Purging Your Kitchen Cupboards

Hopefully, my previous blog, “Refrigerator Reminders” inspired to you to survey your refrigerator and purge the items that could be potential health hazards (like fermented salsa). Personally, my own salsa incident fueled a major overhaul of the places I keep other food items–primarily the pantry and kitchen cabinets. The following are tips to help you weed out the bad and perhaps, revive the current food items sitting in your kitchen cupboards:

Baking Powder and Baking Soda

Toss: After 12 to 18 months or expiration on box

Tip: Store in an airtight container. Don’t use wet utensils to scoop out contents.

Test: You can test baking soda’s freshness by placing about a teaspoon in a bowl then adding 1 tablespoon of vinegar to it. If it fizzes, then it is still good (meaning it will still help leaven food). If it doesn’t fizz, place it in the refrigerator where it will help neutralize odors.

Canned Goods

Toss: After about 1 to 2 years

Tip: The Canned Food Alliance recommends eating canned food within 2 years of processing for best quality. When in doubt, toss after the can’s “for best quality use by” date stamped expires. If you can’t find an expiration date you can call the company’s toll-free number (which is often listed on the can). They can usually tell how old the food item is by a special code listed on the can. Also, never refrigerate open canned foods in their can. Food can develop a foul odor from the can once its opened.

White Flour

Toss: After 6 to 12 months

Tip: Store in an airtight container and place in a cool, dry place. For longer storage, place your flour container in the refrigerator. All-purpose and bread flour will keep up to two years at 40 F in the refrigerator, according to the Wheat Foods Council. They can be stored indefinitely in the freezer.


Toss: After 3 to 8 months if opened; 8 to 12 months if unopened

Tips: Store in a tightly closed container in a cool, dark place. Shortening that has been stored too long will go rancid and develop a foul odor. If you haven’t used your shortening for a while, smell it before using it.

Spices and Herbs

Toss: After 1 year for herbs or ground spices; 2 years for whole spices

Tip: Store in a tightly covered container in a dark place away from sunlight, such as inside a cupboard or drawer. If you use an open spice rack, place it in an area away from light, heat and moisture. Air, light, moisture and heat cause herbs and spices to lose their color and flavor. With that in mind, never sprinkle spices stored in their original containers directly into steaming pots.

White Granulated Sugar

Toss: After 2 years

Tip: Store sugar in an airtight container. Properly stored sugar keeps indefinitely. If you find that your sugar has absorbed too much moisture and is starting clump try these softening tips:

· Place clumped sugar into a study Ziploc bag and pound it with a hammer or the flat side of a meat mallet.

· Smash smaller pieces with a mortar and pestle. Or place in a bowl and crush them with a fork.

· Break up small pieces in a spice grinder.

Vegetable Oil

Toss: After 3 months opened or 6 to 12 months unopened

Tip: Make sure the oil bottle’s cap in on tight and store in a cool, dark place. Oils with shorter storage life spans include walnut, sesame, hazelnut and almond oils. If you haven’t used the oil for a while, smell it before using it in a recipe. You can prolong the life of oils by storing them in the refrigerator. Don’t worry if the oil (especially olive oil) becomes cloudy. It will usually clear up as it warms to room temperature.

Once you have completed your purging session, go through the items that you are planning to put in the trash. If you find that you are tossing a lot of unused portions of expired foods, buy a smaller container next time.

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Michele Cheplic

About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.