There’s something about Springtime that gets our cleaning juices flowing, even in the constantly-being-cleaned world of yachts.
But what about the galley? Sure, chefs and stews regularly clean the walk-ins, the face of the appliances, inside the oven, and even the drawers. But we usually skip over the dry goods pantry.
Working freelance on charter yachts recently brings this issue to the front of my mind. Just how long has that bag of beans been in the cupboard? Was it left there by the last charter chef? Or maybe the one before him? Unfortunately, that is the beast of charter yachting. One chef goes out and buys a bunch of staples they want in their pantry, which is different for every chef. The next chef is left to deal with it. Or (most likely) not.
So can it be used, or should it be tossed? That’s the question about that bag of beans left sitting for over a year. What is the actual shelf life on those canned items, that bag of dried quinoa or wheat berries that doesn’t look like it’s been touched in months?
Beans are a go-to staple in many yacht galleys. They have a shelf-stable life of one year, if packaged in food-grade bags. If packaged in food-grade Mylar bags or No. 10 cans that have had the oxygen removed, they have a shelf life of over 10 years.
If allowed to sit loose in a bag, then the shelf life is depleted due to humidity, oxygen and light. Light will fade the beans and any contact with oxygen will succumb them to rancidity.
It is best to buy beans in either cans or in vacuum-sealed bags if they are staple items that intend to be emergency, last-resort items. If they have been sitting on the shelf for a while and have been opened, toss them.
Whole, uncooked grains have a shelf life of up to four months in a pantry; if kept in the freezer, they’ll be good up to a year in a sealed container. Whole grains such as amaranth, millet, groats or barley sitting on a shelf for longer than six months in a hot galley should be tossed.
Uncooked, sealed quinoa has a long shelf life but can quickly turn bad if kept in the sunlight or in an area that is not temperature controlled. If it has been sitting on the shelf for any period of time, toss it.
Whole grain flours and meals typically should only be kept for up to three months. Because their bran has been cracked, oxygen can get to every part of it so it can go bad in a short period of time if not kept in the freezer.
I have to remember that canned foods that are acidic in nature have a shorter shelf life than those lower in acidity. Be sure to regularly go through any canned items on the shelf, especially acidic items, and toss those expired.
I try to use up any opened containers of powdered milk within three months. If unopened, they will last on the shelf from 18 months to 10 years. While that may seem like a long time, when we’re far away from any source of fresh milk, it’s handy to have in emergencies. Non-fat dry milk will last longer as the fat in whole milk and buttermilk is unstable. It is best kept in the freezer. Time will change the flavor and smell of the milk powder as well as the vitamins’ potency. It will not change the protein level. If removed from its original container, its shelf life is seriously decreased. If so, be sure to put it in a sealed container in the freezer and scoop out only what is needed.
When I decant any food item, I label the container with that date and the best-by date. That way, all I have to do is look and pull versus flipping the items over and over to find the expiration dates. I learned to put the Best Buy date on the top of cans. Sure it’s more work, but that makes it easier to inventory and toss what needs to be tossed.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.