Could you please tell me where I can write to find out the length of time spices are effective? I wrote to McCormick & Co., Inc., in Baltimore, Md. and my letter came back unopened. - Mrs. N., Midvale.

Polly Murray, manager of consumer affairs for Schilling spices, told us on the telephone that you can expect herbs and spices to remain at their tasty best for about three years. That's a ballpark figure and may vary from spice to spice and herb to herb. Chives, for instance, have a suggested two-year shelf life. Whole spices such as stick cinnamon, whole cloves or whole peppercorns have a shelf life of about five years. That's because their cell structure remains intact, unlike that of spices that have been ground."Old spices are not a health hazard," says Murray. "They merely begin to lose their flavor."

Schilling spices are a product of McCormick & Co., Inc., which moved from downtown Baltimore to nearby Hunt Valley almost two years ago. Your letter obviously was not forwarded to the company's new address. "Please apologize to your reader and tell her that's not the way we usually operate," says Murray.

Anyone who has a question on spices or herbs may call the company's toll-free consumer hotline at 1-800-632-5847. Or you can write to McCormick & Co., Inc., 211 Schilling Circle, Hunt Valley, MD, 21031.