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Cleaning Out Your Pantry

Now is the time to take a look -- a really close look -- at the foods in your pantry. It's time to make a few decisions. Should some foods be discarded or should they be moved to a better location and/or storage container?

The following storage tips will help you to decide whether to throw out, save, or move foods that are in your pantry. These tips are designed for foods that can be safely stored at temperatures between 50 and 70°F. Go to for more information about food storage.

Tip 1 -- Store powdered foods in a tightly covered container in a cool, dry place. Completely dry measuring utensils before dipping them into storage containers to prevent dry foods from caking and/or becoming moldy.

Tip 2 -- Store white flour at room temperature in a cool, dry place for 6 to 12 months and whole wheat flour between 1 and 3 months. Store flour in an airtight container or freezer bag(s) to prevent the flour from absorbing moisture. For longer storage, put white flour in the refrigerator in an airtight container. All-purpose and bread flour will keep up to two years at 40°F. It can be stored indefinitely in the freezer.

Tip 3 -- For best quality, the Food Marketing Institute recommends easing canned food within 12 months to five years, depending on the food. Go to their Web site for more information. The address is: Many cans include a "for best quality use by" date stamped somewhere on the can. Some products contain a code, which varies among companies. This code identifies the production date. If you have a concern over how old a food is, contact the manufacturer.

Tip 4 -- Do not refrigerate foods in an opened can. Food can develop an off-odor from the can, once opened.

Tip 5 -- Before purchasing a storage container, assess the size and shape so you know where you can store it and check to be sure the lid is easy to open and close tightly.

Additional tips:

  • If you threw out portions of past dated foods, buy a smaller container next time.
  • Mark the date (month and year) you purchased the food on the container or its label.
  • Call the manufacturer (many have toll-free numbers), write to the address on the label, or check the company Web site to determine how old the food is.
  • If the container has no "use by" date, check for a production code on the container. If it's not possible to decipher the production code, call or write the company or check if this information might be given on the company's Web site.
  • Practice "first in, first out" rotation of your foods. If you have purchased several containers of the same type of food, arrange the containers so you reach for the oldest package first.
  • Read labels carefully for storage information and possible recommended "use by" dates.

SOURCE: University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County Food Reflections newsletter