Saturday, April 30, 2022

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - It is time to talk about the "O" word

The title for this blog post came about after organizing pantry shelves and realizing I needed to write about organization.  Immediately, the thought came to mind that many people would not bother to read if the title included the "O" word! Sometimes the process of organizing is not enjoyable.  I had a chuckle at the thought and used that as part of the title.

I love having an organized house and mostly I enjoy the process of organizing.  However, that does not include organizing the pantry.  Prior to COVID, it was easy to keep it organized because I had about a month's worth of the food I used all the time such as canned tomatoes and "a few extra" of other items.

Although I have felt the Lord telling me to stock up for years (decades), I could only go by my previous reasons for stocking up such as long term unemployment.  When the kids lived at home, I bought basic ingredients such as grains through the food co-op every six months and bought flats of canned vegetables when there was a sale but mostly I had only a few items of other ingredients on hand at any time.

It wasn't until 2020 that I seriously thought some items would not be available at all from time to time.  Now in 2022, the world is talking about food shortages and supply chain disruptions and our store shelves are indications that everything is true. From grains to coffee to appliances, we are being warned that they may not be available in the near future.

Now we are also seeing a new player in the game and that is inflation such as we have not seen since the Carter administration. I think it is even worse than that era.  Even when an item is available, the cost may be out of reach for many people.  I know the feeling from periods of unemployment, the grocery store was full of food but I could not afford most of it.

All of this has come together to add another layer of essentials to the pantry.  Instead of ten cans of tomatoes, I now have around twenty cans and that made a need for me to start once again writing the Use By dates on each can.  Although canned foods for the most part can be used far past these dates, by having them written on each can, I know which cans need to be used first in rotation.

If you have a larger family and you purchase cans in flats and store them in those flats, you can write the Use By date on the plastic wrap or on an index card taped to the cans if the case is not covered.  Normally, all the cans have the same Use By date in a flat.  Then, when it is time to place those cans on the shelves for immediate use, you can use the permanent marker to put the date on each can. This helps if you do a big stock up shopping trip at one time, which I did for flat sales when the kids were still at home.

I started writing dates on cans again last year but with some items like flour, I just put the most recently purchased bag in back of the others in the Rubbermaid container where I kept them.  I would then grab the first bag when I needed to pour flour in the canister.  This worked fine for a long time.

However, COVID hit and it became harder to find flour on the shelves so I stocked up more than usual.  Now the shelves where flour usually sits are once again empty.  The last time I was at Meijer, there was one bag of organic flour on the shelf and a 25 lb bag on the bottom shelf.  I bought the organic flour and when I was checking out, I noticed someone in front of me had bought the 25 lb. bag.

I'm certain this shortage of flour will be worse than 2020 because now we have even the mainstream media talking about the grain shortages getting worse so people are stocking up on flour and pasta.  What does this have to do with the "O" word?  I'm glad you asked...

I realized that I needed to purchase a few more bags of AP flour and bread flour but first I needed to check the dates on what I had on hand.  Oh my goodness, how times goes by quickly!  I keep flour past its' Use By date but not a year past it.  A few bags were well over a year past the date.  I had to throw away those bags of flour.*

I hate to throw away food, especially food that is in short supply.  What happened was that I had stocked more than I actually needed since I no longer do as much baking as before.  I had used quite a bit of the bread flour since it takes a lot to make bread but I had not used very much of the AP flour.

I had already reorganized pasta, which can last for years past its' Use By date if kept dry.  I had reorganized the cans on the pantry shelves already and I make certain every few months to check the dates on the shoe box size Rubbermaid style container where I mixes and some food items that comes in pouches.

It wasn't until I thought of purchasing more flour that I considered checking the dates again.  Surely it hasn't been that long since I'd bought the oldest bags... but it had. A few bags of All Purpose flour was from 2020. As many years as I've been keeping a pantry, I still make mistakes that should have not happened.  I will count this as a learning experience, I learn more from mistakes.

Most food pantries will not take items past their Use By dates, even if you try to convince them canned goods a couple months past the date are safe (I have tried). But if we are checking our pantry items on a regularly scheduled time table, we will see if items are getting close to those dates and if we are not going to use them, we can donate them to a food pantry where they are needed.

I am now writing down a day to check the dates in my planner..  I have to have such reminders, whether it is the weekly checking of the plants to see if they need water or the monthly "bleeding the water filter bladder".  (We have an under the sink reverse osmosis filter.)

Doesn't that sound horrible? It is simply turning on the water filter on the sink until all the water in the "bladder" has emptied out into the sink (or containers) so it doesn't develop air pockets.  I have forgotten to do it for a few months at a time and it did develop an air pocket that made it not work... and I had to pay for a repair guy to fix it.  Another lesson learned the hard way that I will not forget.

As part of the reorganizing and realizing the flour was so old last week, I emptied the two glass canisters where I keep the bread flour and the AP flour in the kitchen and washed them until they sparkled.  I let them dry overnight before adding any flour back to them. The glass canister that held regular white sugar was almost empty so it got a good cleaning, too.

A few months ago, I had to purchase two glass canisters with screw on lids for the brown sugar and the organic raw sugar after ants were able to get into the similar canisters with the supposedly air tight lid that sits on the canisters.  I think they didn't get into the regular white sugar canister or the flour canisters because they are much larger.  

That was also when ants found their way into two metal canisters that I have never had a problem with before. Everything that attracted ants before are now in either Tupperware style canisters or glass containers with a screw on lid.  Once again, if I had to have an ant problem that had never happened before, I am glad it happened when I had more food to replace them after having to throw away the food they infiltrated.

This experience reminded me of why I cringe when I see ALL OF THE prepper vloggers title updates with things like STOCK IT TO THE CEILING and other such warnings.  Please, do NOT buy everything and stock it to the ceiling without first sitting down and considering what you actually use and how much you can keep without it going bad.

Do not stock up on more than you can keep organized. I speak from experience.  

Some things are easier to stock up and keep out of sight like most canned goods. I would write the Use By date on them just to show what needs to be used first.  Regular canned goods can last a very long time.  Meat in cans already have an extended Use By date but they are known to be good far past that date.  

Cans with pop top lids have been shown to not be as good for long term storage, which makes sense as the seal is different.  But most will be good past their Use By date.  One exception I have mentioned before is aseptic packages, they should always be used by the Use By date.  I noticed a box that held chicken stock had a bulge in it last week and it was a couple months before it should be used.  I didn't want to take a chance so I poured the stock down the sink.

If you have a large family and/or you are stocking up for others, then you most likely will not have the problem of food going far past its' Use By dates.  However, if you are like us and you are either alone or there are only two or three in the home... careful thought needs to go into stocking up to the ceiling.

Especially with today's prices, we do not want to waste anything and the money spent on food that has to be thrown away could have been spent on something else we wish we did have on the shelves.  

One of the reasons I believe, as do many of my fellow Y2k friends, that God allowed our experiences with stocking up then, is that we learned so many lessons that have helped us save money over the years.  Except some of us with flour...

I know a few bags of flour do not cost much in the long run but I kept thinking of what it would have been like to really need that flour because I could not buy.  I would have used it far past its' expiration date in that case.  It probably tasted fine but the nutrient level would have been lowered a lot at a time when we needed all the nutrients we could get.

I thought the same thing when I kept hearing mice in the garage and didn't get on top of the situation immediately.  I had no idea how quickly a mouse infestation could happen and we had to throw away a lot of canned goods because mouse urine causes it to rust almost immediately.  As well as ruin other items that were stored in the garage.

What if we depended on those cans of food to survive?  The lesson was learned as now I have mouse traps on hand and I mostly keep cans covered (it simply can be done by placing cardboard or flats on top of the cans) for those rare times a single mouse comes around.  As an aside... a good friend that worked in a grocery store told me long ago that we should always wash the top of our cans before opening them because mice may have walked over them.  

My husband volunteered at a food pantry for years and he said mice were always a problem there, too.  Washing the top lid will help prevent mice born illness. (After that mouse problem, my daughter told me that now I only prefer mice if they are wearing pinafores.  Very true.)

So, I not only organized the shelves in the pantry... I'm writing down on the planner when to check them. Especially items that have a shorter time between purchasing and their expiration dates. I also realize that while I may use a lot of bread flour, I no longer use as much AP flour as I once did in years past.

*I do have a vacuum sealer and a friend who can tell me yet again how she seals up the five pound bags of flour in paper bags for longer term storage.  I keep the flour in the original bags after it was recommended due to a recall a few years ago. The bag was needed to check the information needed to see if it was part of the recall.


Vee said...

Yes. I am one person. I am not going on a buying tangent, but I do keep extra butter and the kind of milk that. has an extended shelf life. I am not baking very much nor eating much bread or pasta. It's a balancing act. I threw out pie crusts just this morning because, though I was willing to use them past their use by date, they were awful. Golly, it had only been since February. I am just thankful that I had not poured my chicken pie filling in. Good tip about washing can tops. I'll try to remember that.

NanaC said...

Lots of good info! Thanks so much for sharing from your experiences! It’s really helpful! I try to stay organized but can get behind over time. Thanks for all the tips!
Laura C. (WA)

lynneinMN said...

Thank you for the motivation to organize my pantry has been far too long! Sometimes it feels like we are truly living in the "twilight zone", but I guess we ARE strangers and aliens of this world, right? Even so....

Anna Gartin said...

Flour can be used past it's expiration date. I always add bay leaves to mine to prevent weevils and use it.. I keep mine in glass jars mostly canning jars.

Anonymous said...

What a great idea to write use by dates in top of cans! Meg:)

Jenny said...

I believe we should not stock up on more than we can eat/use before it goes bad. I have enough stocked to eat basically the same way we do now for at 6 months, we could eat very well for a year & many things I have stocked will not expire for at least 2 yrs or more. But...I only store what we are eating now. When I replace what we've eaten, I place the new things to the back of my pantry & move everything forward so we always eat the oldest foods first.

It took me a good 6 months to get it this organized after I started stocking a deep pantry. But now it's routine. I rotate things as I put new groceries away. I have my pantry set up so it's not super difficult to rotate. Still, even though I'm much more organized than I used to be I still struggle with my freezer. It's better but I'm still tweaking the system.

Anonymous said...

We find that the easiest way to rotate canned goods is to do a big stock up of the things we use the most ( veggies, tomatoes, soup etc.) when they are on sale and put the lot in the blue rubbermaid container. When they go on sale again, put the next bunch in the grey rubbermaid container and so on. That way I know which things should be used first.
We don't bother with stocking up on flour because I don't bake as much.

Anonymous said...

I was working in our pantry this week too and have some items that are at or just past the exp date so meals this week will be planned around them. Going forward I plan to check once a month and move anything close to exp date to a separate area and work them into meal plans as soon as possible. Still working on the freezer, looking for a better way of organizing it, we do keep a list on it, but finding things is a challenge!

I always wipe canned goods before opening. Why? My Mother taught me to for the reason you listed, you never know what was walking across the can or might have sifted on to it!

We still do a lot of baking (many food sensitivities/intolerance in extended family and us) so we are storing more flour. I searched on line for the best way and found that short of going with Mylar bags/oxygen absorbers the next best was vacuum sealing and freezing for 96 hours. Flour should keep 1 to 2 years from that date depending on how it's stored. The exception is whole wheat, it must be used by date or kept frozen.

Thank you for the tip on aseptic packaging, we will need to watch those closer in the future. God's blessings, Marsha