This week I took a break from holiday cooking to evaluate the food storage situation in my kitchen. Several weeks of serious food prep (cookies, candies, something for the holiday potluck, plus at least one holiday dinner) will really make all the shortcomings of the kitchen obvious. This is actually a pretty good time of the year for cleaning and reogranizing, and a few years ago I declared the day after Christmas to be Annual Kitchen Reorganization Day.
So, once the fridge had been configured so that all the leftovers fit, I inevitably turned my attention to the pantry.
This is an advanced feat of engineering
I've got a really cool built-in pantry that used to be just a plain old closet. When we remodeled our kitchen, we had some very nice custom-made shelving installed and converted it into food storage. And, like every food storage area, it has its own unique issues that need to be dealt with. The key to an effective pantry is to understand the space you have and then create the solution that makes the best use of the space.
In my case, I've got the aforementioned shelving, but I've also got the circuit breaker box that needs to be accessible. This means there is a very large gap between the top shelf and the next shelf down that needs to be filled with supplemental shelving.
I also have an old house that has settled in a manner that there is a wobble in my kitchen. This means that even though the shelving is perfectly square to the walls in the closet, the closet itself is no longer square to the earth, and everything is just a little off kilter.
So, here was my first attempt to address these two issues when I did this last year:
A partial solution at best
While I gained a little additional storage space with this solution, there's still a lot of chaos and clutter, and we never knew exactly what our inventory of dried beans or rice actually was, so we frequently bought more. Plus the stacked shelves look a bit like the Leaning Tower of Pantry. Did they fall over? No. Did things fall off them regularly? Yes.
Also, look at the storage containers for those dried goods. Clusterfuck does not even begin to describe it. The key to effective storage of dried goods is twofold:
- A tightly-fitting lid that includes a rubber ring insert. This creates a tight seal that is impenetrable by pests and will preserve your flour and other dried goods better than the containers pictured.
- A modular solution. Square is a good shape. Square things will fit together nicely and will stay upright even when shifted around.
So take a look at the container on the far left. That's the solution I finally admitted was the only viable choice. I discarded the other containers as their contents had indeed been violated and replaced them with a set of
that I bought at
. I like this stuff for several reasons in addition to the shape. These canisters are clear so you can see what's in them. Plus they have the requisite rubber ring in the lid. And they also have a flip top build into the lid for easy access to what's inside (also with a rubber ring built in). My set also came with three measuring cups as an added bonus. I used masking tape and a Sharpie to label them (potato starch and powdered sugar really do look a lot alike).
I also replaced the stacked shelving and repurposed it. See, the issue in my pantry really is how to fill that big gap and still have access to the circuit breaker. My solution was to break up that big open space into smaller sectors. I replaced the tower of stacked shelves with hanging shelves that attach to the built-in shelf to make better use of the sector to the right of the circuit box. I then spread out the stacked shelving to better fill the rest of the space. I found these hanging shelves at
for a pittance:
The right solution = optimal use of space
So, obviously, I threw away a lot of stuff. If you perform this exercise regularly, anything that didn't get purged the last round should definitely go this time. Tell tale signs that your food is no longer viable are:
- Expansion of canned or jarred goods - jars will typically have a lid that looks like it's popping out while cans will look like they are about to explode
- Dust around boxed or bagged goods - this is a sure sign of infestation and foreign intrusion into your food.
- Expiration dates in the past - if in doubt, check the packaging. Even canned goods have a use by date.
Anything not in a can or jar should be placed in a ZipLoc bag until opened and then transferred to a canister (long-term storage) or RubberMaid container (short-term storage).
I think I've got something workable going in this part of the kitchen. And that's important. Proper food storage means fresher raw ingredients and meals that taste better and have more nutrition, not to mention less waste.
Every pantry really is unique. Look at your space. Measure it. Draw pictures of it. Visualize how it could be. Then go make it happen.