Does Flour Go Bad?

Flour is one of the kitchen staples, yet so often we find ourselves with a half-opened package that sits in the cabinet for ages. Does flour go bad? Can you use “expired” flour? These are the questions that come to mind when you stumble upon such bag of flour. Fortunately for you and me, flour last much longer than the date on the package, especially if you store it properly. If you’d like to learn a bit about storage, shelf life, and going bad of flour, read on.

Flour used for baking
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How To Store Flour

Storing flour is no rocket science. You should keep an unopened package in a cool and dry area. The pantry is the best choice, but a cabinet in the kitchen works too.

As with other dry goods, like baking powder, the most important thing is to keep the flour away from any water. That means that after opening the package, it’s probably best to transfer the powder into an airtight container that you can seal tightly. Or a flip-top container we usually use to store cereals. Of course, you can leave the flour in its original package, but it doesn’t provide much protection from water. So I suggest doing that only if you’re certain that the place where you keep flour is moisture-free.

If you’re not a big-time baker and use a certain type of flour (e.g., whole wheat) only once every few weeks, it’s better to store the flour in the fridge or even in the freezer. Low temperature helps the flour retain its quality for longer. That’s also true for gluten-free alternatives like coconut flour and almond flour. Because of that, if you expect to use that certain package of flour for more than a few months, chilling it is the way to go. One important thing when it comes to storing flour in the fridge or freezer is that it needs to be well protected from moisture and cold. As mentioned earlier, you can pour the flour into an airtight container. Alternatively, you can leave the flour in its original paper bag, but put that bag into a freezer bag. That will work too.

How Long Does Flour Last

There are at least a few types of flour out there besides wheat flour, like corn flour or potato flour. Fortunately, you don’t need to remember the shelf life of each variety, because they are quite similar. The most noticeable difference is between “normal” flours and whole-grain flours. Whole grain flours contain more oil than white flours, and therefore their quality degrades faster.

Most bags of flour come with a best-by date. That date is only a rough estimate of how long the flour will retain its quality. Of course, flour won’t go bad a week or month past that date. It also won’t make you sick if you eat it and will still taste quite okay after the date on the label. How long does flour last after the best-by date? It’s difficult to say, as it depends on a number of factors, like how the flour was produced and so on. The best you can get here are rough estimates.

For white flour, it should last in good quality for about a year if stored at room temperature, and two years if chilled in the fridge or freezer. Whole wheat flour, as mentioned earlier, is more volatile, and will retain its quality for only about 3 months, 6 months if chilled in the fridge and about a year if frozen. Of course, all these periods are only estimates and for best quality only. The flour will still be safe to use for years to come.

PantryFridgeFreezer
White flourBest by + 1 yearBest by + 2 yearsBest by + 2 years
Whole-grain flourBest by + 3 monthsBest by + 6 monthsBest by + 1 year

Please note the periods above are rough estimates and for best quality only.

How To Tell If Flour Is Bad

Unless water gets into the container or bag, flour doesn’t go bad in a way it’s unsafe to eat. If water gets to the powder, there will be big clumps or some sort of organic growth on the surface. If that’s the case, trash the product. Flours also attract flour bags. If you see in your flour anything that’s alive, throw the product out. And possibly clean and disinfect the cabinet, because there might be more bugs in there. If the flour is bug-free and looks okay, give it a sniff. If it has a rancid smell, which is more likely to happen for whole wheat flours, it’s past its prime, and you should throw it out.

Provided the flour looks and smells okay, it’s almost certainly safe to use. If you use an old flour and the baking or cooking project doesn’t go that well, the flour most likely isn’t that good anymore. As I mentioned earlier, powder degrades in terms of quality over time, and at a certain point, you probably should discard it for quality purposes. A favorite dish that doesn’t quite hit the spot is a sure sign the flour is no good anymore.