The Single Best Thing You Can Do for Your Pantry Right Now

published Sep 11, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Someone straightening cans in kitchen pantry.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

You’ve probably stocked up on more than your usual amount of canned and dry goods within these last 18 months. During those early toilet paper-shortage days of the pandemic, many of us rushed out to pick up all kinds of canned food to have on hand. Truth be told, we might have made just a few impulse buys, whether it was too many cans of tomato sauce or several boxes of Cheerios.

By this point, much of the food we stocked up on might be relegated to back corners and unreachable shelves — stuck behind the items we regularly use. While we tend to think of canned and dry food as having long shelf lives, these food items do (eventually) have expiration dates. In the end, they often have to be tossed and wasted.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

And so, with the change of seasons approaching, it’s a good time to get your pantry under control. Take inventory of what’s in there. Pull out anything that’s already expired, and take note of what needs to be used ASAP and what you have on hand that won’t need to be restocked anytime soon. It’ll take some time, but it’ll minimize waste and help bring space and tidiness back to your pantry shelves!

Credit: Sarah Crowley

5 Easy Steps for Cleaning Out Your Pantry

1. Remove all your food from the pantry: To really see what you have, you actually need to see all of it (yes, all of it!) in one place. Pull everything out, and set it on the kitchen table or the floor so that you can easily categorize.

2. Find expiration dates and sort: Examine each item for its expiration date. Sort items into four categories: items that are past their prime, items that are still good but you don’t think you’ll use, items you’ll keep but need to use soon or they will also expire, and everything else.

3. Categorize by type: Sort all of the items you’ll keep by type. Put the things that have older dates in the front when you stock them back in the pantry. This ensures that you’ll actually use them before they expire. 

4. Pack donations: Put everything that’s still good that you don’t think you’ll use into a box, and drop it off at your local food bank.

5. Dispose of expired food: The best way to dispose of expired food is to open it and dump the food out (either in the garbage disposal, garbage can, or compost pile), and then rinse and recycle the cans.  

How do you regularly take stock of your pantry and keep track of expiration dates? Tell us in the comments below.