/ Food & Drink

What’s the oldest item in your food cupboard?

expired-tuna-can Best Before

Now here’s a challenge for you this weekend. Find the oldest store cupboard item in your kitchen. Once you’ve done that, think about it very carefully. Would you still eat it? What if it was out of date by over 18 years?

A recent investigation by the Daily Mail saw ageing food stuffs being sent to a lab for microbiological testing. These included a 12-year-old can of tuna, an eight-year-old jar of gravy granules, a bottle of ale, which was 16 years out of date, and an opened pot of chilli powder, due to expire in 2000.

Each was examined for a host of undesirables, including E.coli, salmonella, listeria and Clostridium perfringens, as well as for yeasts and moulds. A food technologist then examined the results and found that all of the groceries, bar the ale, were still perfectly edible. But would you risk it?

Past its prime

Sometime on the cusp of the 1980s/1990s, I distinctly remember asking my nan if she had any ‘tomato sauce’ to go with the chips she’d served up for lunch. She told me to go and look for it in the larder.

Rifling through rusting cans of soup, custard powder, mustard powder, Spam and corned beef, I finally located it at the back of the cupboard. It was in a slightly different shaped bottle and the price had a 1/2p attached to it. Suspicious that it might be past its shelf life, I looked for the Best Before date and gasped when I read: Dec 1979.

‘It’ll be alright – get it down ya, gal,’ my grandad tried to assure me. It definitely wasn’t. Turns out opened bottles of ketchup that have been in the cupboard for over 10 years go a very unappetising shade of reddy-brown with a separated yellow top.

Waste not…

For the Best Before sticklers, I’d like to say I joined your ranks that day and have been a loyal soldier ever since. But as Which? Convo regulars will know, it isn’t true. I take after my grandparents and rarely pay attention to Best Before dates.

Looking through my own food cupboard, I can actually beat my nan’s ketchup. A good number of items, such as bags of rice, pasta and lentils, should have been used up by the end of 2016. I’ve also got two bottles of Lea & Perrin’s and some mint sauce that expired in September 2013.

Lurking at the back is a packet of cornflour that I bought when I first moved in, dated June 2006. I didn’t think I could beat this until I remembered the spice tin. Inside, I found a packet of ground cinnamon, which was apparently past its best in 2002!

Would I still use them? Yes – and I have done, with no ill effects to date. And with more than 10 million tonnes of food being thrown away in Britain each year, almost half of which is deemed avoidable (as in, still edible), I’m not about to contribute to that figure any time soon.

What about you? What’s the oldest item in your food cupboard?


The oldest item I could find in the food cupboards was a carton of bicarbonate of soda with a Best Before date of August 94. It should have been in the cleaning cupboard – and they are now. So should a can of Coca Cola dated June 2013, which is quite good for tarnished copper. The baking soda came from my late parents’ house but I cannot account for the Coca Cola. Maybe a visitor left it.

What did surprise me was to find a can of cocoa powder, with END JAN 99 embossed in large letters on the base. I cannot claim that this is a cleaning material, but I doubt I would have used it.

There is a carton of hand-harvested sea salt that is not dated but was a gift from a small company based in the Algarve in about 2004. I will use it when I have finished the batch that came from the same source a couple of years earlier. I think I’m fairly safe with old salt.

Thanks for this Convo, Mel. Going through the food cupboards this Sunday morning has been a useful exercise because I have a couple of corner cupboards where I laid down a store of cans and jars in late 2016 in case we were snowed in. It’s all still in date but I will have to use it when the risk of snow has passed.


Dumpster Divers have no choice .


I last moved house in 2012, so I got rid of anything really ancient then.

As, according to Google, I now live a mere 296ft from my local 247365 convenience store, my food cupboard is largely empty. Also, living in a city, I don’t need to keep stuff against the risk of getting snowed in.

When I helped to clear out my late parents’ kitchen cupboards, we found stuff so old that cans have corroded to nothing, releasing some mysterious stains that might once have been tomato puree. But most of the ancient stuff there was in good order, even if decades old.


I used to believe that tinned food could be relied on to last forever. Plenty of ancient cans can be found in museums.

I contacted a company when I discovered a swollen can of fruit at the back of the cupboard, back in the 80s. I was told that after two years the lacquer could degrade and the swelling is caused by hydrogen produced by reaction of the acid with the metal. Usually, swelling indicates growth of bugs as a result of poor sealing or inadequate sterilisation.


Not a bad trawl really. Plenty of stuff around 2006/7, but the oldest I found are three 38ml bottles of food flavouring. Rum 1998, Brandy 1998 and Glycerine 1995. Strangely in 2007 (BB date 2009) I kept some Crystallised Ginger sugar to flavour something, but never did. It’s okay though, I tasted it! Maybe I’ll use it now.


If this Conversation had been a couple of years ago, I would have to admit to having vintage vanilla and almond essences and some old spices. Glycerine (= glycerol) should be fine if the bottle is sealed.


This convo has made me check out what I have in a cupboard gathering dust, I am afraid it isn’t food as even in old age I have a good appetite as I burn up calories very quickly .I am not a connoisseur so I look to the regulars to tell me what I can/cannot give to others to drink as I stopped drinking after a major stomach operation. In no particular order – and all from the 70,s/90,s – large bottle Smirnoff vodka (70,s ) Cutty Sark whisky ( 70,s ) Beefeater gin+tonic(70,s ) Salaison -Shiraz -wine -1979-Liebfraumilch-Gran Ponti spumante-Hirodelle- medium dry -original Elizabethan mead ( 70,s ) -Cinzano rosy – Smirnoff black label – Valpolicella (Italian ) -Ernest+Julio Gallo- 1995- dry reserve and chardonnay – Blackheart rum – 1977 -Lutomer Laski Reisling . all unopened .


The straight spirits (i.e. around 40% abv) should be OK or at least worth checking. I’m sorry that you cannot enjoy a drink, though remembering Lutomer Laski Riesling from the 70s I might want to become teetotal.


Thanks Wavechange.