7 Things You Should Never Do When Unpacking Your Groceries

published Dec 14, 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.
Post Image
Credit: Martin Poole/Getty Images

Whether you love grocery shopping or loathe it, most folks don’t particularly look forward to the process of unpacking and putting away the goods. After all, that’s not the fun part. (The fun part is getting to cook with and eat all the stuff you’ve bought!) But you can’t just leave all your groceries sitting on the counter until you’re ready for them!

And so, we spoke with two professional organizers about the mistakes people often make when dealing with the least-fun part of grocery shopping. The good news: You are freed from the requirement to transfer every last ingredient into a bespoke glass jar.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

1. Don’t wait to unpack them.

It’s happened to the best of us: We toss the perishables into the fridge, but then something else grabs our attention. We respond to that email, feed that child, fold that laundry, and next thing we know, it’s three days later and the bag of groceries still hasn’t made it to our pantry. Of course, half-full totes of food create clutter. But Sharon Lowenheim, a Certified Professional Organizer (who specializes in small spaces!), reminds us of another important reason we should unpack groceries ASAP: “Anything you leave sitting in bags will be forgotten, and you’ll end up buying it all over again.”

2. Don’t forget to schedule enough time for the chore.

You’ve allotted an hour for grocery shopping. But how much time did you schedule to unload the goods and put them away? “Because our lives are so busy and full these days, time is usually the culprit for things going awry,” says Robyn Reynolds, of Organize2Harmonize. She suggests creating a more realistic schedule for the chore, from soup to nuts.

Credit: Faith Durand

3. Don’t tackle the chore one bag at a time.

Even if you attempt to bag your groceries with like items, chances are that items will get jumbled together — especially if you pack them in a hurry, or use large bags. Instead of unpacking each bag individually, Lowenheim suggests emptying every bag onto your counter first. “Group items together by where they go,” she explains, then put things away. This will also eliminate the need to rearrange items in your snack cabinet multiple times.

4. Don’t leave your perishables out too long.

Lowenheim reminds us to “put away all the refrigerated and freezer items first.” While this may seem like common sense, we don’t always follow this advice, putting away milk, frozen food, meat, or yogurt as we encounter it, rather than in one fell swoop. Not only is this more time-consuming, but it can also result in food safety issues by holding perishable foods at unsafe temperatures. Another point: Opening fridge and freezer doors multiple times wastes energy.

5. Don’t ignore the FIFO rule.

First In, First Out: It’s a tenet of professional kitchens, and should be the motto in your kitchen, too. Lowenheim suggests putting fresh boxes and jars behind already open ones; this will prompt you to use up what’s already halfway gone, and help you eliminate food waste. If you have small cupboards, you could even put extra and spare items in a separate location, like a closet or a plastic bin.

Credit: Rochelle Bilow

6. Don’t worry about decanting everything.

We know, we know: Decanting is all the rage. It makes ingredients and snacks look pretty, and can help with organization. But Lowenheim suggests that it’s possible to go overboard. “I like to keep things in their original containers so that I know exactly what they are, what the portion size is, and what the expiration date is,” she says. Of course, transferring all of your food to jars or plastic containers can take up a lot of time, too. Strike a balance and follow Lowenheim’s rule: Only decant things that come in containers too large or bulky to fit in your storage space.

Credit: Lauren Masur

7. Don’t snack while you unpack.

It can be so tempting to rip open packages and do a little sampling as you unpack your groceries. But prematurely opening bags and boxes will jump-start their expiration process, and may even create more mess, points out Reynolds. So unless you’re decanting, keep that box of TJ’s cookies sealed until you’re ready for dessert!

Do you have any super smart tips that’ll help our readers be more efficient when it comes to unpacking groceries? Tell us in the comments below!