Is it time to clean out the foods in your kitchen? Proper food storage can help you preserve food quality, make the most of your food dollar, and help prevent foodborne illness. A good policy to follow is FIFO, which stands for “first in, first out”. This means that you rotate items so that you use the older items first.
Try to buy foods in reasonable amounts so you can use them while they are still of good quality. When shopping for groceries, choose perishable foods last, go straight home, and store them properly in the refrigerator or freezer.
Pantry storage conditions should be dry, cool, and dark with an ideal temperature of 50 to 70°F. It is best to store foods in the coolest cabinets away from the stove, oven, water heater, dishwasher, or any hot pipes.
Maintain your refrigerator temperature at 40°F or below. Make sure foods are stored in the refrigerator in airtight wraps or containers to prevent them from drying out or picking up odors or flavors from other foods. Be sure that raw meats, poultry, and fish are stored so that juices cannot drip onto and contaminate other foods.
Set your freezer at 0°F or below. A good rule of thumb is that if the freezer can’t keep ice cream brick-solid, the temperature is not cold enough. Package items for the freezer in moisture- and vapor-proof wraps or containers that are freezer-grade. An appliance thermometer can help you monitor the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer.
Here are some tips to help you determine what to toss and what to save. Keep in mind that these guidelines are for food stored at a room temperature of about 70 degrees. Check the labels on foods since they may contain storage information and “use by” or “expiration” dates.
- Canned foods: 1 to 2 years if unopened. Some cans may have a “for best quality use by” date. Avoid refrigerating opened canned foods in their can. Transfer the remaining food to another storage container before putting in the refrigerator.
- Spices and herbs: 6 months for herbs or ground spices and 1year for whole spices. Air, light, moisture, and heat can speed flavor and color loss of herbs and spices. Store them in a tightly covered container in a dark place. Avoid storing above or near the stove, dishwasher, microwave, refrigerator, sink, or a heating vent. You may want to refrigerate paprika, chili powder, and red pepper to help maintain their color. Replace spices if their aroma fades.
- White flour: 6 to 12 months. Store flour in a cool, dry place in an airtight container or freezer bag to preserve moisture content. For longer storage, keep white flours in the refrigerator in an airtight container. All-purpose flour and bread flour will keep up to two years at 40 degrees in your refrigerator or indefinitely in the freezer. If measuring from refrigerated or frozen flour, allow it to come to room temperature before using it in baked goods.
- Whole-wheat flour: 1 to 3 months at room temperature, up to 6 months if refrigerated, or up to 12 months if frozen. Store whole-wheat flour in an airtight container or freezer bag. If the flour is left at room temperature, the ground wheat germ, which contains oil, can become rancid.
- Honey: 12 months. Honey stores best at room temperature. If stored in the refrigerator, it tends to crystallize more quickly. This is a natural process in which its liquid turns solid. You can revitalize crystallized honey by placing the jar in warm water and stirring until the crystals dissolve.
- Brown sugar: 4 to 6 months for maximum flavor. Store brown sugar in an airtight container to retain moisture and avoid hardening.
- White granulated sugar: 2 years. Store sugar in airtight container or freezer bag. Properly stored sugar can keep indefinitely.
- Vegetable oil: 6 to 8 months opened, 12 to 18 months unopened. For oils such as walnut, sesame, hazelnut, and almond, refrigerate after opening. Olive oil may become cloudy in the refrigerator, but usually clears at room temperature. Oil that has been stored too long will become rancid and develop an undesirable taste and odor.
- Vinegar: 1 year opened, 2 years unopened. Keep vinegar tightly covered. White vinegar will last longer than other types of vinegar.