Organizing Food Storage Areas for Health
Posted: January 4, 2013
Is it so tedious to find a mealtime staple in the freezer that you throw up your hands and order take-out? Does the idea of rummaging through the refrigerator make you toss out your plan to include healthy fruits and veggies with the meal? Target the area needing improvement the most.
Get to work - Examine freshness dates (recommended dates for best taste and quality), “sell by” dates (the last date an item should be sold – the foods remain safe to eat for a normal period of use, usually a week or two, depending on the item) and expiration dates (the last day a food should be eaten, such as on infant formula). Decide to discard foods that you deem no longer safe to eat and foods that you know you will probably never use, recycling the food containers. Take a look at the sodium and other nutrition facts on convenience foods and decide if these fit your health priorities.
Plan for the future by keeping a roll of masking tape and a permanent marker handy to mark dates on frozen foods. You can also mark the date a salad dressing bottle or milk carton was opened or purchase date for some items. Frozen foods will maintain quality in a freezer at 0F or lower for 6 to 12 months, and will still be safe to eat for even longer periods of storage. Keep in mind that refrigerated foods, such as dairy products, cold cuts, juices, fresh fruits and vegetables will retain their quality for a week or two at temperatures of 32 - 40F. Refrigerated condiments will be safe in the refrigerator for many months and unopened cans and dried foods (flour, dried fruit, cake mixes, pasta and dried beans) will be safe for a year or more when stored in a cool dry space.
After carefully reviewing and discarding items that are unfit to eat or that no longer fit in with your plans for healthy meals, look at organizing items for efficiency. When purchasing groceries, place the newer items behind the older identical items, so that the oldest items are used first. Designate pantry areas for canned meats/fish, vegetables, fruits, beverages and soups. Decide on a pantry area for all bottles (oils, flavorings, catsup and sauces – consider “no salt added” marinades and flavored vinegars as taste boosters for reducing sodium intake). Next designate a shelf for cereals – add some cereals low in added sugars and high in bran content and fiber for healthier choices. Another shelf holds pasta, rice and other grain dishes – include brown rice, barley, bulgur, whole grain pastas and oats as healthy grain staples. Choose an area for baking needs, and put your bagged items like flour and sugar in airtight stackable containers. Add a tiered shelf riser for herbs and spices so you can easily see the names on the containers.
Use baskets and bins to hold snacks in the pantry, freezer bins to hold small items in the freezer – make use of the freezer door for smaller boxed items and cans of juice concentrate. Sliding mesh drawer units can be purchased to store dip mixes, tea bags, hot chocolate mix and other small pantry items in a filing cabinet format.
“Shaping up America’s Kitchens”, a curriculum by Rutgers University Extension, has tips and illustrations for organizing the fridge, freezer and pantry, as well as healthy ideas for buying food, cooking it and storing it, as well as creating kitchen zones for messaging, food prep, cooking and serving, and clean-up. Take the time to gear up for health in the year ahead!
Rayna Cooper is a Registered Dietitian and Family & Consumer Sciences/Nutrition Educator serving Penn State Extension in Adams County. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 334-6271, email firstname.lastname@example.org