Food and Nutrition

Yes, Grains Go Bad If You Don’t Store Them Properly—Here’s What You Need To Do To Keep Them Fresh for Years

Rebecca Norris

Photo: Getty Images/Cemagraphics
Are you someone who heads to the grocery store every time you want to eat pasta or rice, or do you stay forever stocked up on your favorite grains? If you resonate with the latter, we have some news that you may be shocked to hear: Grains do go bad—but how quickly it happens is up to you.

“Grains have a longer shelf life than most foods which makes it one of the best foods to stock up on at home,” says NYC-based dietitian Jennifer Maeng of Chelsea Nutrition in Manhattan, noting that they provide an array of health benefits.

“Whole grains as compared to refined grains, contain all parts: bran, endosperm, and the germ. When all these parts of the grain remain intact it contains an abundance of nutrients such as B-vitamins, minerals, fiber, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, phytochemicals, healthy fats, vitamin E, carbohydrates, and protein.”

Of those nutrients, she says that the fiber is most notable. “The fiber found in whole grains slows the breakdown of starch into glucose, therefore preventing a high spike in blood sugar,” says Maeng. “Constantly spiking blood sugar can negatively impact your energy level, weight, and overall health.”

Now that you know the benefits of keeping grains stocked in your kitchen, it’s time to know the downsides, too. Namely, grains do, in fact, spoil, and thanks to their typical storage, they can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Keep reading to learn more.

Do grains go bad?

The reason grains go bad, according to Maeng, is because they’re often improperly stored. With that in mind she says that grains should be stored in airtight containers (like OXO’s Good Grips POP Storage Containers), in a cool, dry environment.

“Whole grains can typically be stored for up to six months (dry),” she says, noting that if they’re kept in the freezer, they can last up to a year. “For cooked whole grains, they can be stored for four days in the fridge and six months in the freezer.”

Of all the grains that exist, Maeng says that pasta, barley, brown rice, spelt, wheat, corn, farro, and rye are among the grains with the longest shelf life when dry.

And then there’s white rice. “If stored properly (dry), white rice can be stored for 25 to 30 years,” says Maeng. “As shown in a study, polished rice won’t spoil and will maintain its nutrients and flavor profile for up to 30 years.”

Signs that your grains have gone bad

Like most foods, Maeng says that you’ll know that your grains have spoiled when you notice a change in color, odor, or texture. “They typically go bad in environments that contain a lot of moisture, heat, and temperature change,” she adds.

Speaking of moisture and temperature changes, according to the National Institutes of Health, grains can serve as an abundant source of food borne contaminants. “Whole grains, unfortunately, typically have more contaminants than refined grains but do contain more nutrients that can fight against these contaminants,” Maeng shares. “The National Institutes of Health emphasizes that even though there is an increased risk of contaminants, the benefits of consuming whole grains still outweigh the contamination risk.”

Proper storage for grains

Remember: The best way to avoid spoilage and food borne contaminants is to store your grains properly. While dry and cooked grains require different storage solutions, Maeng says that “both uncooked and cooked grains should not be placed in environments where the temperature changes as this causes condensation and the increased risk of the growth of food contaminants.”

That said, learn how to store your grains, below.

1. Dry

As we mentioned above, airtight containers and dry, cool environments are best for dry grain storage.

“The best temperature for storage is 40°F,” Maeng adds, noting that rice stored at 70° F (with help of oxygen absorbers) can be stored for years.

2. Cooked

Cooked grains, on the other hand, have a much shorter shelf life. “Cooked grains stored in the fridge should be consumed within a few days, ideally three,” Maeng says, noting that they can last up to six months in the freezer. “The shelf life of already cooked grains is a lot shorter than uncooked grains due to the addition of water and its role in microbial growth."

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