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Pantry cleaning checklist: What to toss, keep and store

Get ready for spring by refreshing your pantry staples.

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pantry staples

It’s easy to forget the pantry in your spring cleaning plan, but a new season is a great to time to dive into the pantry’s darkest corners and cleanse, toss and reorganize.

The cleanse
The first step is to empty out the pantry, completely. Don’t bother wiping down bottles and jars until you have determined what to keep. Thoroughly wipe your food storage area with a non-toxic cleanser. A Chatelaine Kitchen favourite is a good old vinegar solution: One part vinegar to five parts water. To remove stains, make a paste of baking soda and water and rub it on the stain. Let it sit for 15 – 20 minutes and then wipe clean.

Pantry staples have notoriously long shelf lives, but even dried goods need to go eventually. First, check all expiry dates on items that have them — toss everything that is expired. Second, evaluate if you have used the item in the past six months — or if you think you ever will. Donate any unwanted items to a local food bank.

Pantry checklist

Here’s a guideline for what to toss, keep and how to store your pantry items.

Cooking oil
Once opened, oils will generally last 4 – 6 months in your pantry. If you are unsure of the date you opened your oil, always taste and smell it before using it. Rancid oil has a distinct odour and unpleasant flavour. Specialty oils such as sesame, truffle or walnut should be stored in your fridge, not your cupboard.

Dried pasta
Pasta typically comes with a best before date, however, if you have stored it in a secondary container, you may not be sure how long you’ve had it. Pasta can last up to two years unopened, but once opened and exposed to air, it will go stale. Stale pasta becomes gummy when cooked, and pasta containing egg has an opportunity to go rancid.
Use it: This is a super-fast and tasty solution, Pasta pomodoro.

Rice
White rice is magically resilient, so chances are it is fine. Brown rice however has a layer of bran that contains oil, therefore has a maximum shelf life of three to six months.
Use it: Sesame scallops with pistachio brown rice.

Flour
All-purpose flour stored in a dry, clean, cool area will last for one year. Whole wheat flour has a slightly shorter shelf life (due to the bran layer) of nine months.

Dried spices and herbs
Neither of these will actually go bad, but instead, will begin to lose their flavour. The shelf life of dried spices and herbs is up to two years, however you be the judge — if you aren’t getting the punch you are looking for from your dried spices, replace them.

Baking soda and powder
While there isn’t a defined time for either of these to go stale, once they are opened they begin to absorb moisture and lose their impact. To test your baking powder, mix 1 tsp with 1/2 cup hot water. If the mixture bubble immediately, it is still active. For baking soda mix 1/4 tsp with 2 tsp vinegar — if it bubbles immediately, keep it.

Dried beans
Stored in a cool, dry, dark place, these will last up to two years. Beans that are too stale will not rehydrate fully, so if you are having trouble getting your beans to soften, they need to go.

Restocking
When it comes to restocking your pantry here are four quick tips:

  • Wipe down all bottles and jars with your vinegar water solution.
  • Use empty mason jars to store bagged spices or dried goods. They are easier to stack and seal well, preventing moisture absorption. You’ll finally have somewhere to store your extra mason jars — and they look good.
  • Keep the items you cook with every day upfront and centre. Organize the remaining items by grouping similar things together.
  • Keep a permanent marker near your pantry. Date everything when it is opened.

Originally published March 26th, 2015.