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Nov 13, 2011 12:58 PM

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 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.