Canned goods tend to accumulate, gathering dust in the dark corners of your kitchen, where they won't do you any good when you're scrambling for a quick meal. On hectic nights when your only goal is to get dinner on the table without making a trip to the store, a well-organized pantry is your greatest asset -- although for those amateur chefs not lucky enough to have pantries, well-stocked cabinets will do.
Gather all your canned goods on a table so you can survey the whole supply. Discard any cans that have deep dents or are heavily rusted; small holes in dented or rusted cans may allow bacteria to enter, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Keep any cans that have only a small amount of rust that can be wiped away with a paper towel.
Inspect each can for a use-by date. Discard any cans whose dates have passed. If a can doesn't have a date, try to remember how long it's been sitting in your pantry. Tomatoes and fruits, which are high in acid, will safely keep for about 18 months, according to the USDA, while meat and vegetables can be kept for two to five years.
Group the cans by food type. Make groups of soups and broth, tomatoes and tomato sauce, meat and fish, fruits, vegetables and beans. Add groups if necessary, like baking supplies (evaporated milk, pureed pumpkin) or canned complete meals.
Clean the shelves where you'll store your canned goods. Wipe down shelves with soapy sponges or disinfecting wipes. Suck up any crumbs lingering in corners with a handheld vacuum. Use a clean, soapy sponge to clean any dusty cans. Follow with a clean, wet sponge and let the cans dry before putting them away.
Move the cans back to your pantry, keeping items in their groups. Place groups of food you use often front and center, within easy reach. Less-frequently used foods can go on higher and lower shelves. Line up similar or identical items so they run from the front of the shelf to the back. Place the oldest cans in the front to be used next.
Label each section with the type of cans that belong there. Use masking tape on the lip of each shelf, or tape small typed labels there. When you see that your supply of beans or vegetables is running low, you'll know it's time to stock up.
Items you will need
- Dish soap
- Disinfecting wipes
- Handheld vacuum
- Masking tape
- If you don't have a designated pantry, consider which cabinets are the safest for storing your canned goods. A dry place where the cans won't be exposed to high or low temperatures is best, so store them indoors in a cabinet that's not adjacent to the stove or sink.
- If you don't have many duplicate items and need to see all your canned goods at a glance, arrange three-tiered shelf organizers on every pantry shelf before loading the cans back in. As an alternative, use strips of wood as risers in the back of each shelf, or group types of canned goods into baskets that you can pull out and rummage through when it's time to cook.
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