How To

Spring Cleaning Your Pantry For Maximum Food Savings

As you prepare for spring-cleaning this year, think about giving your kitchen food storage a major overhaul.

Americans throw away a quarter of the food we buy, and a lot of that problem comes from poor food storage. It’s easy to forget about the leftover salmon that’s “out of sight, out of mind” in opaque containers in the fridge, or miss the best-use-by date on the canned soup that’s good for years, just because it’s wedged in the back of the pantry.

All that waste adds up to $2,200 a year, which seems like incentive enough to spend a few hours cleaning and reorganizing your fridge and pantry. We asked home organizers, chefs, and other experts about the best tactics for a cleaner, better-organized kitchen:

Start fresh.

“Before reorganizing, clear everything out of the fridge or pantry to clean the space,” says Allison Flinn of reclaimnc.com. Clean your kitchen appliances: vacuum out food bits, then wipe down shelves and scrub the fridge. Starting with an empty, clean space can help you better decide how to organize.

Weed out expired foods.

“Check the sell- and use-by dates on everything,” says Regina Leeds, a.k.a. ‘The Zen Organizer.” That includes the freezer, too. “The biggest mistake people make is to believe that ‘frozen’ equals ‘forever,” she says. “It doesn’t!” Don’t automatically toss expired foods, though — many food banks will still accept them.

Group like with like.

“You’d be surprised at what is already in your cabinets and also by what isn’t in your cabinets,” says Russell and S. Perez of “The Professionals,” He says, “While organizing one of our last clients’ kitchen, cabinets, and pantry, we found nearly one dozen containers of salt — table, iodized, and sea salt — all with duplicates, some in triplicate.”

Not only does storing like things together eliminate the chance of over-buying, it can also be a timesaver, since you’ll know just where to look. All the cereal will be in one area, spice in another, and so on. Adding upright shelf dividers can keep items from “migrating” into another category’s space.

Use bins.

In the fridge and freezer, they can actually increase storage space, says Leanne Ely of savingdinner.com.” She says, “I put like with like. Lemons in a tub in the crisper keeps them piled neatly and available, for example.” In pantries, bins can serve as a collection point for loose snacks and bagged items.

Invest in clear containers.

For fridge storage, flat, square containers are easy to stack, says Prerna Malik of themomwrites.com. Clear ones make it equally easy to see what’s inside  — which could prompt you to use more leftovers. In pantries, clear storage containers made of glass or plastic can keep out bugs, extend the shelf life of pantry staples and make it easier to buy others in smaller quantities from the discount bulk bins.

Level up.

“Put the most-used items on shelves at eye level,” says Cynthia Cunningham of absoluteorganization.com. You might also put the least-used items in one section at eye-level, as a reminder to use them before they expire.

Label, label, label.

“Make a note on a package of when it was purchased and opened,” Cunningham says. That will help you keep on top of items that have gone bad or, in the case of spices, lost their flavor. Malik likes wipe-clean labels, which can be affixed to storage containers and reused.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie http://www.twitter.com/mintfoodie.