Saturday, March 01, 2014

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Rotating and Keeping Track of Expiration Dates

After a long winter... my pantry is not quite as neat as it once was!
Added Note:  This was the way I used to store items.  The flour and such now go into Rubbermaid style containers.

I was asked how we keep track of items in the pantry so we don't waste anything.  Well, for one thing... we don't have a hugely deep pantry like we once did.  But we keep track of everything about the same and it helps that my husband is involved with keeping everything straight.  When he worked full time, it was all my responsibility.

When our pantry became much smaller, we didn't worry too much about dating everything since we thought it was no longer necessary.  That was the one biggest mistake we made ever in keeping a pantry.  Once we realized we did need to date everything, it was a huge pain to go back and get the dates off the cans and packages!

Our pantry is kept in the garage instead of the car.  Usually a good thing but in this past terrible winter, we've had second thoughts!  Fortunately, spring will arrive before we decide to give the garage back to the automobile.

The backbone of the pantry has to be the sturdy sets of shelves.  We already had excellent Gorilla shelves (that is a brand name) from when we had a deep pantry in our more prosperous years.  Then last year he used some of his paycheck from his season job to purchase another set of heavy duty shelves, these have a steel grating to set items on.

I LOVE these shelves as that is where I set the hot soup to cool in winter!  These sets of shelves not only hold the pantry items but the lower shelves hold stock pots (without soup in them), other large kitchen items and appliances, and boxes where I store items like Ball jars and garden implements.  So they are worth the cost of purchasing heavy duty.

Now... here is the way the pantry is organized.

First... when we purchase for the pantry, those items go into a couple large cardboard boxes my husband set up as kind of an entry area (he was I should remind you... an engineer... and thanks more logically than I do).  It's easy because we often just leave those items in the grocery bag to unpack and mark later as time permits.

These two big cardboard boxes set on a bottom shelf of the set of shelves the farthest from the garage door to the family room.

Second... when time permits, one us us will look for the Use By or Expiration date and write it on the can or box with a permanent marker.  When some time has gone by and the date is not written, then we have to make time.

Back when we went a little crazy catching up on marking all the dates, he spent time contacting manufacturers to find out how to decode their product dates.  Everyone was happy to share the info it seemed.  But makes it so much easier when a manufacture just stamps the month and year on a product!

Third... my husband has set up three different sets of shelves (not everything on them is food).  One set of shelves has our items that have been dated and are our general stock of items.  Since our pantry is not really deep these days, he has asked for cardboard flats from the grocery store and he uses them to stack the canned goods.

For instance, all tomatoes go in one area, all soups go in another area, all green beans go in another, etc.  I think the flats hold twelve cans usually and they stack on each other.  So when we have extra cans of an item like we do now of tomatoes and green beans, the cardboard flats help the stored cans to go UP and saves room on the shelves.

Fourth... the shelf unit closest to the door to the family room is my area where I stage items I need for cooking and baking in real time (that being now). 

These shelves function as an extension of the kitchen cabinets and while kept neat, they are not "engineer person type orderly" as the others.  They look much more like my kitchen shelves with items where I can grab them quickly.

For instance, I keep a items there I use all the time for recipes.  Also, if I purchase items for immediate use they go in these shelves, not on the stock-up shelves so I don't worry about dating them.  Like I said, they are really an extension of kitchen shelves since I don't have much storage in my kitchen.

Fifth... he has placed a shallow box on these shelves immediately next to where we go in and out of the garage.  I see it first thing each time I go to do laundry (my laundry room is in the garage).  These items are way past due in expiration dates but still within the realm of safety.  They should be used before any other items in the pantry.

For instance, there are a few canned items there now with a 2012 date since we use canned items up to about 1 1/2 years after their expiration date (according to type of food).   These are usually items I do not use a lot so they didn't get rotated as quickly.  Also, since we go to a few food pantries some items from there are close to or beyond expiration dates when we receive them.

This has worked great and I've only had to throw away a few items that were too far past due for my comfort.

I have to admit, when my husband took over organizing the pantry I wasn't thrilled with his explanation of what he wanted to do.  He thinks like an engineer.  I think like a cook.  But over time and with a few arguments compromises, we have come up with a system that is fabulous.

It works with our usual small pantry but it is set up in such a way that when we have extra to spend deepening the pantry, like when he gets a handy man job or a friend sends me a Kroger gift card (a fabulous Christmas or birthday gift!!!!)... this system can work well for both.

I should also mention that I have a few large Rubbermaid style containers on a bottom shelf, too.  One container holds extra bags of sugar and flour in various forms (and currently it is uncomfortably low), another holds boxes of pasta, and the third usually holds a hodge podge of items in packages and boxes.  These are necessary to keep the mice away!

This is after all a garage... next to a forest... across the road from a farm.  The home of cute little field mice.  Cute only if they stay away from my pantry!  Calm down now.  Take a deep breath.

Sooo... I hope this answers some questions and helps some fellow pantry people.  It is a system that truly works for the tiniest of pantries (when you would perhaps only need one or two large shelving units in a garage or dry basement).  Or should God be nudging you to stock up in a big way.

I will remind everyone what I learned from experience over the past thirty-plus years.  That is... the deeper your pantry the more time you must spend keeping it organized.  Otherwise you waste things.  And end up throwing expensive food away.  Or go out and buy something you already have on your shelves.

Do not ask me how I know.  :)


Vee said...

You do have a wonderful system, Brenda. I have not marked canned goods, but should. I have marked refrigerator items and I note that, though I just opened the mayo, it has already expired. Obviously, someone was not paying attention when it was purchased, which is another issue altogether.

Anonymous said...

I live close to farm fields and have to be careful re mice. Do you put a lid on that tote shown in the pix? I'm always afraid the mice will go thru any cardboard package also. Getting ready to get snowed in AGAIN. This has been a long winter but we haven't suffered like the east coast.

Terra said...

I admire how you organize your pantry. We have similar shelves for our pantry in our garage, and you are definitely more organized. I do wish all food containers would be clearly marked with the expiration date!

Melissa said...

Very useful ideas and the thinking process behind it. Thank you. I see your thoughts are going to summer with your header!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing your organizing plan. I really need to re-organize my pantry. I just discovered I have spaghetti sauce in jars that are a year old! Oops! Do I need to call the manufacturer to find out if it is still good? I'd hate to throw it all out! We used to watch that Preppers show (before it got rather wacky) for ideas, and were amazed at the time and expense people put into their pantries. Now I understand better that one does need to be more organized than I've been! Being casual about it just leads to waste.
Take care. Spring is just around the corner!
Laura C. from WA

mdoe37 said...

Sooo you were peeking through my kitchen windows, weren't ya? Part of the pantry is in a small weird closet off the kitchen. It is VERY easy to shuffle and lose things to mention the basement shelves. I spent part of the day sifting through the "left cupboard" (5' tall and not quite 3' wide). I have an abundance of canned tomatoes...cough.

I can't quite see from the picture..are you writing on the top of the cans or sides or don't you find that it matters. This is an excellent tip, one that I will benefit from greatly as my eyes have aged and, well actually, its the manufacturers that are being cheap with ink and printing smaller.


Nana said...

Hi Brenda;
Sure wish my pantry looked like yours! Altho my daughter just straightened out our pantry which is in the breezeway next to the kitchen. She did a great job, it sure look better! We have been doing some stocking up and it is amazing how good that feels. Great post today, as usual, very informative. Love and Hugs, Nana

Carol said...

Thank you for mentioning that you use cans 1.5 years after the expiration depending on the item. (In MD)

Deborah Montgomery said...

I have thrown away canned goods past the expiration date until I read that they are good well beyond those dates. They can actually last years, as long as there are no dents or bulges in the cans. I don't keep them that long, but it's good to know that there is more leeway than you might think.