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Now THAT’S Spicy! December 30, 2008

How old are your spices? Older than your kids?

I’m on a little organizing kick I hope will last. My first mission zone is the kitchen. I decided to hit the spice rack. Start small, right?

As I was clearing out the area, I recognized a few of the spices  from my single years, over a decade ago. I knew those could go. But what about the others? Random numbers and letters don’t help me much. So, I set off for a little detective work!

For your information, Schilling Spices haven’t been made for at least 7 years, so they are all bad. Not poisonous or anything, but they have probably lost a lot of flavor.


Next up, McCormick. They have a handy dandy “Spice Check Challenge” where you can input the product code and the city where it was made and it will tell you how old your spice is. HINT: If it’s from Baltimore, it’s at least 15 years old!


Spice Islands has a lovely area to Register Your Spice . Basically, input your product code and they will tell you how long your spice will last. They will even send you an email when it’s time to replace it.

Finally, I headed to Spice Advice . This site represented nearly all the rest of my spices. They didn’t have quick little tools, but they do tell you what’s what. Here’s what they have to say:

How can I tell how old a spice product is?

To determine the year and month when a spice was packaged, look for a series of black numbers and letters printed on the bottom or side or the spice container. This is not the UPC code and it is usually printed directly on the container, not the label. On dry packet mixes, the numbers and letters are pressed or indented into the edge of the package. The first number indicates the year of the decade. For example, if the first number is 3, this means the product was packaged in 2003. The second letter refers to the month. “A” stands for January, “B” stands for February, “C” is for March, and so on. So, if an item was packaged in March of 2004, the code would begin with 4C. (Other numbers and letters will follow, but the first two digits indicate when the product was packaged).
What is the shelf life of most spices?

We strongly recommend replacement by the Best if Used by Date (available on some products), due to diminished flavor and visual characteristics. Spices have a long storage life — up to 2 to 5 years, depending on the spice and whether it is in whole or ground form. A rule of thumb is that whole spices (peppercorns, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, etc.) have the longest life, while ground spices and herbs in general are more fragile. The recommended shelf lives of some of our other products are as follows:
Pure and Imitation Extracts 4-6 years
Dromedary Box Mixes 1 year
Durkee Lemon Pie Filling 18 months
Durkee Coconut 1 year
Famous Sauce 1 year
Dec A Cake icings and gels 1 year
Dec A Cake sprinkles 2 years
Durkee or French’s Sauce and Gravy dry mixes 18 months
Tone’s Soup Base 6 months (after opening).

What is the best way to store spices?

Proper storage of spices will ensure maximum flavor and color retention. Heat, light and moisture are all enemies of dried spices. Heat causes flavor loss, light will fade the naturally bright colors and moisture might cause ground and powdered spices to clump. Don’t measure or shake spices over open boiling pots. Keep spices in a cool, dry, and dark cupboard away from the range or any source of intense heat. Any of the red spices retain their color and are best protected from insects if stored in the refrigerator or freezer. These include paprika, chili powder and red pepper, among others. If you are using the Tone’s Chicken or Beef Soup Base, be sure to store in the refrigerator, and use within 6 months after opening. (HINT: Store in the freezer for a longer shelf life. To use, simply let the jar sit on the kitchen counter for 5 to 10 minutes to soften enough to spoon out the desired amount. Then return to freezer.).

So, after tossing at least half of my spice collection I started to wonder if this is some sort of conspiracy among spice providers. Then I thought, hey, if I’ve had the same spice for 15 years and I haven’t used it, perhaps, just perhaps, I don’t actually need it.

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