By: Candess Zona-Mendola
A well-stocked pantry is one of the best foundations to any healthy food lifestyle. But it is easy to forget that shelf-stable items do have expiration dates. Once these items expire, the risk for food poisoning is a real threat. As many of these items can be stored for months or even years at a time, it is easy to forget how long that bag of almond flour has been sitting on the shelf. But don’t let this hinder your food storage needs.
There are simple practices anyone can do to prepare their pantry for long-term safe storage with minimal financial investment. For example:
- Even if a food does not have an expiration date printed on its package, it will expire in most cases. Many foods, like flour and cereals, will be good for 6-8 months. Baking ingredients, like sugars and cocoas, have a variety of different storage expirations. For example, granulated sugar can keep up to 2 years in a pantry with proper storage. Brown sugar will only keep about 4 months. Knowing the shelf life of your food is the best defense against accidentally eating expired foods.
- It’s a great idea to have a permanent marker and tape handy. You can put the date the food was purchased on any personal containers – like flour jars, cereal containers, etc. In our home, I have a permanent marker linked to a chain on my pantry door with a collection of small mailing labels.
- The ideal temperature in the pantry should be 50F to 70F. If your pantry has a door that is able to keep out light or other heat sources, you should be good to go.
- It is a good idea to keep pantry items in airtight containers. This helps keep out insects, prevent the development of unsafe bacteria, and prevents cross contamination. Mason jars or even jars with latch tops are great mediums for storage.
- Don’t store canned foods that have bulges or dents. Bulges or dents are signs of harmful bacteria. Throw those out!
- Regardless of how well they are stored, dried herbs and spices are typically only good for 6 months. It is also a good idea to double check your spices labels for any fillers or (yikes!) even lead.
- It’s best not to store fresh herbs and spices in pantries as they can quickly develop harmful bacteria. Those should be stored in the refrigerator or dried or later use.
- Vegetables and fruits can be stored in a pantry. But they keep longer if they are in the refrigerator. For example, potatoes will only keep for about a week in the pantry without spoiling.
- Remember the phrase “when in doubt, throw it out.” If you are unsure of how long that jar of pickles has been in there, don’t risk it.
Not too difficult, right? Apart from the food in our pantry, the cost of the storage containers was less than $50 for my family’s needs. I have more than saved that in food I would have had to throw out because of expiration or contamination. So, get in there and start organizing! We at UnsafeFoods wish you and yours a healthy and safe summer!
Candess is the editor of Unsafe Foods and a mother of two, Candess lives in a suburb of Houston with her husband Tim. When she is not saving the world one deadline at a time, Candess can be found channeling her inner chef or with coffee and a book.