Your pantry is one of the most important rooms in your home, or at least that’s what anyone who’s hungry will tell you. Because pantries hold food for your family, it is important that everything there be stored properly and safely to prevent food-borne illness, pests carrying diseases, and other problems. Here are a few tips for keeping your pantry in top shape.
The first step in keeping your pantry safe and healthy is making sure that it is organized in a sensible way. Food should never be stored on the floor. Instead, reserve floor space for any chemicals, detergents, or cleaning supplies that you keep in your pantry. These should always be on the floor or lowest shelf to avoid the risk of any spills onto foods.
Label your pantry by section, food type, or container type. You can organize it in any way that makes sense to you, but try to maximize the space in whatever way you see fit. Any food stored in a pantry should have a clear expiration date. Cans and boxes will have dates displayed, but any food that you transfer from an original package to a different container will need a new label.
If you have anyone in your family with allergies or special dietary needs, put foods that are safe for them in an accessible, easy to see location. Keep these foods distinctly separate from any foods that could be harmful.
You may not think about it, but your pantry temperature is just as important as your refrigerator temperature. Just like keeping your fridge below 40 degrees Fahrenheit keeps your food fresh, keeping your pantry between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit prevents food from spoiling. When temperatures are too low or too high in your pantry it can compromise the shelf life of what you are keeping there, like baking supplies, canned food, and some produce. Ideally your pantry is located a safe distance from ovens and stoves that can cause temperatures to rise in surrounding areas.
Proper Sanitation and Cleaning
Keeping your pantry clean is key to keeping your food safe from pests and bacteria. Dusting your pantry should be done as frequently as you dust other areas of your home. Don’t wait until the dust is caked on!
Any spills, crumbs, and rotten food need to be cleaned up right away. Leaving these for a later time makes your pantry smell worse and invites pests to come check out the feast you’ve left for them.
Protecting Dry Goods
Dry goods like pasta, flour, and sugar are not always safest in their original packaging, especially if they have already been opened. Bugs are able to chew through plastic or paper bags to get to the food source. Store dry goods in clear plastic or glass containers for optimal organization. As an added layer of protection, add a bay leaf to each container to repel pests. Don’t forget to securely store pet food as well in a sealed container.
Storing Liquid Goods
Many liquid goods do not need to be refrigerated and can be stored safely in your pantry. For best results, these items should remain in their original containers, unless otherwise compromised. Many unopened liquid products, like molasses and syrups, can last indefinitely in a pantry. Once these are opened, consult the expiration date or watch for signs of separation or mold. Other products can be stored in a pantry until they are opened, like jams, jellies, and soda. Once opened these should all be stored in a refrigerator to maintain their quality. Honey, unlike other pantry items, can be stored indefinitely whether it has been opened or not. If the honey has crystallized, warm the bottle with hot water.
Storing Fresh Produce
Produce items like potatoes, onions, squash, and other root vegetables are safe to store in the pantry. The safest method for storing these is to practice a first in, first out (FIFO) method, where you are using older items first and putting newer produce to the back to be used later. For best results in storing produce, avoid direct sunlight and high temperatures as these can cause the produce to rot and mold quickly.
Pests to Look For
In keeping your pantry safe from pests, it is important to know which pests are common in pantries and where to look for them. Aside from ants, small beetles and moths are common pantry pests.
Sawtoothed grain beetles are about ¼ of an inch long and have light colored bodies with a dark head. These beetles are most frequently found in processed foods like cereal, pasta, flour, and oats. Confused and red flour beetles are found in similar place. Flour beetles are slightly smaller at 3/16 of an inch long and with red bodies. Other pests can be found in pet foods, spices, and sugary products like candy or dried fruit.
The best protection against these pests is prevention. Practice safe pantry habits with secure food storage and proper temperatures. However, if you have noticed frequent pests you can treat your foods by placing them in a freezer at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit for four to seven days.
A clean, well organized pantry keeps your food and family safer by protecting it from bacteria, pests, and other forms of contamination. If you are experiencing a pest infestation though, contact Edge to learn about some of our options for pest control in Longmont and surrounding cities.