FAQs about Shelf Life: Tortillas, Pancakes, Wine, and More

pancakesThe two most commonly asked questions about shelf life are these:  How long will this food last?  What can I do to make it last longer? As you read the answers in these FAQs, remember these two points: 1) Shelf life is NOT about safety; it's about quality. 2) The "use-by" date on a product generally refers only to the unopened item.  If you want to know how long the contents in an OPENED container will remain at its best, you can find the answers for hundreds of foods by using the search box on this site's home page.  Now, onward to the questions we've been asked recently.


How long will tortillas (corn or flour) remain good?  How should I handle them to prolong the shelf life?


There is some variation in answers depending on the source, but the general message is that commercial ones hold up pretty well.  In grocery stores, I've seen a few different brands of unrefrigerated tortillas (both corn and flour) with shelf life dates of 6 or more weeks later. 


The customer service woman at Mission Foods said this company's tortillas--both flour and corn-- had a shelf life of 60 days whether the package was opened or not.  (These tortillas--and I assume most other commercial ones--contain preservatives, though the Mission Foods site claims it is a minimal amount.)  That is, the tortillas will hold up that well if the package is properly resealed. The customer service spokesperson also recommended putting the resealed package in an additional zip-lock bag and refrigerating it.  When I asked if refrigeration is required, she said, "Not necessarily." But mold can be a problem especially in a humid environment, so, refrigeration is recommended to prolong shelf life.


The site Meals for You gives a much less generous time span--only 4-7 days after opening the package and up to 4 months in the freezer for optimum quality.  Again, the recommendation is for storage in a plastic bag to help keep air out and moisture in.  At room temperature, the site warns, mold will appear in 3-4 days.


Next, I asked two scientists on the Shelf Life Advice Advisory Board for their opinions.  Food process engineer Dr. Tim Bowser gives commercial tortillas 3-4 weeks and homemade ones about a week.  Food scientist Dr. Catherine Cutter said that they should last well in the fridge, but they might get moldy.  She recommends using them within a week or freezing.


How long can I keep leftover pancakes?  How should I handle them?


Whether you make them from a mix or from scratch, the answer is about the same.  Here's the answer from Dr. Bowser:  "Pancakes have a much higher moisture content than tortillas. Leftovers should be refrigerated or frozen fairly quickly after cooling.  Refrigerated pancakes should be consumed within 2-3 days.  Frozen pancakes should last quite awhile.  I like to layer pancakes with wax or parchment paper between the layers prior to freezing.  That makes them easier to separate.  I seal them in a zip-lock freezer bag."


How can I keep an open bottle of wine from spoiling?


Shelf Life Advice has answered this question before, but this time around we have an additional tip to add.  To prolong the shelf life of wine, the goal, of course, is to keep oxygen out.  One simple method is to pour the leftover wine into a smaller bottle.  If the bottle is filled to the top (and the wine even runs over a little), there will be no room for that spoiler, oxygen. Another well-known solution is to remove the oxygen with a vacuum pump.  However, wine expert Bill St. John (in a Chicago Tribune article) says this: "A 'vacuum pump' doesn't remove enough oxygen from a half-filled bottle of wine to work.  It can't, or the bottle would implode."  Instead, he offers another solution: "Place the half-filled bottle in your freezer on butt end--with the cork out--until the wine freezes." This method, he assures readers, will not harm the wine and will "pretty much retard oxidation."  If you try it, let us know how defrosted wine tastes to you.


How can I lengthen the life span of fresh herbs?


Once again, the answer is by freezing. The Huffington Post blog says that, in a zip-lock bag in your freezer, fresh herbs will last a month.


Guess what?  There's a company called Gourmet Garden that has taken the idea of freezing fresh herbs to a new level.  They've chopped and treated them, stuffed them into plastic tubes, and extended the shelf life of some 11 different herbs and herb blends by doing so.  The tubes sell for $3.95 each.  Gourmet Garden's herbs and spices in a tube last for 3 months in the fridge and 6 months in the freezer.  When removed from the freezer, within about 5 minutes, the contents become soft enough to squish out and use.  To read more about this product, click here. Where can you get them?   Check out the company's store locator: http://www.gourmetgarden.com/us/contents/view/store-locator





Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering


Catherine N. Cutter, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science


missionfoodservice.com "Products" 



mealsforyou.com "Kitchen Tips: Tortilla Shelf Life"



Huffington Post "These 13 Strategies Will Keep Your Food Super Fresh"



Chicago Tribune "Uncorked: Tricks of the Trade--How to keep an open bottle of wine from spoiling and other tips" August 1, 2012



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