Spring cleaning for your kitchen food pantry

Having a clean and organized food pantry helps avoid foodborne illness.

Spring is in the air. It is a good time to start spring cleaning. In the kitchen, a good place to start is the food pantry where you store your canned and boxed food goods.

Cleaning shelves and storage space

Start at the top shelf and work your way down the shelves. Wash with hot soapy water. Rinse with clean water. Sanitize with a diluted chlorine bleach solution or a disinfectant kitchen cleaner. To make the sanitizing solution with chlorine bleach use 1 teaspoon bleach to 1 quart of water. Let the area air dry while you tackle the contents side of things - the jars, canned goods and other products you keep in your pantry.

Know what to keep and what to throw out

Go through and sort the food products checking for foods that have expired “Use By” dates. Dispose of the expired “Use By” dated products in the garbage can.

  • “Use By” means this is the last date consumers should use the product for peak quality.
  • “Best By” or Best if Used By” means this is the date consumers should use a product by if they want the best quality product.
  • “Sell-By” This is the date to let the store owner or employee know how long a food item should be displayed for sale.
  • Closed or Coded Dates are packing numbers used by manufacturers.

Generally, the dates found on food products are the food manufacturer’s recommendations for using the food product for the best quality results. The dates do not necessarily mean anything in regards to food safety.

An example would be a product with the “Best By” date that is past, may be safe to eat, but the quality of the food product beyond that date may not be the best quality.

The product dating is dependent upon the food product remaining unopened and stored in a proper manner. But once the product is opened, the quality limits on the product will be different from the date printed on the package.

The box and can codes are a means by which manufacturers keep track of specific batches of a food product. A manufacturer will use the closed or coded dates to rotate the stock and in the event of a recall track down specific products. Consumers should not try to decode the numbers. Instead, the consumer should follow the guidelines for “best if used by” date.

Use a system

A way to organize the individual food products is the ‘first in first out’ system (FIFO). With a permanent marker put the date on the food product of when the food enters your pantry. Or maybe you have another system of identifying when foods first came into your pantry. The FIFO system will help you keep track of how long a food product has been in your pantry.

Michigan State University Extension recommends disposing of any cans that are bulged, rusty or dented. These need to be put in the garbage can. Spring cleaning is a good time to get rid of torn or damaged packages as well.

  • Wipe off the exterior of glass jars and can goods to remove any dust, dirt, or sticky residue.
  • Restock the pantry with the food products. 
  • Organize the foods by categories such as flours, sugars, cereals, snacks, soup and pasta. For easy organization label the shelves by category.
  • Ideal conditions for storing processed foods are temperatures between 50 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, low to no light exposure, and dry conditions.
  • High-acid canned fruits and tomatoes will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months. Canned meats and vegetables will keep their quality for 2 to 5 years.

Now that the food pantry is clean and organized, what is next on the Spring cleaning to do list? Happy Spring Cleaning!

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