Dried herbs and spices don’t go bad like other shelf-stable foods, but their flavor doesn’t last forever. As a general rule, whole spices (think cinnamon sticks or nutmeg) can last for three to five years, while ground spices and dried leafy herbs lose their savor after one to three years. If a toothsome meal is a high priority, remove old spices from your kitchen once a year, and when you buy new spices, consider marking the date of purchase on the bottom of the jar to make it easier to figure out what to jettison in your next pantry purge.
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It’s not uncommon for a can of beans or box of pasta to sit on the shelf, forgotten, until its expiration date has passed. While it's a shame to waste food, it's truly foolish to risk illness. Check the dates on all your food and toss whatever is too old to consume safely. Then, take a tip from grocery store stockers: When you purchase new canned or dry goods, put them behind what you already have on the shelf so you'll grab the oldest items first.
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Open Bags of Flour and Sugar
Bags of flour and sugar left open in the pantry will become stale quickly. Even less appetizing, if you're especially unlucky, your unsealed dry goods will get contaminated by pantry moths, rice weevils, or other creepy-crawlies. Purge any partial bags of grains and sweeteners that have not been properly sealed. Moving forward, consider storing these staples in canisters with an airtight seal to keep bugs out and keep ingredients fresh.
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When you saw it on special in the grocery aisle, that jar of pumpkin-flavored pasta sauce seemed like a great idea. But once you got it home, you just couldn’t summon up the courage to turn it into a meal. Here's the deal: If you haven’t used it in six months, you probably never will. Give your ill-advised buy to an epicurean neighbor with more adventurous tastes, and move on.
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Inevitably, the back of the snack shelf accumulates bags that each have a handful of corn chips or pretzels left in them. If you have no idea how long they've been there, don't give them a second thought—throw them out. No one wants to eat stale chips anyway.
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You have a great saucepot for gravy, but the handle came loose and the pot's been sitting on the pantry shelf waiting to be repaired for a year. Either fix it or forget it. And while you're at it, let go of all your scratched Teflon pans.
Mismatched Plastic Containers
There’s nothing more frustrating than ladling leftover soup into a plastic container only to discover you have no cover for it. Go through all of your plastic storage containers to make sure you have matching lids for each piece. If you find any orphaned tops or bottoms, throw them away to save yourself the frustration.
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While plastic storage lids always seem to go missing, other kitchen accessories seem to magically reproduce. If you've somehow ended up with two of something you need only one of—like a springform pan—get rid of it. Gift the extra to a friend, or take it to the thrift store.
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Tiny Amounts of Leftover Staples
A bag with two tablespoons of lentils is of no use to anyone. Unless it’s a staple that you use frequently, toss or compost leftover dry goods that aren't sufficient to make a full recipe. If the item in question is a staple, transfer the contents to a glass storage jar, then refill it whenever you stock up.
Things You Know You Won’t Eat
A few years ago, you ran across a sale on refried beans and stocked up. Now you've got the challenge of eating all of them before they expire. If you're not up to the task, surrender now and send the remaining cans to the food bank before they go bad.
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