During the COVID-19 pandemic, visits to the grocery store understandably plummeted. For many, less-frequent shopping trips meant loading up on pantry “essentials.” Now, pantries are likely overflowing with staple foods, snacks, bottles and cans. Whether your pantry is large or small, these tips can help keep your space organized.
Back to square one. Take everything — and that means everything — out of your pantry and set it out where you can see it. Take stock of what you have, what needs to be used and if you have duplicate items. Along with being the first step to organizing, this also is a budget-saving strategy; knowing what you have will help you avoid purchasing double. If you have duplicate items, consider donating them.
Before Restocking Items in the Pantry:
Avoid heat and light. The quality of some pantry foods can suffer in heat; these include canned goods, whole grains and flours, vegetable and olive oils and vinegars. The ideal pantry temperature is 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summer, some cupboard shelves closest to the ceiling may reach near 90 degrees. Other significant sources of heat are the stove and dishwasher. Storing shelf-stable foods in closed cabinets away from these appliances also keeps them out of direct light. And storing some foods, such as whole-wheat flour, in the refrigerator or freezer can extend shelf-life.
Use clear, food-grade containers. Staples such as flour, dry beans, pasta and whole grains come in containers with different shapes and sizes and are often used in small amounts at a time. After opening these foods, store them in clear, stackable containers that are labeled and dated to keep them visually appealing and tidy. Additionally, an airtight seal keeps out moisture and pests. Use the food at the bottom of the containers rather than just topping them off, otherwise the contents at the bottom will go stale. Always wash and thoroughly dry containers before refilling.
Recycle and reuse. If reorganizing items in your pantry with stackable plastic containers is not realistic or in your budget, reuse various sized condiment and food jars after thoroughly cleaning and drying them. Write the food’s purchase date or when it was opened on the jar lid and keep the packaging for future reference. Tape cooking instructions to the outside of the container for easy access. To make pull-out drawers for irregularly shaped pantry items or opened snack bags, cover sturdy, clean cardboard boxes in colorful contact paper and add a label. You also can use clean boxes or expandable shelf organizers to create “stair steps” to lift items in the far back and corners of shelves so they remain visible.
Designate pantry and kitchen zones. Divide your pantry into zones according to recipe use: baking area, spices, nut butter and jelly, pasta and canned tomatoes, canned beans near dried beans (a reminder to cook those dried beans if you have time). If all pantry items don’t fit in a standard cupboard, consider placing them in a zone where they may be used; for example, store cereal on a shelf near bowls.
First In, First Out. Keeping temperature variables in mind, put food back into the pantry and cupboards with older items in the front. Use opened items first and check to see if foods need to be refrigerated after opening. If stored properly, many unopened canned foods are safe to use past the quality date printed on the can. Highly acidic canned foods such as tomatoes and fruit may keep for as long as 12 to 18 months and unopened cans of less-acidic foods such as tuna, chicken and vegetables may last two to four years.
Food Storage Safety Tips for the Cupboard. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Published April 2, 2020. Accessed August 18, 2021.
FoodKeeper App. FoodSafety.gov website. Accessed August 18, 2021.
Healthy Kitchen Hacks: Pantry Storage Basics | Food & Nutrition Magazine is written by Deanna Segrave-Daly and Serena Ball for foodandnutrition.org