Holiday cooking means breaking out an arsenal of ingredients that hardly see the outside of the pantry for the rest of the year. Or maybe years.
Should you really use that brown sugar you bought four years ago? Is it OK that last year's allspice looks a little crusty?
This year, instead of stressing, use this guide to help determine whether you can still use those holiday holdovers and everyday staples.
White flour. Lasts for six to 12 months in the pantry, indefinitely in the freezer. Expert tip: White flour doesn't go bad, but it can get small bugs in it, says Anne VanBeber, a registered dietitian and chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Texas Christian University. If you're storing it in the freezer, make sure it's tightly covered to avoid crystallization and clumps. Storing it in a cool, dry place is best.
Wheat flour. Lasts for one to three months in the pantry, six to eight months in the fridge, up to a year in the freezer. Expert tip: Wheat flour spoils more quickly than white because of its higher fat content.
Bread crumbs. Last indefinitely if covered tightly and stored in a cool, dry place. Expert tip: They won't go bad, but they can start to taste stale after a few months, says Stephen Johnson, a lecturing instructor at the Culinary Institute of America.
White sugar. Lasts for 2 years. Expert tip: If humidity makes it lumpy, break it up. If baking, sift through a sieve or colander to remove small lumps that might not dissolve.
Brown sugar. Lasts until it's too hard to use, usually four to six months. Expert tip: Add a piece of bread to the container. The sugar will absorb the water in the bread and stay moist longer. If the sugar does get hard, you can simply break it up and use it.
Molasses. Lasts indefinitely. Expert tip: If it crystallizes, heat the jar gently in a pot of water.
Chocolate chips. Last up to 2 years. Expert tip: Johnson says he doesn't use them once the white film - fat that's separated - appears, but VanBeber says she notices no difference once the chocolate has been baked.
Nuts. Last for three to six months in the pantry, a year in the freezer. Expert tip: If you put nuts in the freezer, roast them before serving to get rid of any excess moisture they picked up in the freezer.
Evaporated milk. Lasts for 12 months. Expert tip: The caramel color is normal. It will last two to three weeks after opening if covered and refrigerated.
Condensed milk. Lasts one to two years. Expert tip: The high concentration of sugar keeps bacteria from growing. It can last a month if covered and refrigerated.
Yeast. Lasts for two to three months. Expert tip: Don't let yeast get wet: Moisture activates it.
Baking powder. Lasts until best-if-used-by date. Expert tip: Keep baking powder dry.
Baking soda. Lasts until best-if-used-by date. Expert tip: Don't bake with soda from the open box you keep in the fridge. The absorbed odors will make food taste odd.
Ground spices. Most spices start losing flavor after six months, but they don't go bad. Greg Bowling, manager of Pendery's Spices in Fort Worth, Texas, says their rule of thumb is that after dried spices or herbs are opened, they can be kept in the freezer for up to one year.