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Most of us stock some foods in the pantry to use as we need them, but some foods go bad faster than you might expect.

Successful long-term food storage saves you time and money, but certain foods don't last as long as most people expect them to. Here is a rundown of the items in your cupboard that are most likely to go bad before you use them.

1. Tea

Tea, especially, green tea, only maintains its taste and flavor for about a month when exposed to the air (as in an open box of tea bags). The longer you keep tea in the cupboard, the lower its antioxidant content, too.

The oxygen in the air neutralizes the antioxidants that otherwise would wind up in your cup and in your system.

 Buy tea that comes in individually sealed bags, or loose tea that comes in a metal container, and be sure to close the container after every use.

2. Olive oil

Most of us assume that olive oil keeps forever. The truth is, however, that polyphenols that give olive oil much of its nutritional value go bad when the oil is exposed to air, and omega-3 essential fatty acids can be transformed by peroxides and aldehydes into chemicals that actually increase the risk of atherosclerosis rather than lowering it. Olive oil, as well as canola oil, peanut oil, flaxseed oil, and grapeseed oil is best stored under refrigeration if you are not using it for a long time. (You will have to let the oil melt before you can pour it out of its container.) If you are leaving a bottle on the shelf for everyday cooking, make sure you close the cap tightly after every use, keep the bottle in a dark cupboard, and discard if it smells bad. Keep oil away from the stove, since heat can damage it, and buy smaller bottles whenever possible. Rancid oil usually won't give you stomach upset, but it contains the chemicals that can damage your blood vessels.

3. Spices

Most of us have heard about the remarkable healing power of curcumin, the principal antioxidant in the curry spice turmeric. If you expose turmeric to the air, however, its curcumin content plummets. And if your pantry is infested with tiny beetles that live in spice jars, they will get all the benefits of the curcumin, not you.

Cinnamon, chili, and black pepper also frequently go bad.

One way to preserve the flavor and antioxidant content of your spices is to store them in a whole state, peppercorns instead of pepper, cinnamon sticks instead of ground cinnamon, and so on, and grind them immediately before use.

It also helps to store spices in glass containers with metal lids kept on tight. The brighter a spice looks, the fresher and more flavorful it is.

4. Rice

Rice is one of those foods that seems to last forever, but the vitamin B (thiamine) content of rice begins to deteriorate in just one day after exposure to sunlight. Keeping rice in a clear jar on a kitchen counter reduces its vitamin content. Brown rice, in particular, goes bad if exposed to heat. It's not a bad idea to store brown rice in the refrigerator, unless your family eats rice on regular basis and buys rice every week or two.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Bittman, Mark. The Latest Must-Haves for the Pantry. New York Times. 6 January 2009.Mind map by SteadyHealth.com
  • Photo courtesy of Robert Benner Sr. via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/mullica/5637645692

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