Complete Guide to Fats and Oils in Food Storage

Fats and oils are essential parts of a well-balanced diet, making it important to know how to store these ingredients for the long term. But working with fats and oils can be more complex than working with other food groups. So, what is the main information to keep in mind when storing fats and oils?  

There are several crucial points to keep in mind when looking into fat and oil storage. This includes understanding the shelf-life, how different varieties need to be handled differently, the best methods of storing them, and how to tell if fat or oil has gone rancid.

Are you ready to begin learning about how to store fats and oils? Here is a beginner’s guide, highlighting the most valuable information to get you started.

An image of glass bottle of oil on wooden kitchen counter.

How Long Do Fats and Oils Last in Storage?

Fats and oils can be stored for anywhere from a few weeks to 2 years. The exact length of time before oil or fat goes rancid is dependent on the specific oil or fat you are dealing with. In general, the more fragrant the oil is the more prone it is to spoil. Saturated fats (usually solid at room temperature) tend to last the longest.

  • Unrefined oils generally keep for 3 to 6 months.
  • Refined oils can stay good for 6 to 12 months.
  • Solid fats can be stored for 1 to 2 years.

Unlike many other foods, fats and oils are very particular about how long their storage lasts. This is because oils and fats are strongly impacted by the storage method as well as the environment in which they are kept.

Some aspects of storage that can impact the preservation of oils and fats include exposure to light, temperature changes, air, moisture, and age.

An example of this would be nut oil or sesame oil which have very distinct flavors and aromas.

Unrefined oils generally keep for three to six months, whereas refined oils keep for twice as long, six to twelve months. In general, fats can be stored for one to two years.

The three main kinds of fats are unsaturated fats (which include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats) and saturated fats. Yeah, maybe it’ll make more sense as a list.

  1. Unsaturated fats (2 types)
    1. Monounsaturated fats
    2. Polyunsaturated fats
  2. Saturated fats (so this is #3)

Saturated fats are fats that are solid at room temperatures such as lard or butter and these kinds of fats tend to last the longest.

It is paramount to understand how to properly store fats and oils because of the health implications that come along with improper storage.

Although you could eat rancid oils and fats without noticing a difference in the taste or texture, doing so isn’t recommended. Consumption of rancid fats and oils can increase your chance of developing heart disease and atherosclerosis, and they are also carcinogenic which means that they can potentially be a leading cause of cancer.

All oils are fats, but not all fats are oils. They are very similar to each other in their chemical makeup, but what makes one an oil and another a fat is the percentage of hydrogen saturation in the fatty acids of which they are composed.”

USA Emergency Supply

Because of this distinction, let’s delve into both oils and fats and the intricacies of storing them.

Guide To Oils (Liquid at Room Temp)

Oils store best in a cool, dark area like a pantry, fridge, or freezer. Let’s cover all of your questions about how to store liquid oils in your food storage.

What is the best way to store oil?

The best way to store oil is in a sealed glass container in a refrigerator or freezer. The absolute longest-lasting way to store oil is to freeze it.

It’s even better if the container is opaque to avoid as much light penetrating the oil as possible. It is critical that the bottle in which the oil is stored is not opened, to prevent oxidization.

Where is the best place to store oils?

The best place to store oils is in a cool, dry place. Common oils such as olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, peanut oil, and coconut oil can be stored in an area such as a pantry or cellar that is dry, cool, and void of sunlight.

An even safer bet is storing oils in the refrigerator or freezer. More delicate oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, and sesame oil should always be kept in the refrigerator. It is suggested that for the absolute maximum preservation time, oils and fats should be stored in a dark, very cold freezer.

What is the best oil to keep in food storage?

The oil that keeps the longest in storage is olive oil. If stored properly, olive oil can stay good for approximately 24 months. Once opened, the olive oil can be used for up to one year provided it is stored in a dark, cool place.

Can you freeze-dry oils?

In short, oils cannot be freeze-dried alone, but they can be freeze-dried as an ingredient inside of a dish or meal. Foods that have oil in them (such as full meals) and were freeze-dried, however, will have a shorter shelf life than foods that don’t incorporate oil.

This is because a freeze dryer extracts water from food, but it does not extract oil. This causes the freeze-dried food to never become fully dry, thus potentially leaving behind a sticky residue and allowing for rancidity to take place.

Can you dehydrate oils?

It is not safe to dehydrate oil. Much like freeze-dried oils, dehydrated oils are susceptible to fast rancidity.

Oils can be dehydrated as part of something, but having more of it in the dish will cause it to go rancid faster. It’s kinda like dehydrating jerky. It’ll keep – for a while. But it will go bad faster if it’s a fattier cut of meat.

Can oils be canned for storage?

Canning oil is more complicated than freeze-drying or dehydrating. There are countless recipes out there that suggest canning certain foods in oil is a great preservation method. However, this is not always the case.

Penn State outlines a few reasons why this is a bad idea, including the fact that oil can interfere with the heat processing required for canning, it can interfere with the can developing a proper seal, and it can go rancid easily compared to other liquids used in canning. 

An image of dispensers for oil and vinegar in sustainable storing cans

Guide To Fats (Solid at Room Temperature)

Fats store best in a cool, dark area like a pantry, fridge, or freezer. Let’s cover all of your questions about how to store liquid oils in your food storage.

What is the best way to store solid fats?

Similar to oils, fats do best when they are sealed in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dark setting. However, there are some exceptions to this best practice.

For example, ghee does not need to be refrigerated because it does not contain milk solids. Whereas other fats such as butter are safest when kept in the refrigerator due to their dairy content, which is more prone to rancidity.

Personal note: we like keeping a jar of ghee in the pantry for use on popcorn, along with some powdered salt. My kids think it’s the best way to flavor popcorn because they don’t have to melt any butter!

Where is the best place to store fats?

Solid fats should be stored in a refrigerator or a similar cold setting as they are particularly affected by temperatures. Even leaving butter at room temperature can increase the likelihood of rancidity.

It is a common practice to leave solid fats such as butter on the counter so it is nice and spreadable for immediate use. However, if this is your preferred method it is best to keep it sealed in a dark area at room temperature rather than exposed on your kitchen counter. Or use it quickly, as it won’t last long.

We buy butter in bulk from Costco and freeze it. It keeps plenty long this way – and we usually end up using it before it can even think about going rancid.

Similar to oils, some fats can be kept well in the freezer such as butter or margarine, and doing so can offer an extended preservation period.

What is the best fat source to keep in food storage?

The fat that lasts the longest in storage is coconut oil. Contrary to its name, coconut oil is solid at room temperature, making it fall into the category of solid fat rather than oil. If stored properly, coconut oil is guaranteed to last for two years.

Unofficially, coconut oil is said to last up to five years in storage.

Can you freeze-dry fats?

No, you can’t freeze-dry fats alone. Similar to oils, you can freeze-dry foods that incorporate fats, but they will not be as long-lasting as foods that do not contain fats.

Can you freeze-dry butter?

No, you cannot freeze dry butter on its own. Not only do the fats in butter make it less than ideal for freeze-drying, but if attempted it could be a messy process as well.

Can you freeze-dry peanut butter?

Unfortunately, peanut butter is not suitable for freeze-drying not only because of its fat content but also because of its sugar content. Peanut butter can be freeze-dried as an ingredient, though.

Can you dehydrate fats?

Fats cannot be dehydrated alone, but they can be dehydrated in foods like jerky. However, the more fat in the dish, the shorter the overall shelf-life of the dehydrated food.

In fact, dehydrating fats may be a worse idea than freeze-drying fats simply because dehydration occurs at an increased temperature. Because foods are heated in the dehydration process, this creates problems with rancidity and shelf life.

In addition, solid fats melt when heated. So, attempting to dehydrate them could end up becoming a messy situation.

Can fats be canned for storage?

It is advised to not can fats. Fats can interfere in the sealing process which is the most important step in canning foods. In addition, after the sealing process, fats can still interfere with the effectiveness of the initial seal.

 Fats can ooze into the small spaces between the seal and the jar, thus breaking the seal. Even in cases where there is a good seal, canning does not completely prevent fat from going rancid.

Finally, because fats react to heat differently than other substances, the heat involved in the success of the canning process may not be able to evenly disperse throughout the fat.

An image of a woman cutting butter for cooking pie or cake.

How Do You Use Stored Fats and Oils?

Stored fats and oils can be used the way that any fat or oil would be used. They can be incorporated into recipes or used on their own. They are multi-use and often can be used in cooking, as dietary supplements, in DIY projects, and other household tasks.

If the oil or fat is stored in the freezer, it can be defrosted in whole or in parts depending on what it is being used for. If it is stored in a dark, cool area keep in mind that once opened it will keep longer if returned to that ideal environment.

One tactic to keep in mind when using oil in fats is what temperature you use when handling them. If you need to cook a dish at a very high temperature, it is better to use more refined oil. This is to prevent burning or spoiling the flavor of the oil. It also helps avoid a kitchen disaster as all oils and fats have a different smoke point.

Because fats have such a high caloric value, it is very beneficial to have a supply on hand. One common strategy for long-term storage is to have a rotating supply of fats and oils.

This means that you keep a meticulous account of the dates when you put the ingredients into storage. When the first batch you stored is past the recommended date, replace it with a fresh one that can last just as long. This is called a “first-in, first-out” rotation.

This way, you are guaranteed to have at least a two-year-long supply at any given time (depending on the oil or fat of your choice).

How Do You Know When Stored Fats or Oils Have Gone Bad or Rancid?

One of the easiest ways to tell if fats or oils have gone rancid is by smell, taste, texture, or if it’s changed. With more neutral oils that typically don’t have a strong smell, when they go rancid, they may take on a distinct odor. Some say this scent is metallic, sour, strangely sweet, or even akin to the scent of crayons.

If you really aren’t certain, you can do a taste test. Take a very small amount of the oil or fat in your mouth and exhale, paying attention to the flavors. Do not swallow it! If the oil or fat has no flavor or has a strange flavor then it has likely gone rancid.

For oils that have a more distinct scent, such as olive oil, this may not be the best tactic. If the thickness of oil has increased that can be a sign that it has gone bad. Sometimes this leaves a sticky or tacky residue around the entrance of the contained the oil is stored (source).

Another useful way to spot rancidity is if your oil has drastically changed colors, appearance, or has visible mold inside of it.

An image of vegetable oils in bottles.

Final Thoughts and Next Steps

Preserving oils and fats can be complicated and hard to navigate at times. But after covering the dos and don’ts of storage it is a bit easier to know where to start. Now you can feel confident storing your favorite fats and oils for this week, this month, and years into the future.

Now that you know more about storing fats and oils, make sure you know more about these other common food storage practices. No matter which you choose, my probably biased self assures you that you’ll be reading something awesome, given that I wrote it:

Cite this article as: “Complete Guide to Fats and Oils in Food Storage.” Backyard Homestead HQ, 22 March 2022, backyardhomesteadhq.com/complete-guide-to-fats-and-oils-in-food-storage/.

Resources

It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders.

  • Brennan, Kathleen. “How to Tell If an Oil Is Rancid.” Cook’s Illustrated, 19 Jan. 2022, www.cooksillustrated.com/articles/2978-how-to-tell-if-an-oil-is-rancid.
  • “Fats and Oils.” USA Emergency Supply, www.usaemergencysupply.com/information-center/self-reliance/food-storage-frequently-asked-questions/fats-and-oils. Accessed 22 Mar. 2022.
  • Journal of Agricultural Research. United States, Department of Agriculture, 1923.
  • Quartermaster Corps Manual. United States, n.p, 1945.
  • “Storing Used Frying Oil.” Cook’s Illustrated, https://www.cooksillustrated.com/how_tos/6280-storing-used-frying-oil. Accessed 22 Mar. 2022.
  • Zepp, Martha. “Caution: Canning with Fats and Oils.” Penn State Extension, 1 Mar. 2022, extension.psu.edu/caution-canning-with-fats-and-oils.

By Kimberly Starr

I'm a ginger who loves being outside, homesteading, and spending time with my family. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos.