Shelf life of Cooking Oils

cooking oils

There always seems to be a debate over the shelf life of cooking oils.  This can be caused by one of several reasons, some people smell rancidity better than others.  I know some people who can’t smell it at all.  Temperature and packaging can cause a big fluctuation in the life of cooking oils. Most cooking oils have a shelf life of from one to two years before turning rancid.  There is lot of talk about longer shelf life for various oils such as coconut oil.  But we have not been able to find anything but antidotal evidence to confirm this

With cooking oils and fats, be sure to watch the expiration dates, and rotate them as needed.  Extra virgin olive oil is reputed to have a slightly longer shelf life due because it is the first squeezing and therefore purer.

Rancid fats need to be avoided, they have been suspected of causing increases in arteriosclerosis, heart disease and cancer.  Whenever possible, keep oil away from light and oxygen and store in a refrigerator or cool place.

cooking oils
Red Feather Butter

There are a few oils or fats that can be stored for longer periods one is Red Feather Butter.  The following statement is from their website.  “Red Feather has no Expiration Date written in stone, because the shelf life depends largely on the storage conditions (temperature, humidity, altitude, sunlight/shade, etc.).  We do guarantee the shelf life for two years however, the actual shelf life of the butter will ultimately be determined by the storage conditions (temperature being the main factor) and the seal on the can remaining intact and therefore protecting the butter from the introduction of oxygen”.

Ghee or clarified butter is a butter product that has had the solid milk particles and water removed.  It can be purchased in cans and seems to have a fairly long shelf life.  In India, it is sometimes stored in the open (not in cans or refrigerated) for several months to years.  It is easy to make from butter and in the open, it stores much longer than butter.  The best buys on canned Ghee are usually found in East Indian stores.

Dehydrated butter is a good solution for long-term storage.  Stored under good conditions it can last many years.  Dehydrated shortening powder is another choice for long-term storage.  It can be kept for many years.  While it is a type of oil that we would not use under normal conditions, in an emergency in which you were short of oil, we think it would be fine

Crisco, the manufacture says a two-year shelf life.  Lard, is still a question mark, we are trying to get more data on its storage life.  we will post more information as we receive it.

A cookbook from 1918 had a section on fats and oils which included the following statement.  “In the purchase of meat, the careful housewife should see that the butcher gives her all the fat she pays for, as all fats can be rendered very easily at home and can be used for cooking purposes”.  This shows a completely different attitude than today.  In both World War 1 & 2, many people in Europe suffered medical problems form a lack of fats and oils.

We store olive oil in the freezer and rotate the bottles.  In case of an emergency and they have to be thawed out, this starts the shelf life.  We also store dehydrated peanut butter, spam and other oil and fat containing products.

The cause of rancidity is oxidization, an inevitable process due to the exposure of a fat or oil to air, heat, and light.  The more polyunsaturated a fat is, the faster it will go rancid. Examples of oils with a high polyunsaturated fat content are flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, and soybean oil.  Butter, palm oil, and olive oil have relatively small amounts.

This brings us to Coconut oil which is very low in polyunsaturated fat and therefore has a better storage life than most oils.  Coast Coconut Farms makes the following statement on their website located at  “Due to its exceptional stability, our coconut oil has a long shelf life 5 years when properly stored in cool, dark place, coconut oil is ideal for food storage, and does not have to be refrigerated”. 

A couple of tips on storing cooking oils and fats.

If you mix new and old cooking oils even in small quantities, this will hasten rancidity.

Labels on lard should be checked for the proper storage method, some types of lard, depending on the processing technique, can be stored at room temperature, while other types need refrigeration.

If you find some of your oils have gone rancid, don’t be in a big hurry to throw them away.  They have many other uses, such as oil for homemade lamps and protecting metals from rust. Here is link to Alternate Uses for Rancid Cooking Oil


3 thoughts on “Shelf life of Cooking Oils”

  1. Hi Howard

    You said ” … The cause of rancidity is oxidization, an inevitable process due to the exposure of a fat or oil to air, heat, and light. …”

    It would seem to me that if rancidity is due to oxidation (and I believe that it is) then vacuum packing the oil in glass jars should prevent it from going rancid.

    I’d like to hear what various folks say about this thought.

    Hangtown Frank

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