If you rarely use flour, you’ve probably found an old bag in the back of the cupboard more than once. Can flour go bad or expire?
Unless you get yours directly from a mill, it comes with a date on the label. But it’s not like the powder will spoil a couple of days (or months) past that date. How long does flour last past the date on the label?
If either of these questions have brought you here, you’re in the right place. Read along!
This article doesn’t cover nut flours, such as coconut flour and almond flour. They deserve their own articles.
Can Flour Go Bad? How To Tell If Flour Has Gone Bad?
Most types of flour don’t really expire, but all of them can go bad.
When checking if your flour is okay to use, look for the following:
- Mold. If moisture gets to the powder, it might go moldy. If you notice any, discard the bag.
- Yeasty, rancid, or sour smell. If it smells off, throw it out. Always give your old whole-grain flour a good whiff before using, as this variety can go rancid.
- Pantry bugs. If there are any bugs (living ones or corpses), pantry pests, or larvae, that flour isn’t safe to eat anymore.
As I mentioned above, whole-grain flour can go rancid.
Whole grain means the flour contains all three parts of the grain: the endosperm, bran, and germ ([WIKI2]). Bran and germ contain some fat, and as you probably know, fat is prone to rancidification.
If your whole grain flour has started to stink or has taken on a rancid-like smell, get rid of it.
You almost certainly won’t get sick from eating baked goods made with stale whole grain flour, but they won’t taste as good as they usually do. Plus they can carry some of that smell.
Refined grains used in most flours contain only the endosperm, so they are fat-free, and thus not in risk of going rancid. If your not-whole-grain flour smells off, it probably picked it up from another product.
Last but not least, let’s talk about self-rising (or self-raising) flour.
Self-raising flour is flour with leavening agents ([WIKI1]). And leavening agents, such as baking powder, don’t retain potency forever.
If your baked goods made with a couple-of-years-old self-raising flour don’t rise as well as they used to, that means it has lost some (or most) of its potency. And it’s time to grab a new bag.
How Long Does Flour Last?
Experts say flour generally lasts about six to eight months at room temperature ([FC]). That’s not that long, right?
The best-by dates on flour bags say a similar story – they’re usually between six to nine months of the day flour was bagged.
Does that mean the quality of flour starts to deteriorate quickly past that period?
I’ve used flour that’s anywhere between a month to over a year past its date with great success. Granted, I’m not the greatest baker out there and cook mostly for myself and my family, but nobody ever noticed that something was off due to old flour.
Based on years of experience (both my mom’s and mine), I’d say flour easily lasts for months (sometimes even years) past its date.
With some caveats, of course.
First, whole-grain flour, which as you already know, can go rancid.
Even if it smells okay (that is, hardly at all), use it for some stress-free weekend baking that’s okay if it doesn’t turn out perfect.
If you’re about to use whole-grain flour that’s half a year past its date to bake a cake for an important occasion, think twice.
Second, self-rising flour.
If it’s very old (like a year past the date), and you didn’t use it lately, it’s difficult to say if it’s still potent.
To check that, try using it in a recipe where the potency of the leavening agent isn’t that important, e.g., in pancakes. If those pancakes turn out somewhat flat, that’s usually not that big of a deal.
That will give you some knowledge about how well that flour raises and if you need to add some baking powder to make things work or not.
Knowing all that, let’s talk a bit about storage of flour and all that jazz about refrigerating and freezing it.
How To Store Flour
Let’s start with the basics.
No matter if it’s gluten-free, whole-grain, bread, all-purpose, or any other flour, you need to protect it from water and bugs. The easiest way to do that is to keep it sealed tightly.
In most cases, flour comes in a paper bag, and if it sits in a place that’s safe from moisture and bugs, that’s good enough to use long term. Just roll down the top after each use, and that’s it.
If you want to up your flour-storage game, transfer the powder into an airtight container. You can buy a dedicated one, or reuse one that you got with another food product, e.g., cornstarch.
Generally, airtight canisters and containers are recommended for flour storage ([FC]). But truth be told, I never used one and never had any issues with water or insects.
It largely depends on how safe from these your storage spot is.
When it comes to long term storage, many places recommend refrigerating, or even freezing the product ([FC]).
Going to such measures will definitely help retain quality for longer, but honestly, have you ever seen anyone who refrigerates or freezes flour? Me neither.
For most of us, fridge and freezer space come at a premium, and we don’t want to waste it on storing foods that keep well at room temperature. So I’d say it’s not worth it to chill the flour in the fridge or freezer.
But if you want to test it out, be my guess. Just make sure you transfer the powder in an airtight container that’s moistureproof so the product doesn’t absorb any water from the environment.
- Even though flour is said to last about 6 to 8 months in good quality, it usually keeps well for much longer
- Observe the quality of whole-grain and self-rising flour closely, the former can go rancid, the latter lose the potency
- Keep flour away from moisture and pantry bugs, transfer to an airtight container if needed
- While many sources recommend refrigeration or freezing for long-term flour storage, it’s probably not really worth it
- [FC] Flour.com: FAQ
- [WIKI1] Wikipedia: Flour
- [WIKI2] Wikipedia: Whole grain