flour||6-8 months|
|Oat flour||6-8 months|
|Potato flour||6-8 months|
|Pumpkin flour||6-8 months|
|Rice flour||6-8 months|
|Sesame flour||6-8 months|
|Wheat flour (plain)||12-15 months|
|Wheat flour (self raising)||9-12 months|
|Whole wheat flour||4-6 months|
Understanding what your food labeling means
Use-by dates are generally used on high-risk foods like dairy and fish that need to be refrigerated. There is a higher risk of illness when eating these foods past their expiration date and closer care should be taken.
Best before date refers to the length of time that food is still at its best quality. Eating this type of food after the recommended date is unlikely to cause food-borne illness. Instead, the food may lose flavor, color, texture, or its functionality.
Flour labeling usually has a use-by date and it can potentially last a lot longer if stored correctly. Avoiding exposure to moisture, air, sunlight, or unwanted pests will help.
Best before dates don’t mean you need to toss the flour out if it has expired; it is just a suggested date. If you see use-by date then this food should be disposed of as it may be unsafe to eat.
How do the types of flour affect the expiration date?
Refined flours will usually last much longer in the pantry. They are highly processed with the germ and bran being removed from the grain. The remaining endosperm is low in oil which is why they last so long. Everyday white flour is refined, making it a long-lasting pantry option. Whole grain flour is higher in oil and won’t last as long as refined flour, when stored at room temperature.
Gluten-free options such as coconut, potato, or rice flour is also rich in oils and so they are also vulnerable to spoilage.
Common signs that your flour is spoiled
In many cases, weevils are the main reason for needing to toss out the flour. Rest assured, they’re easy to identify. Once you see them, dispose of the flour immediately and check the rest of the pantry for signs of further infestations.
For any product, flour that has gone off will have similar symptoms. Instead of that fresh, almost odorless smell, you’ll find that the flour gives off a slightly unpleasant aroma. The best way to describe it is a mild to intense sour smell.
Is it okay to eat rancid flour?
Eating rancid flour in small amounts is unlikely to harm a human. However, its taste will be unpleasant and so it is best to discard it. Moldy flour should always be tossed out immediately. It can contain dangerous chemicals called mycotoxins which can cause diarrhea and vomiting.
How to extend the life of your flour
Flour’s biggest enemy is moisture so always store it in a dry location. Increase the life of flour by following a few simple tips:
- Store in a cool dry location.
- Once opened, store in an airtight container.
- If you live in a hot and humid climate, store in the fridge.
- Avoid storing odorous ingredients like onions near flour.
- Flour packed in airtight containers and stored in the freezer will last for many years.
- Ward off pesky insects like weevils by adding a bay leaf.
Plain vs self-raising
Self-raising flour is a more functional version of all-purpose, with the addition of baking powder and salt. It is the addition of baking powder that reduces the shelf life of self-raising flour. Using it well past its expiry date is unlikely to cause harm, but your baked goods are less likely to rise. Unfortunately, baking powder loses its performance relatively quickly.
Infographic of flour expiry dates
Fresh flour is a versatile ingredient in the kitchen and is widely used around the world. It is important to store flour with care to keep it in top condition. White flour has the potential to last many months past its expiry date – you can do a quick smell test to check for quality. Expired flour smells awful and it isn’t difficult to detect.
Store flour that is unrefined in a plastic bag or airtight container in the fridge or freezer for best results. Although the pantry is okay, oil is less likely to turn rancid if it is kept in cool conditions.
Do you have a secret way to store flour to extend its life? Please let us know in the comments below.