When we think of spring cleaning most of us think about cleaning the gutters, washing the windows, shampooing the carpets or sweeping the garage.
Don’t forget about the kitchen when you are making your list of things to get done. Spring is a good time to go through your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer to take stock of what you have and to develop a plan to use up or discard any products that may be past their prime.
The following is a sampling of storage guidelines for best quality. While food may be safe after the suggestions below, flavor, texture and nutritional value may deteriorate. When possible, use package dates.
- Baking soda: 2 years
- Baking powder: 18 months
- Canned goods, low-acid: 2-5 years
- Canned goods, high-acid: 12-18 months
- Cereal: 1 year
- Coffee, can: 2 years
- Herbs and spices: 1 year if opened
- Home canned goods: 1 year (stored in cool, dark place)
- Oils, canola, soy or sunflower: 6 months
- Rice, brown: 6 months
- Sugar, granulated: 2 years
- White flour: 1 year
- Whole grains: 1 month (refrigerate for longer storage up to 5 months)
- Whole wheat flour: 8 months (not recommended for shelf storage)
Discard any rusted, bulging or dented cans. Wipe shelves and organize items in cupboard using the principal of First In First Out (FIFO). Store new goods behind older items so the oldest ones are used first. The best pantry storage conditions are between 50-70° F. Avoid storing foods near heat sources such as water heaters or stoves.
Items in the freezer should be frozen completely solid and used regularly for best quality. Use quickly or discard any items that show signs of freezer burn. Refer to the following suggestions to ensure best quality of your frozen foods:
- Bread: 2-3 months
- Fish, fatty (tuna, salmon, trout): 2-3 months
- Fish, lean (cod, pollock, halibut): 6-8 months
- Fruit: 12 months
- Ground meat: 3-4 months
- Ice cream or frozen yogurt: 2-4 months
- Leftovers, cooked: 2-3 months
- Lunch meats: 1-2 months
- Pizza: 1-2 months
- Poultry, whole: 1 year
- Roasts: 4-12 months
- Vegetables: 12 months
Clean the freezer with a mild detergent or bleach solution of 1/4 teaspoon bleach to 1 quart of cool water, remembering to wipe the gasket around the lid or door. Work quickly to minimize the time the freezer is open. Using a freezer thermometer allows you to keep your items at the ideal temperature of 0°F. A full freezer holds its temperature better than an empty one. If necessary, fill empty space with ice.
Refrigerated foods should be kept cold in sealed clean packages. Food will stay fresh longer if the store is opened as infrequently as possible. Meats should always be thawed on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator on a plate or tray to keep juices or drips from contaminating other items. These recommendations can help keep food fresh and reduce waste.
- Apples: 6 weeks
- Butter: 1-3 months
- Cheese, hard: 3-4 months (opened)
- Celery: 2 weeks
- Eggs: 3-5 weeks
- Ground meat: 1-2 days
- Ketchup and BBQ Sauce, opened: 8-12 months
- Poultry, pieces: 1-2 days
- Leftovers: 3-4 days
- Lunch meat, opened: 3-5 days
- Mayonnaise, opened: 2 months
- Milk: 1 week
- Salad Dressing: 4 months
- Yogurt: 1-2 weeks
The refrigerator can be cleaned with a mild detergent or bleach solution. The ideal temperature range for storage is between 35-40° F. A refrigerator thermometer can help to keep food in this range.
After the cupboards, refrigerator and freezer are clean and organized; consider making a meal plan to ensure you have a strategy to use up the items. A kitchen spring cleaning can save you money by reducing food waste and help you to use food at its freshest and best quality.
Source: Rutger’s, the State University of New Jersey Cooperative Extension Service
Helen Idzorek is the Extension Home Economist and 4-H Agent for NMSU Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 505.662.2656. The Los Alamos County Cooperative Extension Service is temporarily located in the old Red Cross Building at 2150 Juniper St. in Los Alamos.