When it comes to the kitchen pantry, there’s nothing worse than reaching for a jar of oats and finding it crawling with bugs and other pests. To help you master the art of preserving your food, we share five of the best pantry food storage tips from the experts.
We all know that some foods fare better in the pantry than in the fridge, but just how much better? Ensuring that you store your pantry staples, will ensure you maximize the lifespan of your dry goods as much as possible.
Whether you’re working with your regular kitchen pantry or your butler’s pantry, be sure to store your food in clean and air-tight containers – not only will your food thank you for it, but your pantry will look fantastic too!
To help you nail your food storage, Lindsay Miles, author of The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen: Simple Steps To Shop, Cook And Eat Sustainably shares her expert tips on how to make the most of your pantry food storage.
There are a number of reasons that food gets wasted in the pantry – for example, it spoils before we can use it, or pests get to it before we do.
Ideally, your pantry is in a cool, dry area of the house, away from the oven and other sources of heat, with doors that block out the light.
Avoiding open shelves that get direct sunlight or keeping groceries directly above the stove will extend the life of your food.
When you don’t have the luxury of choice when it comes to food storage spaces, you just need to be more mindful of not overbuying and of using things up more quickly.
The best way to store items in the pantry is in airtight containers. This keeps out air, moisture, and pantry pests. As well as helping your food last longer, containers are easier to organize and stack, plus there is less chance of the contents spilling than if you leave things in another packaging.
Some pantry foods will actually keep much better in the fridge or freezer without affecting their taste or texture.
If you’re limited for space in the fridge or freezer, you can prioritize the most vulnerable or expensive ingredients, and try to buy smaller quantities more often of anything that’s susceptible to going bad.
Extend the life of your items.
- Pantry – 3 months
- Fridge – 6 months
- Freezer – 1 year+
Items to consider storing in the fridge or freezer.
- Whole, chopped and ground nuts and seeds (including almond meal, coconut flour, and ground flaxseed)
- Nut butter
- Oils (these may go cloudy in the fridge, but will return to normal at room temperature)
- Whole grains and whole-grain flours
The more surface area, the more exposed an ingredient is to air, and the faster it will oxidize – so that’s why chopped nuts have a shorter shelf life than whole nuts, and ground nuts or nut butter have less again.
What spoils food.
Air — Over time, exposure to oxygen causes some food to go bad (oxidation is the main reason for the loss of quality in fats, such as when nuts turn rancid). Many bacteria and all molds require oxygen to grow. Reducing the surface area of food reduces exposure to air and slows down these processes.
Heat — Higher temperatures cause food to break down faster and can change the appearance and flavor as well as reduce nutrients. Heat increases the rate of oxidation.
Light — Exposure to light can cause photodegradation, which results in discoloration, reduction in flavor, and a decline in nutrient content. Fats, proteins, pigments, and vitamins are particularly sensitive to light, and liquids are more sensitive than solids (with solids, light can only penetrate the outer surface).
Moisture and Humidity — Moisture affects food by allowing bacteria, yeast, and mold to grow. This is why dried food keeps better than wet food, and why drying food is used as a method of food preservation. Moisture condensing on the surface of food due to humidity can affect quality – for example, causing soggy cereal or crackers, and making flour clump together.
Smells — Some foods absorb the flavor of other foods, which can ultimately affect the taste. Butter, milk, eggs, and bread products (including flours and baked goods) are particularly sensitive.
Keep sensitive foods away from strong-smelling foods, and ensure your jar lids are not tainted.
How to Avoid Pantry Pests
No one wants to find pests in their pantry, and if we understand what they are and where they come from, we can take steps to prevent them from appearing.
The most common offenders are pantry moths, which includes any moths found in the kitchen that feeds on grains (such as the Indian meal moth and the Mediterranean flour moth) and weevils (tiny beetles about 1/16 inch in length; the most common types are the granary weevil and the rice weevil).
The good news is, they are not harmful, do not carry disease, have nothing to do with cleanliness, and do not damage our home – although that doesn’t mean we’d choose to eat them.
Moths and weevils can lay their eggs in food in the field, storehouse, or storage facility, long before it reaches our pantry.
The eggs are often present in flours and grains, and just as likely to be in pre-packaged products as unpackaged products, although you won’t be able to see them: moth eggs are less than 1 millimeter in diameter.
They can take several months to hatch and the first thing you’ll probably notice is moths in the pantry or beetles in your grains or flour.
Pantry pests and their eggs can be controlled by heating and freezing. If you’d rather not find any surprises in your groceries, get into the habit of freezing grains, flours, nuts, and pulses for a period of three days to destroy the eggs before storing in the pantry.
Alternatively, heating to 140°F for 15 minutes will kill the eggs, but heating isn’t appropriate for everything.
Other pests (like ants and cockroaches) occasionally make their way into the pantry. Ensuring your food is stored in airtight containers will stop pests getting into food, and therefore help prevent them from spreading.
To further reduce the risk of pantry pests, always wash your jars and their lids with hot soapy water between refills and avoid taking half-filled jars to the bulk store to top up with new ingredients.
Rotate your pantry contents.
Every three months or so, take everything out of the pantry to:
- Check for signs of spoilage or pests
- Identify any duplicate items
- Find things you might have forgotten about
- Discover ingredients that have been in storage for a while and need using up
You can make sure any overstocked items stay off the shopping list for a while and we can look up recipes to ensure we start to use these things up before they go bad.
We can also reposition those things that have been in the pantry the longest at the front so we are most likely to use them.
When a label tells you to ‘store in a cool place’, the ideal room temperature for that is usually 50˚F, which is a lot colder than most of us like to keep our kitchens. Warmer kitchens will reduce the shelf life of food.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Homes to Love.