Now is the perfect time to revisit your pandemic pantry (and freezer!).

Last February, I was one of those folks who could sense that the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine lockdown wasn't just going to be a "no big deal" sort of thing. And as such, I was among the first in my circle to do a full stockpile in anticipation of things going sideways. I loaded in a houseful of staples, buying canned goods by the case, flour in 25-pound bags, and a freezer full of meat so that I knew that I could keep us fed even if supply chains totally broke down. As the crisis continued, I kept my larder full, even converting our basement laundry room into overflow pantry space.

But the good news is that while we certainly had some weeks where we were fed entirely on what I had squirreled away, mostly we have had access to fresh foods, and so our stockpile has not diminished as much as it might have. In the spirit of Spring Cleaning, it is also time to get into your pantry and storage and take stock of your own quarantine stockpile and make some decisions.

For cleaning your pandemic pantry, think about the four things you might need to do with what you find. I separate into four categories. Keep, Toss, Donate, Use.

What to Keep

These are the items that you know you will use and have expiration or best-by dates that are well in the future… think 2022 or beyond. As you go through these, since they will stay in your pantry or storage for a while yet, think about organizing them so that the items with the furthest-out dates are stored at the back behind those which will expire sooner, so that you are sure to use them in order of best quality.

What to Toss

I know it feels bad to waste food but be ruthless here. These are the items that can go right into the trash. Please do not donate expired items, as they cannot be re-distributed, so they will get tossed anyway.

  • Food that has expired or is several months beyond its best by date
  • Food that has been opened and not stored properly for maximum freshness
  • Products that show any signs of infestation or damage
  • Cans that are severely dented or bulging in any way
  • Frozen items you cannot identify or have clearly been freezer damaged
  • Items that have gone stale

What to Donate

Food insecurity is still a major issue in this country, so now more than ever, if you have non-expired new goods that you know you will not use, please consider dropping them off at a local food pantry or shelter. I bought a case of shelf-stable milk at the start of the pandemic in case we could not get fresh milk. Luckily, that was a situation that never arose, so I gave the case to a local restaurant that was putting together boxes for families in need. Maybe you got a case of canned beans and have only used one can, or you still have four of the five bags of rice that seemed like a good idea until you decided to go low carb for 2021. Look at your expiration and best-by dates, and if you know you will not use up all of what you have during its natural lifespan, be generous. You'll be glad of getting back some storage space, and someone will be able to eat, so it is a win/win.

If you have items that you know you will not use, but no easy way to donate to those in need, send a list to friends and neighbors to see if anyone can use them; they might have some goodies to swap!

What to Use Now

These are the items that need to be used soon enough that they should be in your kitchen in the regular rotation. Shift these into the storage you have for your everyday items, and make some menu plans to use them up before they go bad. Here's what to look for:

  • Opened items
  • Items with expiration or best-by dates within the next 1-2 months
  • Frozen items you know have been stored for longer than 3-6 months