Do Lentils Go Bad?

You decided to go through all the foods stored in the pantry and get rid off whatever is expired or spoiled. During the process, you stumbled upon an old package of dry lentils, and you started thinking: “do dry lentils even go bad?“.

Or perhaps there was a can of lentils in the far corner of the shelf, sitting there for way too long. And even though it’s is past its date, you’re not quite sure if you should discard it, or not. It’s canned food, after all.

If that’s you, I have good news. Your lentils are quite likely perfectly safe to eat. The quality might not be anything to write home about, but chances are you can use them in your favorite recipe and be still quite happy about the outcome.

Lentils and beans
(credit: Gesina Kunkel)

In this article, we talk about storage, shelf life, and going bad of lentils. We cover both dry lentils and canned ones, and we also touch upon what to do with them after cooking. Sounds interesting? Read on.

How To Store Lentils

Storing dry lentils is super easy, and it’s the same no matter if you have green, brown, or red lentils on hand. It’s like with storing other dry foods, like rice or quinoa. All you need to do is to make sure the lentils are in a cool and dry place, sealed tightly. The pantry is perfect, but a cupboard in the kitchen works well too.

Once you open the plastic package, it’s best if you transfer the leftovers into an airtight container or freezer bag, so they’re safe from any smells and moisture. Truth be told, I often omit this step and keep the lentils in the original bag sealed well, and they stay just fine this way for months on end.

When it comes to canned lentils, you treat them the same way you treat other canned foods. That means the can sits in a cool and dry place, and that’s about it. Once you open it up, refrigerate the leftovers if there are any.

Last but not least, cooked lentils. No matter if they’re in a soup or a part of a side dish, cooked lentils belong to the fridge. Let them cool down a bit, then transfer to an airtight container and into the fridge.

How Long Do Lentils Last

Once again, let’s start with dry lentils. They usually come with a best-by date, and as you probably know, that date indicates how long the product will retain peak quality. It’s not an expiration date. And when it comes to dry lentils, they keep well for months or even years past that date, depending on storage conditions. The same goes for dried beans.

If the package is a couple of months (or even a year or two) old, and there’s nothing wrong about it (more in the next section), feel free to give it a go. You will cook the lentils before serving, so any bacteria the might be there will be killed. The realistic worst-case scenario is that you end up with not-that-great lentils, and perhaps a couple of really nasty farts.

Tip: Before you cook the lentils, sort through them to pick out any debris, and then rinse them to remove dirt. No need for presoaking, though. (MC).

Canned lentils come with a best-by date too, and the procedure is the same. Canned foods generally last for months (if not years) past their dates, so if your can looks perfectly intact, open it up and check its contents. Chances are the lentils will be just fine and ready to use after rinsing. If you have some leftovers, use them within 3 to 4 days.

Lentil salad
(credit: James Sutton)

When it comes to cooked lentils, they last about a week in the fridge, and retain the best quality for three months if frozen (LOF). As a general rule, I throw away any cooked food that sits in the fridge for over a week, even if it doesn’t show any signs of spoilage. Consider doing the same, so if your cooked and refrigerated lentils sit for over a week, it’s best to get rid of them.

PantryFridge
Dry lentils (unopened or opened)Best-by + ~1 year
Canned lentils (unopened)Best-by + 1-2 years
Canned lentils (leftovers)3 – 4 days
Cooked lentilsUp to 7 days

Please note the periods in the table above are estimates only. If the lentils are past their date, always check for signs of spoilage before cooking them.

How To Tell If Lentils Are Bad?

Dry, cooked, and canned lentils each have their signs of spoilage. Let’s start with dry lentils:

  • Insects in the package. Okay, pantry bugs don’t magically make the lentils spoiled or bad, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to eat those lentils (I don’t). Unless you’re keen on getting some additional proteins from an unusual source.
  • Signs of mold. If that happens, it’s most likely because water got into the package, allowing microbial growth. Throw out the whole thing instead of scooping the bad part.
  • Strong or off smell. Lentils have a specific, pretty mild odor. If it turns sour, off, or particularly strong, discard them.

When it comes to canned lentils, look for:

  • Rusting, leaking, or dented tin. If there’s something wrong with the can, you should get rid of it, even if its contents seem to be just fine.
  • Anything wrong with the lentils. If the package is okay, you open it up and see what’s inside. The food inside should look like, well, cooked lentils. That means no mold, off discolored parts, or funny smell. If it’s an old package, give the lentils a proper check when rinsing to be sure everything is okay.

Last but not least, there are cooked lentils. Here’s what to look for:

  • Mold or discolorations. Sometimes some microorganisms get into the container before you put it into the fridge, and the lentils will go moldy. Signs of mold might show up even the very next day, so always check the food before reheating.
  • Off smell or taste. Sometimes you cannot see at a glance that the lentils are off. Fortunately, the nose and taste buds often come to the rescue. If there’s something wrong with either the odor or how the lentils taste, discard them right away.
  • Too long in the fridge. As I already mentioned, keeping cooked food in the fridge for over a week is quite iffy. That means if your lentils already celebrated their one week anniversary in the refrigerator, it’s time for them to go.

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