The Challenge: The Pantry- part 1 Canned Goods

So its the time of year when I like to clean things out. I use some time to go through my pantry and see what is there. Its a natural tendency to just unload when we get home from the store. What happens is older food gets pushed to the back. While canned goods have a pretty long shelf life they do go bad eventually.

Take the time, at least once a year, to pull out everything. Look for dates on canned goods and be sure to put the older stuff up front. Its also a chance to see what you actually use and what you don’t. If you have 17 cans of kidney beans you might want to stop buying them for a while.

I like that there are always a few surprises. Maybe a jar of apple butter you forgot you had or baby corn you had meant to use in a stir fry but never did. My challenge to you, after the clean out try to use some of the food you have. Stir fries and soups are a great way to use up odds and ends. Stretch yourself creatively and find a use for the jar of fig jam or the big can of pumpkin.  Maybe invite friends over for a spontaneous cupboard dinner. You already spent the money on the food- it is a shame to let it go to waste.

It is also a good idea to make an inventory of what you have. Make a list of everything with notes on anything that is coming up on its expiration date. Keep it handy so you’ll mark things off when you use them. Also give the list a check before going to the store. Most of us can’t afford to throw away money/food. This annual cleaning and sorting should help. I will even leave an item on the counter to remind me to use it soon.

So when must I throw it out? I used to do a home ec  answer line at Extension. I was amazed at what people wanted to eat. I once had a lady ask if she could still eat a can of cherry pie filling even though it was bulging and oozing. She thought that what was inside the can was still OK to eat!!!!  I would say that common sense should rule here- but assuming that not everyone has common sense- use the dates as a guide. If it is not expired and has been stored properly it is safe to use. Once a canned product is past date it is likely still OK for a little while. A month or so- after that- you might have to pitch it. Just for the record- bulging cans are never safe!!!! I just had to say it.

Home canned goods are generally safe for a couple of years but it is best to use them up within a year of being canned. Keep canned goods stored in a cool, dry place. Extreme cold can cause contents to freeze and expand breaking the seal. Overly warm environments can also shorten the shelf life of hone-canned goods. Also before using any home- canned product look for signs of spoilage. Make sure seal is not broken and the contents have not become cloudy. If you have discoloration at the tops of products like pickle relishes or applesauce- it is likely because the jar was not full enough and some oxidation has taken place. Icky to look at but generally harmless. Just be more careful next time to fill the jars according to directions. Any low-acid foods that have been pressure canned must be brought to a boil before use. If there is any off- odor- discard them immediately.

Rotation and inventory will help to make the most of what you have purchased or canned. Its a bit of time to do- but should save you money in the end.

Tomorrow- more on pantry goods. I’ll be talking about herbs and spices. How long do they last? How can you tell? Which ones should always be stored in the fridge?


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