Have you looked—REALLY looked—at the foods in your kitchen cupboards lately? Is it time to bid some foods a fond farewell? Should others be moved to a better location and/or storage container? Can you "revive" some aging foods so they still can be used?
Read on for tips to help you decide whether to toss, move or try to save common kitchen cupboard foods.
Storing Kitchen Cupboard Foods
The following storage tips are based on food stored at a room temperature of about 70° F. The times are those generally cited for maintaining best food quality. READ LABELS CAREFULLY—they often contain important storage information and recommended "use by" dates.
Baking Powder — 12 to 18 months or expiration date on container
Storage Tip: Store tightly covered in a dry place. Make sure measuring utensils are dry before dipping into the container.
Testing for Freshness: Mix one teaspoon baking powder with 1/3 cup hot water. If it foams vigorously, it still has rising power.
Baking Soda — 12 to 18 months or expiration date on container
Storage Tip: Store tightly covered in a dry place. Make sure measuring utensils are dry before dipping them into the container.
Testing for Freshness: Place 1½ teaspoons in a small bowl. Add one tablespoon vinegar. If it fizzes, then it will still help leaven a food. If it doesn’t fizz, use it as an odor catcher in the refrigerator.
Shortening — three to eight months opened; eight to 12 months unopened
Storage Tip #1: Store in a tightly closed container in a cool, dark place.
Storage Tip #2: Shortening stored too long will go rancid and develop an undesirable taste and odor. If you haven’t used a shortening for a while, smell it before using it.
Canned Foods — one to two years
Storage Tip #1: The Canned Food Alliance (www.mealtime.org) recommends eating canned food within two years of PROCESSING for best quality. Many cans will include a "for best quality use by" date stamped somewhere on the can.
Storage Tip #2: Avoid refrigerating OPENED canned foods in their can. Food can develop an off-odor from the can, once opened. Transfer to another storage container.
Spices and Herbs — one year for herbs or ground spices, two years for whole spices
Storage Tip #1: Air, light, moisture and heat speed flavor and color loss of herbs and spices. Store in a tightly-covered container in a dark place away from sunlight, like inside a cupboard or drawer. For open spice rack storage, choose a site away from light, heat and moisture. Keep moisture out of containers by:
• Avoiding storage above or near the stove, dishwasher, microwave, refrigerator, sink or a heating vent.
• Always using a dry spoon to remove spices or herbs.
• Never sprinkling directly from the container into a steaming pot.
Storage Tip #2: Refrigerate paprika, chili powder and red pepper for best color retention, especially in summer or hotter climates. Be aware herbs and spices can get wet if condensation forms when a cold container from your refrigerator or freezer is left open in a humid kitchen.
Give Spices and Herbs the "Sniff" Test: Depending on storage and quality of the spice or herb, some may last longer than others. As a check to see if a GROUND SPICE is potent, smell it. If its aroma is immediate, strong and spicy, it should still add flavor to your foods. For a WHOLE spice, like a clove or cinnamon stick, break, crush or scrape the spice before you smell it. DO NOT smell PEPPER or CHILI POWDER as they can irritate your nose. For HERBS, crush a small amount in your hand and smell it. If the aroma is still fresh and pleasant, it can still flavor foods. If there’s no smell or an off-smell, toss it. Get in the habit of smelling your spices and herbs periodically. You’ll learn what fresh smells like so you can begin to detect if they are getting old.
For a handout with this information and much more go the University of Nebraska Extension Service and their Food Reflections website at http://lancaster.unl.edu/food/CleaningCupboard.pdf.
For more information on food safety, food preservation or food preparation, call Angela Treadaway, your Alabama Cooperative Extension System Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety/Preservation and Preparation, at (205) 410-3696.
Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at (205) 410-3696 or your local County Extension office.