When people think “pantry,” they often think of it as the place for storing overflow from kitchen cupboards. That is, of course, true, but it’s more than that, too. If you have a pantry, you have the the ability to take advantage of sales when you run across them. That smoking hot deal on a case of tuna? You’ve got room for it! Those giant, restaurant-size containers of pickles from Costco? Might as well grab two or three. Your pantry is as much a money-saver as a place for kitchen overflow.
That being said, you want to make sure that the deals you take advantage of don’t become money wasted due to spoilage or loss of flavor from long-term pantry storage. Even if you plan to use up those five boxes of cheap cereal you bought within a few months, you’ll still want to store them in such a way as to maintain peak flavor and freshness. Because one of Tailored Living’s specialties is pantry organization and customization, we decided to do a two-part blog series on making the most of your money by keeping pantry foods as fresh as possible, beginning with these practical ideas:
Tip 1 Store like items together in order of expiration. To provide an example of this idea, let’s use canned goods, one of the top three most common items found in home pantries. Canned foods are a staple of the pantry because they have a long shelf life and require very little special treatment during storage. Canned foods should be stored together in the same section of your pantry. Those with the earliest expiration dates should be placed at the front of the shelf, latest in the back. If you have more than one can of the same kind of food (even if they are different brands), keep like food cans beside each other and in order of expiration.
Other foods should also be organized according to their expiration dates. However, this is sometimes tricky with certain foods, like pasta, foods purchased in the bulk section of the grocery store, or foods which you remove from their original container to store in a different one. For these types of foods, see tip #2.
Tip 2 Manually date foods without expiration dates. Almost everything you purchase from the grocery store comes with an expiration or “best before” date stamp on it. For those that don’t (or have their dates encoded in a way that makes it difficult to read or may fade with time), use a permanent marker and write the date of purchase on the label or package somewhere. This way, you won’t have to guess about any of the food in your pantry.
(Note: “Best before” and “expiration” do not mean the same thing. A food that is stamped “best before” may still be safe to eat for a short time after the “best before” date has passed, especially when it comes to canned foods. Foods that “expire” should not be consumed after the expiration date.”)
Tip 3 Be smart about repackaging foods. Despite what you may have been lead to believe, taking foods out of their original packaging and putting them into plastic food containers is not necessarily going to preserve them for longer.
There are two major contributors to loss of freshness in food: exposure to air/oxygen, and exposure to UV light. Certain foods, such as dry pasta, need not be removed from its original package and placed in a plastic container. In fact, doing so exposes it to excess oxygen, which may actually age it faster. The exception to this rule would be pasta that you purchase straight out of a bulk bin. In this case, it’s better off in a plastic food container than in the bags they supply you at the grocery store. Another exception is if you open a package to use the contents, but you don’t use all of what’s inside at one time. What’s left should most definitely go into a sealable plastic food storage bag or airtight plastic storage container.
Most every type of dry, non-canned food (including pasta, cereal, flour, sugar, rolled oats, etc.), if left in its original packaging, will maintain optimal freshness for up to twelve months, and will still be safe to eat long after that (it must might taste like it’s been sitting on the shelf for awhile).
Storing dry foods for longer than 12 months starts to fall into the “prepping” category (as in, preparing for a catastrophic event that makes obtaining food difficult or impossible. Think zombie apocalypse, worldwide virus attack or wide-scale earth-destroying weather phenomenon). Storing food long-term requires some special attention and is probably best left for a different kind of blog!
What happens if your pantry is prone to infiltration by unwanted pests? This is one of the biggest arguments for taking foods out of their original packaging and placing them in plastic storage containers. Knowing what you now know about how this affects freshness and flavor, you’ll have to decide which is the bigger priority for you: fresh-tasting food or pest-free food. If have problems with rodents or insects, or have had trouble in the past, then plastic food containers are probably the better choice for you. However, if you’ve never had this problem before, it doesn’t really make much sense to remove foods from their original packaging. Just keep your pantry clean and you probably won’t ever have to worry.
Make sure you check back in a couple of weeks to read part two of How to Extend the Life of Foods in Your Pantry.