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When good olive oil goes bad (or, What is the shelf life of various pantry items?)

Cleaning out my pantry this morning and I was wondering how long I can keep oil after its been opened. Amateur that I am, I can't tell (without, perhaps, tasting) whether the grapeseed, canola and olive (with Sorrento PGI lemon) oils I have have turned on me.

I also have ...

Soy and (two) hoisin sauces that weren't refrigerated after opening (one hoisin said refrigerate after opening, the other did not; the soy definitely said refrigerate after opening)


sun-dried tomatoes that weren't packed in oil and now look (and feel) like dried mushrooms


brick-hard brown sugar, both light and dark (any suggestions on softening them up for future use?)

Christopher in New York

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  1. I find that olive oil goes bad fairly quickly (a couple of months). You can tell by the smell - rancid oil has that stale, old french fry smell. I now only buy really small bottles (Goya) to make sure I go through it before it goes bad. Keeping it in the fridge is an option, but as I'm sure you know it congeals and must be warmed up before using. Grapeseed also goes rancid easily - canola not as much.

    Don't know for sure about the soy and hoisin. The high sugar content of the hoisin could help it to keep from going bad as long as there is no visible mold, but I am not sure.

    I'd think the sun-dried tomatoes should be OK to use, as long as they were dried to begin with. Pop them in some warm water and let them sit for 20 minutes or so.

    Brown sugar - you could try putting it into a tupperware container with a slice of white bread. The bread will absorb the moisture and (might) make the sugar usable again.

    I must admit - nothing you've mentioned is particularly expensive - I'd toss the lot and start fresh.

    1. Personally, I prefer buying the smallest bottle of olive oil available, and thus having less chance of its spoilage. Keep in dark and cool place will also help - Never on the counter!

      1. Here's a good article on shelf life and storage of olive oil.

        All olive oil should have the press date on it, but very few have. I only buy it from retailers with a good turnover to make sure I am getting oil from the last harvest. It's easier to find online retailers who provide harvest date info. Since harvest times are different around the world, it would make sense to find a couple different oils you like that are harvested at different times of the year sothat if you needed oil at the harvest time of the one you like, you could buy the other fresher one instead of being forced to buy year old oil.

        1. in the chinese homes i know, we don't keep the soy sauce in the fridge. the hoisin yes, but the soy is in the cupboard with the oil. Not sure if it's because we use it fast enough, but never heard of soy sauce going bad.

          if the hoisin isn't moldy i'd just put it in the fridge and keep using.

          you can soften the sugars with a piece of bread in the bag/container.

          sundried tomatoes should be fine unless you can't hydrate them to an acceptable pliablility

          1. As to brown sugar, true you can just toss it, but if you want to attempt to rejuvinate it, I read that you can put it in the oven in an oven-proof dish, with an apple wedge, cover with foil and heat for awhile. I do not remember the suggested temperature. The apple gives off moisture and the sugar softens. I tried this awhile back and it does work, but it does take several minutes...

            Does anyone know how long sundried tomatoes in oil can stay, once opened and if not refrigerated?

            3 Replies
            1. re: Shayna Madel

              you can also buy these little pucks that look like terracotta made specifically for keeping your sugar soft - never tried it though.

              1. re: chocabot

                I find that terracotta hockey puck works great - soak it for about 20 minutes, dry off the excess, and put it and the sugar in a tupperware container. The sugar stays soft for ages, if it starts stiffening up just repeat the process. I bet a clean chunk of terracotta flowerpot would do the same.

                1. re: ns538bmk

                  I have these but sadly, I wasn't paying attention when I purchased the already hard sugar; might they revitalize them? (Can always scrap them, so if not, I'll live, I just hate to waste.)

            2. throw the olive oil in the bathtub with you and have a good oily soak or soak dry feet maybe?? Also good for rubbing on wooden salad bowls and salad servers. Hate to waste oils.

              1 Reply
              1. re: smartie


                Rancid oil on wooden bowls!?!?!?

                No way!!

                In fact, only oil wooden tools with mineral oil. Any food oil will eventually turn rancid and leave an odd flavor.

              2. I'm going to be less picky than my fellow hounds: if it smells good to you, then it's good. Rancid oil isn't "bad" in that it will give you food poisoning (although too much/too rancid oil might upset your tummy). "Off" oil is a quality issue, not a food safety issue, so if it's not "off" enough for you to notice, go ahead and use it. I've had oil that sat in the cupboard for a couple of years without me noticing any "off" flavors, and a bottle of the same type of oil that only sat a few weeks before I threw it out. There are a lot of variables, such as how it was stored, the quality of the oil to begin with, etc., so there's no hard and fast rule that after X amount of time it's definitely bad and you should throw it out.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Sometimes the neck of the bottle or can will smell rancid but the oil itself is fine. The light coating of oil at the opening has a large surface exposed to air and possibly light, so it gets rancid very quickly while the oil in the bottle or can is protected.
                  Before throwing the oil away, pour some into a small dish and taste it. If it's good, pour it into a new container.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Oh my God are you all CRAZY? Rancid oil is one of the best ways to make yourself sick, even old nuts can do this if the oil in the nuts has gone rancid and you eat a lot of them at once. I buy the super big size olive oil in the square can - it's much cheaper that way and then pour it into old yogurt containers for use.The yogurt containers go in the freezer, except one to be used in the refrigerator. Good quality oils are one of the most important things you can do for your health. I also keep all flours refrigerated - these too can go rancid on the shelf if not used quickly. The sugar can be softened by placing it in a glass dish in the microwave about 20-40 seconds - NEVER use plastic in the microwave, even if it says microwave safe - the plastic leaches chemicals that mimic estrogen in your body.

                    1. re: pljforall

                      As pljforall said, toss out of date oils. Olive oil (extra virgin) can be a healthy addition to your diet. However, when rancid, you are consuming free radicals that, certainly, are not good for you.

                      As to treating wooden ware with any cooking oil, that's a bad, bad plan. If you want to protect your wood items, use mineral oil, as suggested.

                      Most common wood finishes are food grade too, once the solvents and such evaporate, polymerization takes place or they otherwise cure. This includes using walnut cooking oil. Of course, paint on wood isn't recommended. Too, avoid build coats that can flake off, be it shellac, polyurethane, or other finish.

                      In my thirty years of operating a specialty woodworking business, I use a lot of different finishes. But I stay with mineral oil for breadboards, butcher blocks and utensils. The oil replaces lost moisture, stopping shrinking that results in cracks (often, soaking a butcher block in mineral oil, until it will take no more, swells the wood, causing cracks and separations to go away). You can use beeswax too, which will hold the oil a bit better.

                  2. UPDATE REGARDING BROWN SUGAR: chocabot and ns538bmk, you inspired me to at least try the pucks on the brick hard sugar, so I did.

                    I found the pucks, read the instructions ("As well as softening rock hard brown sugar...") and gave it a go. The light brown sugar came back to life on the first attempt (might have taken a day or two, but it DID work) and the dark brown needed a second attempt (soaked puck a second time then gave it another whirl) but it did work as well.

                    A gift, I believe they were purchased at Sur La Table for about $4, though the manufacturer sells them directly (sadly, for a $20 minimum).

                    More info at the manufacturers Web site:

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: NYChristopher

                      Whether brown sugar needs softening depends on how you intend to use it. One type of brown sugar that I like, the Mexican piloncillo starts out rock hard. It either has to be chopped, grated, or dissolved in boiling water. Old manufactured brown sugar (i.e. white sugar flavored with molasses) could be used the same way. In many baking recipes brown sugar is treated as one of the wet ingredients. The main difficulty lies in measuring hard chunks by volume.


                      1. re: paulj

                        Rancid olive oil is bad for you-it oxidizes in your system and creates free radicals-you want to kill free radical with antioxidants. Try to buy olive oil with a readable expiration date-maybe even buy local california brands.

                        1. re: kai27

                          I notice a reference to Canola Oil. From what I read on the internet, it may be a very bad choice. Before continuing to use it, please research it yourself.

                          1. re: Chowdini

                            That's an ubran legend. Back in the 60's at the University of Manitoba, selective breeding lowered the erucic acid (the LA in canola stands for low-acid). Originally the oil came from rapeseed (which can contain this acid - which is large amounts can be toxic), but today all oil comes from the selectively-bred canola plant.


                      2. re: NYChristopher

                        Thank you for posting that link! That was very nice of you, but now it's

                        Also, the minimum is now $10.00 instead of $20.00.

                        :o) Cindy H

                      3. I've learned to keep my brown sugar in the refridgerator, down in the fruit drawer, and it lasts and stays soft for ages. But also depending on how you mean to use it , it can be grated, or if you mix a teeny bit of molasses in, it might also come to life again. In addition to the bread and apple recommends here.

                        I never refridgerate my soy sauce, my olive oil, sesame oil, worchestershire sauce..to name a few. I wouldn't worry about the sun dried tomatoes at all...unless they somehow had gotten damp and mouldy.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: im_nomad

                          I'm wondering whether breathing into my olive oil bottle the way I do with herbs (to replace the O² with CO², thus minimizing oxidation) would help the oil last longer?

                          I keep my soy sauce (Kikkoman) in the fridge but I think Chinese style soy sauce, being saltier, would probably be okay stored at room temp.

                          1. re: im_nomad

                            Yeah, I've had to grate the brown sugar before - it works. I toss whatever smells bad regardless - and I hate waste but I hate sickness worse.

                          2. If a bottle of sesame seed oil hasn't been opened for twenty years, can it still be used?