Known for its rich nutty flavor and touted for its health benefits, whole wheat flour is a staple ingredient to keep in a well-stocked kitchen. It is handy for boosting the nutritional value of quick breads, muffins, waffles, and the like. While whole wheat flour is often a well-intentioned purchase, it can be easily forgotten in the back of the pantry, only to be discovered months later. So how long does wheat flour last? Is it safe to use that lost-and-found bag of wheat flour from months ago? We probed the internet to find the best answer to this question.
If properly stored, whole wheat flour lasts for one to three months at room temperature, up to six months in the refrigerator, and up to 12 months in the freezer. Proper storage includes storing in an airtight container in a cool, dry location.
Given the variety of ranges listed above, the shelf life of whole wheat flour is greatly influenced by how it is stored. Keep reading as we take a closer look at what else impacts the shelf life of whole wheat flour, storage recommendations, and how to tell if it has gone bad.
Factors that Impact the Shelf Life of Whole Wheat Flour
Compared to plain old white all-purpose flour, whole grain flours, including whole wheat flour, have a much shorter shelf life. Whole wheat flour contains wheat germ and bran, both of which are not present in white flour.
Because the presence of germ and bran increases the oil content of whole wheat flour, it is more prone to spoilage. Exposure to circulating air, heat, light, and moisture accelerates the process of spoiling. That makes proper storage crucial to extending the shelf life of whole wheat flour. That leads us to our next question: what is the best way to store whole wheat flour?
What is the best way to store whole wheat flour?
It might be tempting to shelve an opened package of whole wheat flour in its original packaging during kitchen clean-up. But science tells us otherwise. Because circulating air oxidizes the oil in whole wheat flour, which causes it to go rancid, an airtight container is a must to store whole wheat flour. That could be as simple as stuffing the original opened package into a sealable plastic freezer bag.
For a sturdier reusable option, opt for an airtight storage container made of plastic, glass, ceramic, or stainless steel. Click here to see an airtight plastic container made by Rubbermaid on Amazon.
After you have selected an airtight storage container for your whole wheat flour, the next consideration is where to store it. Because heat and light also damage flour, choose a place that is cool and dark. If you have space, the freezer makes an ideal place to store whole wheat flour and will give the flour an extended life.
The refrigerator is the next best place to store it due to its cool, dark environment. If neither of those locations works in your case, find a dark corner of the pantry or a rarely opened cupboard to stash the whole wheat flour container.
If you discard the original packaging, be sure to mark the sell-by or expiration date on the new container, so you don't lose track of how long you've had it. Also, if you purchase a new package of whole wheat flour prior to emptying your container, avoid mixing the old and new flours, as mixing will shorten the shelf life of the new flour.
If you'd like more specific recommendations on flour storage containers, head over to our post on the topic: "What is the Best Container To Store Flour?"
Should you keep whole wheat flour in the refrigerator?
We've already noted that storing whole wheat flour in the refrigerator or freezer is an excellent choice. The refrigerator provides a cool, dark environment that prolongs the life of whole wheat flour.
To block out any airflow or moisture, it is important that you remember to store the flour in an airtight container when it is in the refrigerator or freezer. A simple way to do that is by placing it in a resealable plastic freezer bag. Stored this way in the refrigerator, whole wheat flour can last up to six months. In the freezer, it can last up to 12 months.
How long does whole wheat flour last after opening?
How long whole wheat flour lasts after opening depends largely on how it is stored. Packages of flour are marked with a use-by or expiration date. That is a good starting point for determining how long the contents of the package will last. As we've stated above, if after opening the flour is stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark, and dry environment, whole wheat flour can last three months at room temperature, six months in the refrigerator, and up to a year in the freezer.
However, within the expiration date but without airtight storage, it is best to check the flour for signs of it being spoiled before using it. In the next section, we will tell you what to look for. As long as the whole wheat flour hasn't been contaminated by insects or water, it likely won't hurt you to eat old flour. Unfortunately, though, it can give your baked goods a bad taste.
Does whole wheat flour go bad?
Flour is a food that we generally think of as being shelf-stable. It's not an ingredient that we think of as being prone to going bad. The truth is that it can indeed spoil. Whole wheat flour, in particular, spoils faster than white flour, so it is important to know how to tell if your whole wheat flour stash is still usable. Here are a few tell-tale signs that it is time to toss out the flour:
- There is visible insect activity. Throw that flour away!
- There is moisture in the container. Wet flour is clumpy and may have visible mold on its surface. Discard wet flour ASAP!
- The flour smells off. In an article for Women's Health, nutritionist Molly Knauer says, "Flour should have no smell, or a minimal nutty or sweet smell. When the flour has gone bad, it has a more sour or playdough-like smell.” If a peculiar smell emanates from your whole wheat flour, it is time to trash it.
- It is past the expiration date. If the expiration date has come and gone, don't delay getting rid of that flour.
How do you preserve wheat flour?
To maximize the life of whole wheat flour and preserve its quality, store either opened or unopened packages in an airtight container in the freezer. The deeper in the freezer and farther from the door you can place it, the better it will last. Stored this way, you can preserve whole wheat flour for up to a year.
Whole wheat flour lasts from one month to a year, depending on how it is stored. Don't underestimate the value of storing flour in an airtight storage container and storing it at the lowest temperature possible. If you are questioning whether your whole wheat flour is still usable, put your nose to work. A quick sniff test will reveal whether the flour is spoiled or not.
If your flour supply is low, you might be interested to know our answer to this question: