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Cleaning out your pantry -- what do usually have to toss?

I just spent two hours doing my pre-holiday pantry reorganization, and actually didn't have to get rid of much this time. Here is what I threw out:

- Unopened can of Crisco, date undetermined (years, I think)

- Old unopened squeeze bottle of deli mustard (looked too dark to be good, no date)

- A couple of opened cooking/cake icing spray cans

- One bag of brown sugar that had hardened to the texture of concrete

- Some microwave popcorn packages that were past date

- Two unopened cans of Wolfgang Puck soup. I never did try any of them, and they were long past their expiration dates

All in all, not bad when you consider that I last cleaned it out about a year ago.

Does this seem like too much to toss, or are you even worse at keeping tabs on what you have in your pantry than I am?

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  1. Why toss things like the unopened can of Crisco, soup and mustard, as well as the unopened pkg of popcorn? Those are nuclear fallout shelter foods. Will outlive the cockroach species.

    Brown sugar can be revived with a quick twirl in the micowave at low temp, or put together in a plastic bag with a slice of bread.

    13 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Well, I really don't use Crisco anymore, and this was OLD. I also have plenty of brown sugar that wasn't hardened, so it really didn't seem worth it to try to revive it, so for these two items, it was more a clearing out of stuff I would prefer not to use.

      On the canned soups, these were close to a year past their expiration date. If I were in a nuclear shelter, I would probably have consumed them, but I couldn't rationalize any possible risk with such a long past expiration date. Don't canned goods eventually spoil, or are the dates there just manufacturers' suggestions regardling quality?

      1. re: RGC1982

        Canned goods, in a stable temp and with the can undamaged, will not spoil.

        Quality may degrade, but completely safe to eat after expiration date.

        Please don't take this the wrong way, and I don't mean to be preachy (because I hate it when others do it), but I would've donated those items to a food pantry.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          The food pantry would have tossed them.

          Similar to you, I and the OP, they will not serve nor pass out expired items. It is always best to give a food pantry cash or gift cards so they can purchase 'fresh' foods.


          My pantry toss is very little; I rearrange-into a different cabinet about every 6 months. That keeps me up to date because I make sure to put the older dated items at the front and combine other/half used items.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            unfortunately, ips, a lot of pantries won't take stuff that is past its sell by -- there was one where I lived in Florida that wouldn't take anything that didn't have a sell-by, either.

            My 'toss' list usually ends up being 1/4 cup of a half-dozen bits and pieces of all kinds of things -- breadcrumbs that even *smell* stale, a tiny bit of pasta that isn't even enough to feed one person (but yet in a shape that won't cook with any other shape I have...) I figure if I can't remember when I bought it, it's probably time to toss it.

            1. re: sunshine842

              Cathy and sunshine842,

              The food pantries that I know would've taken them and used them.

              But again, we digress. OP was asking about cleaning out pantries, not about what can or should be donated.

              Sorry for the digression.

            2. re: ipsedixit

              ipse, I think we ought to give the food pantry people the benefit of within-date goods. It happens that they get a sh*t-ton of food that's past its sell-by date, I would rather give them something that they can get a little nutrition from. My community food bank is way down this year, they say by a million pounds. I hate it, and will up my ante to the food bank as much as I can. Because I hate that people in my city are going hungry, and they are.

              1. re: EWSflash

                Here's the thing. An "expired" can of soup is as good as the day it was canned. I would eat it without giving it another thought. Why is this "expired" can not good enough for a pantry?

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Because of the shitstorm that will erupt if one underprivileged person becomes ill after eating out-of-date soup that is traced to a pantry.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    In addition to the liability issue if someone becomes ill, it was explained to me that there are exponentially more people joining food pantries and many are embarrassed as well as frustrated by their personal situation. It is -or would be- disheartening to be handed a bag of all expired goods which nobody else wanted. {I live in feel good, litigious California.}

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      You're right, ipse, but it's the shitstorm they're afraid of, so I don't want to help fuel that fire, and I'll even admit I don't like the way it makes me feel to give out-of-date food to the food bank.

                  2. re: ipsedixit

                    Okay, so I've let a few days go by without responding to this directly. Frankly, I needed to. The food pantry discussion is off topic, but it does open up an interesting additional thread, so I decided to take the bait.

                    I know that you don't intend to sound "preachy". However, I have one important question to ask you:

                    If I feel that the out of date food items are not good enough to feed me and my family, why would I want to donate them to people who are in need? Don't you think a better approach to this is to donate good food that is at least what you would feel good about eating yourself? Sorry if I now sound preachy, but this whole thread about how poor people might enjoy past-date food when I have deemed the food not good enough to feed myself seems to highlight a flaw in this reasoning. If I am going to donate to a food pantry, I usually participate by buying one of those "grocery bags" of recommended items that the supermarkets sponsor during the holiday. Or, I cook something fresh if that is appropriate (many meatloaf dinners at my church). Sometimes we just give money.

                    I realize that you simply must not like to waste food, and I get it. Shame on me for not managing my pantry inventory more efficiently -- which was the point of my OP. But I really can't go along with the idea of giving things I think should go in the trash to someone else to eat when I can donate things that are not, IMO, of questionable quality.

                2. re: ipsedixit

                  I once had some Crisco that was really old, I had forgotten about it for years, and it had turned color and gone rancid. I would have thought it would last forever too. I am much better at monitoring my pantry nowadays, very rare to throw anything out. I have a list so I don't forget things anymore!

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I can tell you that microwave popcorn will eventually go rancid too-- I popped some about 5 mo. after the expiry and it had definitely gone bad.

                  2. Everything in bags or cardboard box I forgot to put in plastic containers, first cold snap the damn field mice get into it, tried everything, they still get in.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                      At my old house one time I opened the oven and a mouse popped up and then ran back down behind. Oh great. That was one massive cleanup, there was mouse evidence on nearly everything.

                    2. I used to have an organized friend who came to visit once a year. Off I went to work and came back to find my kitchen cabinets organized. Not only that but organized in a meaningful and comprehensible manner. Alas, the friend got married 3 years ago. Unless I can engineer a divorce I fear for the contents of my pantry. I definitely think things should be tossed out when the can rusts through or the bugs eat through the packaging. Other than that, anything so old that you don't know why you bought it or who gave it to you.

                      things that go stale are probably first on the list. those butter cookies from 3 years ago, or that box of cereal that you never got around to trying. Do they make that anymore? Maybe I can put it on e-bay? Next should be those things you are never ever going to use. That glass jar of maraschino cherries that have turned an odd shade of brown, or that tin of pickled herring that aunt ester brought back from an 'eastern block' country (before the wall came down.)

                      never mind, i think i'll work on emptying the wine rack instead.

                      1. For me it's inevitably the humidity that kills stuff, rather than expiry dates. Ground nuts and some herbs and spices go moldy after a while (paprika and dill are particularly bad), as well as things like dried seaweed or breadcrumbs.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                          ground almonds go funky in a dishearteningly short timespan, too.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            Nuts need to be stored in the freezer! (at least in my experience)

                            1. re: sandylc

                              My freezer is roughly the size of four shoeboxes stacked 2x2. There simply isn't enough room to keep anything other than stuff that MUST be frozen. (typical in Europe)

                              The nuts in my pantry are kept in the dark next to the stone exterior wall -- keeps them quite cool -- but the ground almonds go bad breathtakingly quickly...so I now just buy them when I'm planning a recipe to use them.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Makes sense. My sympathy on the freezer!

                              2. re: sandylc

                                You're right, and I live in a desert that isn't that all-encompassingly hot. miserable kind of desert- usually. But nuts oxidize quickly, and need to be stored cold.

                          2. UHT (High-temperature preservation) milk? Yeah -- pay attention to THAT expiration date, because it will turn to funk very soon thereafter.

                            1. Preserved food can survive a lot longer than people think, especially canned goods,
                              canned food, kept dry and cool will last indefinitely.

                              Saturday lunch I had a pack of Korean Noodles that were 3 years old and deliciouse.

                              Saffron, a gift from Spain is 10 years old and still livens up my rice occasionally.

                              On my military web there are reports of packs of WW!! rationsstill being in good condition, and the cigarettes were a treat

                              1. Funny, I just emerged from my pantry! We either had a huge earthquake or an infestation of pantry monkeys... everything was jumbled up and threathing to fall on the floor.

                                I used to chuck way more than that. Then I read about a gal who cleans a corner of her house every friday night. I skipped the friday night part, but do check one or two shelves in the pantry and/or fridge the day before garbage day. Sometimes I just do it while I'm searching for a snack. In under 3 minutes old food can be dealt with and the shelf wiped of crumbs/spills. No pantry foods are more than 2 items deep on any shelf. If something is a few months from expiring and I know I won't use it, I bring it to the library food donation bin on my next trip. Lock & Lock is now my BFF ;)

                                Keeping tabs on it seemed impossible at first, but doing it once a week one shelf at a time is so easy. So far this year I've let go an old can of tomatoes, chicken thighs I defrosted then wasn't here to cook, and a moldy block of cheese that was hiding in the back of a drawer in the fridge--some things slip through, but not many.

                                For a year's worth, sounds like you chucked very little. Frankly, you sound much more on top of things than most people I know. It bothered me to throw out money, so I figured out a system that works for me. Some of my food organizing now gets done in the grocery store, figuring out if I will really ever eat something. But forget the food, my problem is all these plastic lids floating around my pantry!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mlou72

                                  Good points! I find that shelves that are not very deep are the best, so that you can see everything easily, which will make you more likely to use everything. If you have deep shelves, store large things on them so things will be less likely to become buried.

                                  Keep things like whole-grain flours and grains in the freezer. Nuts, too. Make sure you package them well to avoid leaks and freezer burn. I keep large and small glass jars of grains and flours in my freezer. If I use a certain type of nut frequently, I keep a quart jar of it in the fridge.

                                  Use fewer canned and packaged products. They won't all get lost in the shuffle, and your food will be of better quality and healthier for you, as well as tastier.

                                2. just did this; flour, baking soda; Raisin Bran; and a bottle of cooking oil AND dry bread crumbs

                                  1. Only thing I've found lately was an expired carton of turkey gravy that I clearly bought for a holiday meal *last* year. I trashed it.

                                    I have a can of red beans and a bag of rice flour because I want to make my own daifuku. But the store where I bought the rice flour has since gone out of business so maybe I should concede that I'm not going to bother...

                                    1. I clear out the pantry of canned items every year around this time for food drives, this way I know I’m wasting as little as possible.

                                      My husband sometimes buys things which are, well “odd” to me. Not that I don’t ever eat these things, but they appear in my pantry for no apparent rhyme or reason

                                      Donated a few cans of pineapple rings, some baked beans, a box of pancake mix some cans of corn and green beans and a jar of spaghetti sauce

                                      Things I’ve tossed: two boxes of cereal with basically just crumbs in the bottom of them, a box of water crackers from, goodness knows when, baking soda, an open box of bisquick, envelopes of “beef stew mix” from McCormick that had been in the house since before my husband and I met (I’m talking ten years old, I don’t know how they escaped me this long)

                                      I will toss dried herbs and spices if they’ve been in the pantry for a very long time, some may say it’s wasteful, but I’m not going to ruin a good dish by using old, dead spices in it.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: cgarner

                                        Not wasteful. I buy spices in bulk from the gourmet market in small quantities. It forces me to buy fresh spices several times a year. I use all of my spices for the most part, so none have a chance to get old.

                                        Old spices lose flavor.

                                      2. There is a big, undated can of snails in my pantry that I am too afraid to open but unwilling to toss.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: FoodPopulist

                                          We were given some leftover items from a pantry of an elderly gentleman who had passed away. Two cans of snails of an indeterminate date included. Those went in the trash right away. We did keep the coffee, chili flakes and other spices as they were fresh.

                                          The cans of snails for some reason made me think of Charles' canned pheasant on M*A*S*H. I was imagining getting deathly ill from them.

                                        2. I'm usually pretty good about rotating our pantry, but the "emergency meats"- spam, vienna sausages, etc.- I usually do end up tossing if they get past their expiration dates because we wouldn't eat these things EXCEPT in an emergency.
                                          The canned fruit that's still good I either eat on cereal, or use to make an upside-down cake or fruit salad (with fresh fruit added). The canned milk can be made into tres leches cake, or I can check onto the Carnation website for ideas of what else to do with it.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Michelly

                                            I almost never end up using the canned milk, so I do end up pitching that on a regular basis. It almost seems to have a short shelf life. Is there really long life "long life" milk available?

                                            1. re: RGC1982

                                              Not that I know of -- the UHT milk (Parmalat or other packed-in-a-brick) has a limited shelf life, and it WILL go bad if you go too far past the date.

                                              1. re: RGC1982

                                                Dry/Powdered milk doesn't go bad. I get the Carnation brand in packets and no critters can invade. Each packet makes 1 quart.

                                            2. I don't usually throw out much pantry stuff as I generally only keep things I plan to use in the next couple of weeks save for bulk white and brown rice and quinoa. When I do toss, it's usually when someone puts a box of cereal in that has maybe 1/4 cup left or something like that. Sometimes, I will buy a prepackaged snack food that I end up not liking, so I take that to work and it gets eaten. Other than that, I never have to throw stuff out.

                                              1. When I toss things, it's normally because they weren't put back properly. For instance, dried figs/dates left kind of opened that since hardened and had any moisture left in them sapped.