One of the most important elements of kitchen storage is, for me, the pantry. I appreciate that not everyone is fortunate enough to have one, but if you do, and you’re like me, it can easily become disorganized over time.
With a pantry, you have space to stock up on dried and tinned items when they are on sale or fill the shelves with your own dried goods and preserves. A well-stocked pantry will have all of the basics for day to day meals, but it also ends up being the repository for those strange oils your neighbor gave you, the peaches in brandy you received one year over the holidays and all of the assorted food items you gave a try but hated on first taste.
The beginning of the year is a great time to clear out & reorganize your pantry. Give it a pre-spring clean, ready for the coming year and all of the exciting goodies it may bring.
Empty out the pantry & clean it
It is always best to start with a blank slate so take out everything. No matter how tidy you are, your pantry will always have some debris somewhere. For some inexplicable reason mine always seems to accumulate salt and an unidentified dust that I can only imagine is a mixture of spices.
Thoroughly clean every nook, cranny, corner, and crevice with a vacuum then with warm, soapy water.
Allow to dry thoroughly.
Wipe all of your shelves, food containers, and other surfaces with white vinegar. For added protection against pests, use a few drops of essential oil like peppermint, citronella, eucalyptus, or tea tree.
Stale or Expired Food – Just because it’s a dried food or a non-refrigerated item doesn’t mean that it doesn’t go bad. Check the expiry dates on all of your items and inspect any packages that have been opened. Be brutal – if an item is open & you can’t remember when you last used it – it may be time to throw it away
Infested Goods – When you buy foods in bulk, there is always a chance that they could be contaminated with some kind of pest. Inspect any items you have decanted into jars or containers to ensure they are pest free before reintroducing them to your pantry.
- Old dried herbs & Spices – They may not have expiration dates on them, or you may have decanted them into your favored containers, either way, those dried herbs, and spices will lose their potency over time. If you are unsure if the spice is still good, then it’s time for the sense test. The spice should have a vibrant color, taste potent and smell strong (in a good way!) If it fails in any of these points – throw it away.
Multiple, Multiple Items – Take a long hard look at all of those items you have accumulated. Do you really need that many cans of sweet corn? Even if a natural disaster strikes, would you ever get through all of those kidney beans? Take a long hard look at what you have and either organize a neighborhood food swap or donate to the local food bank.
All things gross – We’ve all been there, having to smile sweetly as the elderly neighbor hands you four giant jars of her unique recipe loganberry preserve. Or looking delighted as you sit under the Christmas tree and unwrap that set of herb infused oils and vinegars. Now is the time to liberate yourself from all things gross.
All the things that get put there and forgotten – If your food shares space with your brooms, a growing community of empty carrier bags and other random items, try to find new homes for the non-foods. It’s a pain, I know, but you’ll thank me when you no longer get hit on the head by a broom every time you bend down to get the cooking oil.
Now you should be left with only edible food that you will actually use – yeah! The next step is to organize it to make the best use of your time and space.
Lay out your pantry according to your most-used items.
Put your most used items where they are easiest to lay your hands on them. Where you put your pantry items should be determined by how you work and by what causes the least amount of extra work while you’re cooking.
Group similar items and flavors together
Group similar items together. This seems like an obvious thing to do but as time passes things migrate around the pantry and may end up with a little of everything everywhere. In our pantry, we have a baking section, a spice section, an Italian section and so on. It’s an easy way to reach into your pantry and grab what you need for an entire meal without digging through all the shelves looking for five ingredients that have all ended up as far from each other as possible.
Lining up the spices in alphabetical order is great, so you never have to rummage around looking for the nutmeg. If you have lots of tinned soups, they are much easier to find – and replace when used- if they are stacked alphabetically.
Organize packets and bags
Open bags are an organized pantry’s greatest enemy. It’s happened to me, you open the door, and the bag of rice falls over sending an avalanche of grains across the floor. You can choose between decanting items into containers (don’t forget to label & date them) or use clips to keep the bags closed and put them into easy to maneuver baskets.
Face all the labels out
I know this is kind of an OCD thing for some people, but it really does help. Having the labels facing outwards lets you see exactly what you have at a glance. This is especially important when you have lots of items from the same store or of the same brand – they often have similar labels for very different things.
So now you have a fresh, clean, organized pantry. Next time we’ll look at how to keep track of your stock and how to put together quick, tasty meals just from what you have in there.