There are a lot of food items that are fairly easy to track: fresh fruit usually sits out in a bowl and it becomes painfully obvious when it’s on the way to composthood. The fridge – while bringing its own set of challenges – is relatively easy to maintain, as long as we make point to take out things that look iffy or are clearly over their ‘best by’ date. But let’s be honest: how often do you take a good look at whatever is stored in the pantry?
This is where the long-term food storage takes place, in the form of jars and tins and bottles of stuff, either store-bought or self-made, sometimes in its original container, sometimes in half-used packages, or decanted into secondary containers that may or may not be suitable for that kind of food. The tricky point here is that most foods tend to be kept much too long in that pantry.
When it comes to store-bought foods, more often than not you’ll have a ‘best by’ date, which gives you a bit of a guideline as to its edibility. Of course, ‘best by’ does not necessarily mean ‘throw away by’, but rather ‘check carefully after’. Still, there is a point to be made to be careful after those dates, especially when it comes to things that need to be kept under controlled conditions, be it at certain temperatures, humidity levels or light conditions. Stuff in the fridge is most likely to go off after its ‘best by’ date, while tins and jars and packages tend to be a little more forgiving in that respect.
If you are the kind of person who makes preserves (pickles, jams, chutneys, etc), it pays to inform yourself about the average life span of your products and write the production date AND the expected ‘end of life’ date on a label that is likely to stay on. Believe me: this will help you enormously, if only as an informative point of reference sometime down the line.
The main trouble lies with packages that have been opened, though. Don’t for one minute believe that rolling up that package and securing it with a clothes peg will do you any favours beyond keeping your food stuff from falling out. This will not prevent anything else from going in! We’re not just talking pests here, but the main culprit is actually humidity, temperature and exposure to light. Top tip: invest in see-through, air-tight storage containers into which you can decant dried goods. They look good, are stackable, keep food tidy, are easy to clean and let you see when items are running out. Place the original packages in these containers, and store in a cool and dark place! This will not just solve the humidity problem but also retain the ‘best by’ information and any other stuff that is written on the package.
This approach is especially important for anything powdery/instant, or herbs/spices, but also for a lot of other types of foods. Let’s look at some typical expiry times of opened packages:
I’m sure some of those numbers come as a bit of a surprise and will make you wonder about. In some (admittedly limited) cases like flour, nuts or ground coffee, lifetime can be increased by keeping things in the fridge and in an airtight container. Most of the foods not typically kept in a fridge, however, will not actually benefit from lower temperatures.
We’ll have to accept that fact of life that foodstuffs do not keep forever. All food items have weak spots: exposure to light, temperature or moisture will make them less potent in taste, and in some cases unhealthy to eat due to moisture or pests. A good practice would be to keep ALL opened packages in airtight containers, in a cool and dark environment. Which is: the pantry!
If you are inspired to have a good look at your foodstuffs now – be it a proper pantry or part of your kitchen cabinets, here’s how to go about it most efficiently:
You’ll probably find that things look decidedly leaner after that cleanse. I recommend doing this once or twice a year and be very matter of fact about it. Our health is of utmost importance and the food we consume is one of the main contributors to being and feeling healthy. When food deteriorates it may still be edible, but taste funny and do strange things to your body, so don’t run any risks with it.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.