Pantry Inventory and Expiration Dates

Freshly Canned Chick Peas

Part of the challenge of living off of just the food you already have- is knowing what food you actually have. I think I have a pretty good idea already. I inventory my pantry every year. I also have a freezer that needs to be manually defrosted a couple of times a year. That really helps me to stay on top of what I have and what I don’t have.

Even then, I sometimes get a surprise or two. I went through my pantry recently to do an inventory. I am sure there was a reason I bought garbanzo bean/fava bean flour. I don’t recall it at the moment, but there it was in my cupboard. It has now been moved to the front and will be used in some dish in the near future. Or perhaps a friend who uses it will speak up and take it off my hands. I also found a big jar of almond butter that had been forgotten. Score!

I started keeping “like” things together in my pantry. Canned fruits and jams together, condiments and olives in another area. Baking supplies all roughly in the same area. Helps to find things, but also to keep an eye on what you have plenty of, and what you need.

Expiration Dates

When you do an inventory, be sure to look at expiration dates. Move the older food to the front of the cupboard, so it will be used first. Expiration dates on canned goods are not the indicator of whether the food is still OK to eat. It will just let you know which can of black beans is older. A lot of factors will determine if the food is still safe.

First, the expiration dates on canned goods are kind of meaningless. Canned goods last for years and years (if properly stored). When manufacturers put dates on canned goods, they use dates that are well before when the food might go bad.

Second, how the cans were stored is a much bigger factor in whether the food inside is still safe to eat. Cans stored in a damp basement, or a too hot garage are not going to last as long as canned goods stored in a cool, dry place. Rust on the outside of a can is a warning sign that the can has not been properly stored or is too old. Obviously, bulging cans should be disposed of.

Third, the food may still be safe to eat, but quality goes down over time. Think of expiration dates on cans, not so much as a date for when the food is unsafe, but a time when the food may start to lose some of its flavor and color. You can safely eat the can of peaches that “expired” six months ago, but they would be a little better looking if eaten sooner. Use common sense when deciding which foods are still good. No one wants to toss out food that is still safe to eat, but don’t take unnecessary risks, either.

Taking Stock

Last year I had to replace my refrigerator. I cleaned out both the fridge the freezer while waiting for my new fridge to arrive. When I was cleaning out my freezer, I found a lot of ginger root. A whole lot of ginger root. Seems about every time I would go to the Asian grocery store, I bought more. Don’t get me wrong. I love ginger and use it frequently. But this was well over a pound of ginger. I haven’t bought any ginger all year- and I have used up quite a bit of my stash.

Dairy and Eggs

For products like dairy and eggs, expiration dates are helpful, but you do have a little wiggle room. Milk should be good at least a few days after the sell by date. Cheeses can also be good long past the dates on them. Once a package of cheese is open, it will spoil faster. With cheese, look for signs of spoilage, like mold. On hard cheeses, you can cut off mold and use the rest of the cheese. With soft cheese, once you see mold- it can be deeper into the cheese than is visible with the naked eye. It’s not a good idea to eat soft cheeses that have mold on them, even after cutting off visible mold. Cream cheese should be fine, even weeks after the expiration date. Same for yogurt, sour cream and kefir. How they were stored makes a difference. A colder fridge, just above freezing, is best to keep dairy products safe longer. Look before you eat. Check for signs of spoilage like off odor and mold. Keep the most perishable foods further back the fridge to keep them from being exposed to warmer air every time the door is opened.

Eggs are generally good for several weeks after you purchase them. Don’t store them on the door- it exposes them to warm air when the door is opened, shortening their life. From USDA Webite “Many eggs reach stores only a few days after the hen lays them. Egg cartons with the USDA grade shield on them must display the “pack date” (the day that the eggs were washed, graded, and placed in the carton). This number is a three-digit code that represents the consecutive day of the year starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365. When a “sell-by” date appears on a carton bearing the USDA grade shield, the code date may not exceed 30 days from the date of pack.”

You can do the “float test” with raw eggs, to see where you stand. Put cold water in a bowl. Place an egg in the bowl of water. If the egg sinks, and rests on the bottom, it is safe to eat. An egg that sinks, but is on its side, rather than resting on the bottom, is going bad soon. An egg that floats should be tossed. Use or freeze any eggs that are not resting completely on the bottom.

Yesterday I posted about freezing foods. Some dairy products and eggs can be frozen, if need be.

It’s a good idea to take stock, every now and then. Do an inventory of what is in your cupboards and in the freezer and fridge. It will help to reduce food waste in the long run. Use what you can, and donate what you won’t. If some things need to get tossed, then toss them. I hate food waste, but don’t want anyone to get sick from eating food that has been around too long.

Tomorrow- hints on making fresh produce last longer- and how to store them for a longer life. Stay strong.