Ever reached into the depths of your cupboard and pulled out a half-empty container of vegetable oil that’s past the printed Best By date and wondered if it’s still good to use? Storing oil is tricky over the long term. Although it will never have the long shelf life of our other long-term storage foods, it can be stored safely.
In this article, we’ll look at four ways to keep the oil you store fresh longer, as well as how to tell if it’s okay to use, even if it’s past the best by or expiry date. Because you wouldn’t want to eat boiled food for every meal in an emergency, would you? I don’t even want to do that in everyday life!
But if you don’t know how to store cooking oil, and you’re not keeping a supply of it in your emergency food storage, that’s what you may end up eating every day, meal after meal.
Table of contents
- Does vegetable oil go bad?
- Keeping the Oils You Store Fresh Longer
- Is there an alternative to oil?
- What to do with old oil?
- Is storing oil worth the hassle?
Does vegetable oil go bad?
Yes. Vegetable oil contains super high levels of polyunsaturated fat; those are the fats that allow oil to be liquid when it’s at room temperature, compared to say, shortening. In general, polyunsaturated or unsaturated fats have a less stable chemical makeup and can turn rancid much more quickly. That’s why it’s important to know how to store cooking oil properly. There are things you have some control over that will help.
How can you tell if vegetable oil has gone bad?
Don’t throw away oil just because it’s past the best by date printed on the container. Instead, smell it. If it has a musty, bitter, or sour odor, it’s bad; don’t use it. Also, if there’s mold anywhere, it’s past human consumption.
How long is vegetable oil good for once opened?
Unopened, properly stored oil is good for about two years. The shelf life of an opened bottle of vegetable oil varies from a few months to a year. depending on its quality and how it’s stored. This is a rough estimate, as oil quality and storage conditions greatly impact how long it lasts on the shelf.
Keeping the Oils You Store Fresh Longer
When thinking about how to store cooking oil, keep in mind the four main storage conditions affecting shelf life: light, temperature, time, oxygen, and apply them to the oils you store to minimize rancidity before you use it.
Remember that heat, light, and oxygen cause oxidation. Oxidized oils contain toxic compounds and should be avoided.
1. Storing oil in the dark
Lesson number one in how to store cooking oil is that light is one of the main enemies of oil. You may have noticed that many oils come in very dark bottles — dark green, even black. The dark plastic or glass container helps keep the oil fresh for longer, but you’ll also want to store oil in a dark cupboard or pantry, where there is never any light and especially direct sunlight. Even if that means keeping the bottles inside a box.
2. Be cool
Refrigerate or freeze your oil to lengthen its’ shelf life. If it thickens, just let it warm to room temperature before using it. Coconut oil is a great option for the oils we typically think of for cooking and baking. If you cook from scratch, you may already know that; if you don’t, you should learn. Knowing how to cook from scratch is a critical survival skill.
Coconut oil can be kept in the fridge and has a longer shelf life than other oils since it’s a saturated fat. If space is tight at your house, look around for anything you can clear out, give away, or store somewhere else in order to store your extra oil. NEVER, EVER store oil in the heat.
3. How long has it been?
The most important step in storing oil is keeping track of the date you purchased it and rotating it regularly. By the time it reaches its stamped best by/expiration date, it may already be too rancid to use.
If you don’t use oil all that often, buy smaller bottles and rotate through them more quickly. And for the love of all things fried, don’t succumb to the temptation of buying oil at Costco. However, if you do, I’ve included ideas for using old oil later in this article.
The rancid oil contains free radicals, which have been known to be a factor in inflammation and the destruction of cells and tissue.
If you’ve stocked up on several bottles of oil, put yourself on a strict rotation basis, so the oil gets used up, and you replace it with a fresh bottle.
4. Keep oxygen out of stored oil
Obviously, you won’t be able to use oxygen absorbers in your bottles of oil! The only measure you can take is storing oil in jars and then using a Food Saver device to extract oxygen from the jar. However, even that isn’t foolproof.
The better option is to track your household’s oil consumption to determine what size containers work best for you. Some families work through a gallon of olive oil in just a couple of months, while that would be a year’s worth for others. Buy oil in containers that you know will be used up within two months or less. That means you will want to store 6-7 bottles for the year and then rotate, adding fresh oil every couple of months or so.
Is there an alternative to oil?
Some food storage experts have given up on storing oil long-term and have switched to storing shortening. Shortening can easily be packed into canning jars, and with the use of a Food Saver, can be vacuum sealed for true long-term storage. When a recipe calls for oil, melt the shortening, and there’s your oil. Shortening powder is also an option.
A good compromise would be to store oil using the guidelines described above and store shortening in vacuum-packed jars for storage for up to several years.
What to do with old oil?
Aside from the unpleasant odor and the bad taste it can impart to food as a result, there’s evidence that rancid oils contain free radicals, which can be a health threat. Best not to use it for human consumption.
You could dispose of it. After cooling completely, put large amounts into a lidded container and throw it away and wipe up smaller amounts with paper towels and toss it in the garbage.
However, rancid oil is useful for other things. Here are a few ideas:
- Lice treatment – Oil suffocates the lice, and a nit comb removes them from hair. Vegetable and olive oil both work.
- Produce biodiesel – If you’re a DIYer, you might find these basic steps for a homemade biodiesel plant interesting.
- Remove sticker residue – Any cooking oil works. Just put some on a paper towel and lay it over the gummy gunk for a few minutes, then wipe. Repeat as needed.
Is storing oil worth the hassle?
Absolutely! In fact, it’s one of the top ten foods to stock up on. One important reason to store and use oil is that it quickly boosts our daily calorie count. If you’re dieting, you’re probably staying away from oils, but imagine if you were in an emergency situation and were 100% reliant on your food storage. Chances would be very good that between a much higher level of stress and more physical activity, your body will need well over 3,000 calories per day.
Adding oils to recipes, salads, or even a tablespoon or two of flaxseed or coconut oil in a smoothie provides extra calories, not to mention all the health benefits of using good oils.
TIP– Spice up your meals! Eating bland food for a while would be okay in a disaster, but why not avoid that? Oils and spices make boring food exciting! Read about 28 oils and spices you need in your pantry to avoid plain food.
We stack those buckets of wheat, rice, and beans, knowing they’ll be good for decades. Storing oil is just one item that will require a bit more attention in our food storage pantries.
What tips do you have about how to store cooking oil longer?
Originally published January 23, 2018; updated 7/18/23.