A well stocked pantry is a standard room in most American homes. Thanks to major advances in food processing, all sorts of edibles in cans, boxes, and packets have longer shelf lives, and thanks to larger homes, we have room to store all the things we stock up on when they’re on sale. Plus, having a full pantry is an enormous convenience; we always have staples on hand when we’re too busy to go grocery shopping, which means we usually don’t have to go to the store in order to prepare a decent meal.
There is, however, a definite line between a stocked pantry and and one that looks like it’s ready for an impending disaster or coming famine. Sure, it’s nice to be able to store a little extra food, but it becomes a problem when food gets stuffed into a pantry until it’s practically bursting at the seams. And even if we’re not quite at that level of hoarding, most of us still keep a lot of unnecessary items in the pantry — things we won’t use, things that are bad for us, and things that are just lingering on the shelves, taking us space and obscuring anything that’s stored behind them.
There’s no better time than the present to get rid of some of the clutter in your pantry and clear out the space. Here are ten items to remove from your pantry right now.
1. Any can or package that’s expired.
If you’ve got an overfull pantry, it can be hard to keep tabs on the many expiration dates on all your food. New items get purchased, older items get pushed to the back and forgotten, and it’s not long before you’ve got a dozen or more things that are past date. You don’t want to eat anything that’s more than a few weeks past their date; at best, they’ll have a muted flavor, and at worst, they can harbor mold that can make you sick. With expired food, it’s good to remember the age old mantra: When in doubt, throw it out.
2. Spices and dried herbs that are more than two years old.
Even if you’re storing your spices and dried herbs in a cool spot away from direct sunlight, they still have a limited shelf life. It’s not that they go bad, but they do lose a lot of their flavor. To avoid under flavored soups, sauces, and roasts, get rid of old spices and dried herbs. If you find that you just can’t use a full jar of, say, coriander or thyme in that time frame, buy smaller amounts in bulk at your local health food store.
3. Things you know you’ll never eat or use.
You may have been intrigued by that can of jackfruit at the Asian market last year, and the $1.99 price tag was too good to refuse, but be honest: are you ever going to try it? And what about all those cans of chickpeas you bought when you were on your Mediterranean food kick? If you know you’ll never use certain things in your pantry, there’s no use hanging on to them. Donate them to a local food pantry if they’re not past their use by date; otherwise, throw them away.
4. Tomatoes in BPA-lined cans.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is commonly used to line cans of food to keep the metal from corroding, but it’s also a known health hazard when consumed in large quantities. This is an issue in most canned food, but it’s especially problematic in canned tomatoes due to the high acid content, which pulls the BPA out of the liner and into the tomatoes themselves. The good news is that you can find tomatoes in BPA-free cans, but if you’ve got a store brand or a brand that you’re unsure of, it probably contains BPA. It’s not advisable to eat them, so you should get them out of your pantry.
5. Sugary breakfast cereals.
They’re bright and colorful and tasty, and kids sure love them, but they’re not exactly a healthy start to your day. They’re positively full of sugars and refined carbohydrates, and despite being fortified with all sorts of vitamins and minerals, a bowl of your favorite sweet flakes, puffs, or crispy squares shoots your blood sugar through the roof, then causes you to crash and feel tired and hungry again. Ditch the sugary breakfast cereals, and if you still want a bowl of something sweet in the mornings, try oatmeal with a drizzle of maple syrup instead.
6. Microwave popcorn.
It’s an inexpensive snack, and it sure does taste great while you’re watching a movie, but this pantry staple is a health disaster. It’s not the popcorn itself (that’s actually good for you) — it’s the weird oils that are used to create that fake butter flavor, and it’s especially the chemical used in the lining of the bag. Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been linked to all sorts of human health ailments, including cancer and infertility. Get rid of the microwave stuff, and if you love buttery popcorn, stock up on popcorn kernels from the bulk bin of your local health food store instead. To make your own, pop the kernels on the stovetop, then melt a little butter for that great taste.
7. Instant noodles.
Instant noodles may be a staple wherever teenagers and college students lurk, but there’s absolutely nothing redeeming about them, nutritionally speaking. They contain insane amounts of sodium — some as high as a full day’s recommended amount — and they’re little more than a bunch of refined carbohydrates and saturated fats. They may taste good, but they’re nothing but empty calories. Plus, if you choose the instant noodles that come in styrofoam cups, they make a lot of trash as well. Use the ones you have in your pantry if you must, but don’t replace them on your next trip to the store.
8. Cases of bottled water.
Bottles of water may be the ultimate in convenience and health — you never have to search for a water fountain, and you don’t have to drink sodas or juices full of either sugar or artificial sweeteners. However, bottled water just contributes to our excessive consumption of plastic; even if you do your best to recycle the bottles, many still get thrown away. Instead of buying more cases of bottled water, buy a high quality reusable water bottle and a home water filter. Your upfront costs may be a little high, but you’ll quickly come out ahead, and you’ll have that much more room in your pantry.
9. White bread.
Kids may love white bread, and it may last a long time in your pantry, but it’s pretty much devoid of any nutrition. Removed this refined carb loaf from your pantry and replace it with more wholesome bread made from whole grains or sprouted grains.
10. Cleaning supplies.
Your pantry is for food, and while it may be tempting to store things like brooms, mops, and bottles of cleaners in there, it’s probably not a good idea. Dust and dirt collects on brooms, and you don’t want to keep yours in such close quarters with your edibles. Bottles of glass, tile, counter, and floor cleaner can also crack when they don’t get used much, creating a mess that could possibly compromise the safety of any food you store nearby. Get these items out of your pantry and find another place for them; in a washtub under the sink is a good place for cleaners, while brooms and mops can be hung on a hook in a hall closet.