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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Protecting Your Pantry Stores

Frugal Kitchens 101
When it comes to pantry stores at any given time you should have a one year supply. Take a good look at your pantry contents and do a quick calculate of the food replacement value if for some reason you lost it all. In terms of dollars this can easily amount to a couple of thousand dollars worth of food if not more depending on the size of your pantry. So it makes good sense to protect your investment as much as possible.

In general your pantry stores should be protected from excessive temperature fluctuations, light, rodents, insects, humidity and flooding. Ideally if you have things properly stored in your pantry none of these factors will influence your pantry stores. It is also a good idea to have some type of air circulation especially in larger walk-in pantries. Here's a few tips I use.

  • excessive temperature fluctuations - Your pantry items are best stored in a location where they will not overheat or freeze. Excessive heat can cause commercially canned foods to spoil quicker and home canned food to lose their seal. Freezing of either can cause the quality of the food to deteriorate. You want the storage temperature lower than room temperature but well above freezing. My pantry is maintained at an average 16ºC (62ºF) year round.
  • light - Light can be one of the most destructive factors for food storage. It will cause any food stored in glass to lose colour as well as deteriorate in both flavour and nutrition. Ideally storing foods in no light conditions is the best policy. However, a small amount of light will hit the food when you enter a walk-in pantry or turn on a light in the pantry or open the door on smaller pantries. Minimize this light exposure as much as possible. My pantry does not have a natural light source. If your pantry has a natural light exposure such as a window, black it out. You may need to consider air circulation so don't cover it to the point you can't open the window but make sure no natural light get into your pantry. If using additional lighting as I do, use the lowest lumins possible and only have the light(s) on when in the pantry. I use CFL bulbs for energy savings.
  • air circulation - Your pantry needs air circulation especially if it is in an area where mold/mildew could be a problem. There are several way to deal with this issue. In most cases simply opening the door to your pantry on average one a day should provide enough air circulation to the pantry. If you have a window keep it open just a crack enough for extra air as long as no light is allowed to enter. A small solar operated fan can easily be set up in your pantry or you could add an electric vent or HVAC duct vent into the pantry. At any rate keep the air circulation going.
  • rodents - Unless you live in very ideal conditions at some point rodents can and will be a problem in your pantry. If there is any sign of a rodent ever being in your house take immediate action to cut off its food supply. Don't leave so much as a packaged candy unprotected! Nip this problem in the bud before it ever happens. Every food item in your pantry should be in rodent proof containers. That means glass, metal or heavy plastic. Any food that comes into contact with the container should be in food grade plastic (5 gal pails, food containers). Check donut shops and restaurants for a free supply of food grade plastic pails and 2 gallon glass jars. Any food that you would like to keep in the original packaging should be stored in lidded plastic containers. Check the dollar stores for plastic shoe boxes which work really nice because they are stackable or Rubbermaid® style bins for packaged foods. Any fresh produce in your pantry should be stored in mesh lined containers that rodents cannot chew through.
  • insects - Insects that get into home food stores can be naturally occurring or introduced. The general rule for controlling introduced insects in things like rices, grains and flour is to freeze them before storing. Now this trick only works if you have the freezer space to begin with. I like freezing when possible and isolating these types of products in vacuum sealed jars so if there are any insects the infestation remains confined. This means dealing with any new products as they come in not letting them sit unprotected for even a hour but this method has kept my pantry insect free with respect to actual product. Depending where your pantry is located you will end up dealing with insects such as spiders, centipedes, millipedes, pill bugs, earwigs, ants and crickets. Do not be tempted to use an insecticide! Instead watch where the spider webs are and mark that location. Suck them up with the vacuum cleaner. Now go back and seal any crack you find as spiders always spin webs where there is a crack to cool their eggs. You have effectively removed one food source for the centipedes and millipedes. Go back and continue calking any and every crack you can find. You now have hopefully sealed them out.
  • humidity - Humidity issues can certain damage your pantry stores and that applies even to factory sealed items. Any of these types of food products should be stored in vacuum sealed glass jars. You can also add oxygen absorber packs for dry storage to prevent humidity problems. In many cases if humidity is a problem us a moisture absorber like Damp Trap in your pantry to help control moisture.
  • flooding - Foods stored in sealed glass jars should not be bothered by flooding other than having to wash the outsides of the containers. All food regardless should be stored in such a fashion that it is at least 3-inches off the floor. In addition to this you can place all foods in large plastic bins that will protect you for up to a good 2-feet of protection. Hanging some foods from rafters and on the walls will also serve for a bit of flood control

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