Take Stock of Pantry, Clean Shelves to Ensure Food Quality and Safety

Posted: July 6, 2016

How long has it been since you cleaned your kitchen pantry and cupboards? If it’s been awhile, now is a good time to take stock, discard old product and clean shelves.

Even though canned and dry goods have a longer shelf life than perishable foods like fresh meat and produce, we still need to be aware of the products we are using to assure quality and safety.

First, check the dates on your canned and dry goods. Manufacturers use product dating including:

Sell-by date

This is the last recommended day of sale. Breads and baked goods may have “sell-by dates.”

Use-by or best if used by date

Tells how long the product will retain top quality after you buy it. Some packaged goods have “use-by dates.”

Expiration date

This is the last day the product should be used or eaten. Yeast and baking powder have “expiration dates.”

Pack date

Canned or packaged foods may have dates, which tell you when the product was processed. This does not tell you how long the food will be good.

If food is older than the use-by date or expiration date, discard it. Also if you find bulging cans, throw them out. That is an indication that food has spoiled. Dented cans may be used; however, dents on a side or rim seam can cause an invisible leak so it’s best to discard.

Also take note for signs of pantry pests. Pantry pests can infest dry goods like cornmeal, oatmeal, crackers, pasta, cake mix, spices, chocolate, dried beans and beans, dry pet food and birdseed. The signs of an infestation include the presence of adult beetles, larvae, and shed larval skins or off-odors, flavors, or colors in the food.

Other signs include webbing in tight places of a package or tiny holes in the container. Insects are less likely to invade packages that have their original seal, but more commonly infest packages that have been opened or that have been on the shelf for a long time.

If you do find an infestation, discard the infested foods in a heavy plastic bag and place in an outdoor trash can with a tight lid. Vacuum the shelves and be sure to get into the cracks and corners. Empty the vacuum cleaner or discard the vacuum cleaner bag because some pests can live for many weeks without food. Remove the shelf liner or contact paper and wash shelves with hot soapy water paying close attention to the cracks and crevices. Never use insecticides around food.

Follow these additional tips for keeping dry and canned foods safe and to maximize food quality:

  • Practice “first in, first out” storage. This means using the oldest products first and the newest products later. Place the newly purchased products in back of the same products already on the shelf. You can also write the purchase dates on products to make it easier to know how old the food is.
  • Maintain a storage temperatures around 50 to 70 degrees F. Avoid storing food near ovens, furnaces, water heaters or hot pipes where warm temperatures can cause loss of food quality.
  • Store food in dark areas. Light that shines through transparent packaging can cause flavors to deteriorate more quickly.
  • Find out specific storage times for refrigerator, freezer and pantry by downloading USDA's FoodKeeper application. The app provides storage advice for more than 400 foods and beverages.

Contact Information

Karen Thomas
  • Extension Educator, Food, Families & Health
Phone: 570-963-6842