Make food storage as efficient and accessible as possible by carefully considering your pantry space and its storage systems. Shallow slide-out drawers, narrow shelves and rollout cabinets keep canned food and other staples organized, while sliding wire baskets manage those hard-to-contain items.
General Food Storage Principles
Organize your family’s food supply for easy access. Cabinets with slide-out shelves provide space for spices, oils and other cooking items, and nothing gets lost when everything has its own place. Keep in mind that food storage isn't just a matter of convenience. You must keep your food free from contamination and spoilage. Factors, like temperature, air and length of storage time, affect food. Be aware of the date stamped on your food, and don't keep anything after it's expired. Here are some general rules:
- Store canned food in a cool, dry place. Throw it away if you don’t use it in a two-year period.
- Don't keep food in an opened can; transfer it to a storage container that's safe for the refrigerator. Eat it within two days.
- Use containers with clean and dry lids for staples, such as flour and sugar.
- Seal staples tightly and store them somewhere cool and dry away from light and steam.
- Throw away dried and ground herbs older than a few months. They'll have lost much of their potency. Keep herbs in a cupboard or freezer rather than an open rack to retain flavors longer.
Pantries come in many sizes and configurations depending on the room, your family’s needs and the space you have. You can build a pantry yourself or choose from ready-made models.
- Consider the size of objects you’re storing. You may need extra-tall or extra-wide shelves for some items.
- Divide the pantry into zones: baked goods, canned goods, appliances, boxed items and soft packets of food.
- Maximize an existing pantry by adding adjustable shelves. Customize the configuration to fit your family’s needs.
- Use shelving no deeper than 16 inches. Boxes and cans of food will get lost at the back of deeper ones. Rollout shelves are ideal for reaching the backs of your cabinets.
- Attach a tiered door rack on the back of the pantry door to increase storage capacity.
- Include some counterspace in the design so you’ll have a place to set grocery bags as you unload them in the pantry.
- Install a small, narrow pantry in unused kitchen space to make good use of space that would otherwise be wasted.
Bulk Food Items
More and more families are buying their food in bulk to save money. Bulk foods, like rice, flour and sugar, should be kept in clean, dry storage containers and away from sunlight. As soon as you get home, transfer items from their original packages to clean, tight-sealing containers to protect them from moisture and insects. Label each container with the name of the food, the date it was purchased and the recommended use by date. Store newer items behind older ones to ensure that you use the older products first.
Open Food Storage
Baskets, bins and the like allow you to group stored items together. Free up counterspace by using drawer bins instead of canisters for staples, such as flour and sugar. If you do a great deal of cooking, bins can be easier to use as well. These should have snug-fitting lids to provide airtight storage.
Vegetables, such as potatoes and onions, can be stored in drawers, although you’ll want to have air circulating around these foods to prevent molds and other unwelcome growths. Don't store different vegetables together.
Cold Food Storage
People don’t often think about their refrigerator’s space in terms of efficiency, but getting one that’s the wrong size can be costly in one way or another. A refrigerator that's too big for your family and doesn't stay full wastes energy and costs more to operate. If you buy one that's too small, you spend time rearranging food to make it all fit. In general, two people need about 10 cubic feet of fresh-food storage. Add another 1 to 1 1/2 cubic feet for each additional person.
Refrigerators are designed with a top-, bottom- or side-freezer compartment. Although top-mount units seem to be the most popular and traditional, items can get lost in the back of these freezers, and food on the refrigerator’s lower shelves can be difficult to see. A freezer on the bottom offers greater visibility and access because it has large, slide-out shelves that pull out, fold up and down or roll up and down.
If you buy in bulk, a freezer can be a good investment. An upright freezer, which offers easier access than a chest model, allows a lot of cold air to escape when it’s opened. If you have to use your freezer several times a day, a chest unit is more cost-effective.
Emergency Food Supplies
No one likes to think about disasters that sweep away everything, tear down power lines, contaminate the water supply and close down grocery stores. But they do happen, so it’s best to be prepared. Here are tips for storing emergency food and water:
- Include at least three days’ worth of water for each family member and pet. Provide 1 to 2 gallons of water per person per day for drinking, cooking and hygiene.
- Pack at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food. These should be low-sodium items that require no refrigeration, little or no cooking and minimal water. If you want to be able to heat water and cook some food, bring along canned-heat cooking fuel and a camp stove. Food should be compact and lightweight and include a selection of canned juices, milk and soup; ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, and vegetables; staples like sugar, salt and pepper; high-energy foods like granola bars, trail mix and peanut butter; and pet food.
- If you have room in your pantry, store these items there in a plastic storage bin. Otherwise, find a dry place in your home where you can keep these items sealed away.