A couple of days ago my mother went out for her fortnightly grocery shopping and the task of storing them in the pantry fell on me. Our pantry is not the walk-in pantry that is probably fit for the size of our house. Years ago, a cul de sac located by the ground floor toilets stood as our pantry when shelves were brought in the area. It held food and non-food items. The lower shelves held toiletries, laundry, and cleaning agents while the upper shelves held canned and bottled goods, with grains in jars. In 2011, that part of the house was renovated and the cul de sac became part of the expanded toilet. Nowadays our “pantry” consists of two antique platera that I brought from Cambodia; one contains the stuff we use for baking and the other the rest of the food stuff.
When I brought my mother’s purchases to the platera I knew just by looking that it needed to be cleaned and its contents sorted. It was cluttered. My mother had been the one in charge of this pantry and she’s not much of an organizer. My aunt and I would usually do this but both of us had been too busy the past weeks to peek into the pantry. So I emptied the platera and after giving each shelf a dusting off and a wipe down, I sorted out the grocery items and segregated the ones that were beyond their best before dates. I ended up with 2 plastic bags of spices that have hardened, canned goods that have expired, and packs of instant noodles that have gone stale.
After re-organizing our pantry, there was still space for perhaps another trip to the supermarket. Organizing and maintaining a pantry is a challenge, but it’s not an impossible task. Here are some general tips, which I learned from experience and from reading on-line sources:
- Practice the first-in, first-out principle. I usually put the new purchases at the back of the shelf and move them forward when there are newer purchases. This was, there is a constant turnover of goods that are stored and used. Looking at shelves, those that correspond to the area between your knees and shoulders should contain the stuff that are always used in your kitchen. The lower shelves should contain the heavy stuff for easier access and lesser risk of damage if they fell. I usually use the upper shelves for storing junk food because it’s not easy to access (you have to reach out for it) although I know that for a “healthier” pantry, it’s best not to put any junk food in it.
- An easy and logical way of organizing is by the products’ packaging. Put cans together, and so on with bottles, jars, bags, and boxes. If you are keen to do it (as I am), you can further organize all canned goods into meat, fish, veggies, and so on.
- Invest in organizers and sealed containers. Organized work best if you have many bagged stuff. You can put them in an organizer so that they have a more solid container. Sealed and airtight containers are good for storing grains, pasta, and flours, among others.
- Maintain your pantry regularly. This can be done (1) weekly, basically to de-clutter; (2) monthly, to de-clutter and re-group the food items, and; (3) seasonally, to de-clutter, re-group and to re-fit the storage organizers & equipment.
- Maintain an inventory of what you have. Whether it’s a mental note or a list, an inventory is useful. Some do this right before going grocery shopping but if you do this regularly say, weekly, making the shopping list will be a lot quicker.
- Regularly clear out old food. As a guide, try asking these questions: (1) is it still within the best before date? (2) did I use this in the last month? (3) do I like it? If you answered NO to any of these, throw the food out. Dried herbs and spices, baking soda/ powder, all-purpose flour can be kept for up to a year, while wholegrain or wholewheat flour for up to 6 months. Grains can last long if properly stored in an airtight container, but if you see insects, throw it out.
I hope you find these tips useful.