9 January 2008

Storing food and dry goods - UPDATED

One of the many things you can do on your journey towards simplicity is to learn how to store things in a way that will stop them spoiling before you use them. It’s an important part of our philosophy to look after what we own.

When I lived in Europe I noticed it was commonplace for houses to have cellars. These were used to store potatoes, onions, garlic, jams, chutneys, sauces, beer, wine, seeds, flour and other perishables. If you have a cellar, make the most of it. It will provide an ideal place, with a consistent temperature, to store all manner of goods. In Australia, cellars are almost unknown and many houses do not have a large amount of cupboard space. The understanding being that goods will not be stored in the home, but bought continually from the shop.

Our home is a modest slab brick construction with an open plan kitchen and dining area. In the kitchen we have adequate cupboards and a pantry and just off the kitchen, in the dining area, we have a stockpile cupboard. There is a linen cupboard in the hallway and a freestanding cupboard in the main bathroom. Apart from wardrobes and dressers, they are my main storage areas inside the house. Outside we have a brick garden shed and a large storage shed and workshop.

If you don’t have a lot of storage space in your home you might have to look for unusual places to store goods. Under the bed is the obvious one and here is an article here about making an under bed storage unit. Look around your home and see if there are other places you could use - maybe under the stairs or under a table. I have a friend who made a fitted cover for her dining room table, which she rarely uses, and under it she stores toilet paper, tissues and rice.

While there are some exceptions like cheese and wine, most food will not improve in quality or flavour when stored for a period of time. You should store food when it still looks, feels and smells good. Most fresh food will be eaten straight away or stored in the fridge. If it's not eaten fresh the best form of storage over the long term are glass containers. Glass allows you to see what’s inside, it seals well, doesn’t taint the food and it’s a durable product, lasting many years. I have several sizes of glass containers with rubber seals. The seals have to be replaced every few years but overall they are a very reliable container.

Plastic containers are also often used for kitchen food storage. In my experience, plastic doesn’t seal as well as glass and you may sometimes get insect contamination using plastic. Plastic may also take on the smell of the food being stored, which may effect what you can store in it from then on. If you’re using plastic containers make sure you always seal them properly, ensuring a neat seal around the entire perimeter of the lid.
If you’re new to the home storage of food, work with the containers you have but as you buy more, try to get the large glass ones. You can also recycle old jars, I have several of these and they’re excellent, and you can buy glass jars from supermarkets, department stores and op shops.

Food in Australia must be marked with one of three date codes: “best before” date, “use by” date and “baked on” date.
Best before
When food is stamped with a best before date, it means that the food, if still in the intact package, is at its premium on or before the date marked. If the date has passed, the food may still be edible, but may not be at its best. Sometimes you will see best before food that has passed its date reduced for sale in the shop.
This indicates the end of the acceptable storage life of the food. All food that should be eaten within a certain period of time for health and safety reasons, will be marked with a use-by date. It is illegal to sell food after the date marked as “use –by”.
Baked on
This is used on bread that has a shelf life of less than seven days.

When buying food that will be stored for a while, always make sure the can or package is not damaged. When adding new items to your stockpile, always add to the back and take from the front. You need to rotate your stock so nothing spoils.

I put all the dry food I buy, like rice, flour, pasta, lentils, dried chick peas and beans, in the freezer when they are brought from the store. All my dried goods are stored in the freezer until I need to use them, then they are placed in a glass jar and put in the pantry.

I learnt the hard way that food needs to be stored correctly. A pantry moth invasion made me give a lot of grains
and legumes to the chooks. Never again. All you need to do is to work out what you have to store over a long period and find the right storage method for it. We're all different and your solutions may be different to mine but if you ensure your food and dry goods survive for long periods, you'll save money and reduce the amount you waste.

I didn't have the time yesterday to take new photos so I've just done that now. The photo below
shows the large jars I use. The two on the left and right are canning jars with rubber ring seals that are replaced every year or so. The jar in the middle was given to me by my son. I have several of these and they were originally used to hold olives. They easily hold a kilo (2lb 2oz) of sugar, flour, beans etc.

The bucket below is similar to what Niki is talking about in the comments. This is a 5 kilo recycled plastic bucket I use to store my bread flour. You can buy these, but I got mine free from the local baker who buys icing in them. They have a good seal and are great for storing large amounts of dry food.

If you find some of these food quality plastic buckets that have been used to store food, wash them out with soapy water, fill with water and add two cups of white vinegar. Allow it to stand for a day, then wash out again and rinse. That should get rid of any residual smells in the plastic.



  1. Hi Rhoinda Jean,
    Thanks for another Wonderful post.
    HAve agreat week.

  2. Cookie [biscuits for the Aussies :)] tins are great for storage. And I find that right after the holidays there will be many in the second hand stores for about 50 cents CND. Awesome for rice, pasta, sugar, chocolate chips, what have you. And they stack well too.

  3. HI Lib!

    Great tip, Maggie. Thank you. : )

  4. We don't have a cellar,but oh how I'd love one! The freezer remains my favourite food storage spot, although I have used large square 5 gallon Baker's plastic buckets with great success as well. These are food friendly plastic tubs and air tight. Our canning we keep in the basement in a room with the central heating vents closed and the windows blinded to keep out light, so it stays a relatively cool and constant temp.

  5. I love the idea (a previous one of yours) about storing flour etc in a chest freezer. I put everything in the pantry in containers so as to avoid creepy crawlies, but am always hestitant to buy more than what I need now of things that come in paper/cardboard packaging. This will solve that issue. Thanks!

  6. You got me started on stockpiling, Rhonda! I just restocked mine after all the holiday festivities. I love not having to shop every week.

    I am wondering what kind of glass jars you use with the rubber seals? Are they a preserving jar?

    I store sugar and other items in used coffee tins - they are large and seal well against ants. Many workplaces happily give them away. They aren't good at keeping out the humidity, so I made some little muslin bags filled with rice grains to absorb the moisture. I tie them off with a rubber band and throw them in the bottom of the tins before adding the sugar or whatever. This seems to keep the moisture in check.

  7. Finally a post, I know something about. I have a huge stand up freezer, that is home to 7 bags of bread flour. I just bought 3 large bags of pasta, that will be in the freezer for a couple of days. I just took out 10 lb bag of rice, that finally went into a empty jar, after being in the freezer for months.

    I am lucky I have never had a bug infestation.

  8. Another way to make your own under the bed storage is to use old dresser drawers. I cover them with scraps of cloth fastened with velcro, to keep the dust out. To make sure they slide easily, use recycled wheels (look on old dressers) or "sliders" that you can usually pick up at a home improvement store.

    I often find dresser drawers (with or without the dresser) on the curb on trash day.

  9. Here in New Mexico we have a lot of problems with insects getting into food. I tend to use my freezer and also glass jars that can be sterilized to store legumes and other things. For the dog food I use large well sealed plastic bins and ice cream containers to keep the ants out-I learned the hard way that ants really really like dog food!

  10. I am new to stockpiling so thankyou for this information. I recently bought a big bag of rice and bags of pasta as well as tinned veg, fruit and tuna. I was surprised to find none of these had Use By or Best By dates!? Would this mean they don't have one or keep for a very very long time? Also, would glass jars with screw on lids be sufficient? Many thanks for all your help.

  11. What a great post!
    I am glad for the explanations because I am trying so hard not to waste food...

  12. Great post about jars as i have so many but i just cant help getting more when i see a really nice one when we go to the thrift stores in town. I found some great jars when the thrift stores where clearing out their Christmas stock.

  13. I am working on getting glass containers for all my food storage. For some reason it never occured to me to recycle glass pickle jars and such. But I will from now on!

    I had a bad pantry moth invasion that kept coming back. Using glass canning jars seems to finally have kicked it.

    I have a question, do you think that spray painting the lids of jars would in anyway effect the food? Call me neurotic, but I like everything to have some sort of uniform feel.

  14. I use the jar method for my beans and lentils and such too! It is good to use and looks pretty too!
    Thanks for the post!

    My Cup Runneth Over...


  15. Hi Rhonda, got your email, as you can see. Love all your info, have been reading through many. I am from Wisconsin, USA, cold here now, our seasons too short for me. Love the garden time, and eating fresh. Used to do alot of canning, but is just hubby and me. Have 5 grandchildren, 3 marrried children of our own. Try to live simply, uh have too! ha! But is much more satisfying in general! Thanks for being here!

  16. niki, I use those plastic buckets too. I forgot to mention them. I'll do it in the update.

    Suz, I love your muslin bags idea. That is a great way of modifying something to suit your own conditions. Well done!

    Suzen, like you I haven't had any bugs since I started my freezer treatment. It's a great way to store dry food.

    Fabulous idea, Krista. Thank you for sharing it.

    Anon, I'm not sure where you live so I don't know the labelling regulations there. Usually tins/can and pasta have a "best before" date here. Whatever you store, make sure you rotate your stock and try to use everything within a year, no matter what the best before date says. You'll reduce wastage doing that. Regarding the lids, usually the screw on lids are sufficient, but it depends on your region and the bugs there. Check your stock each week to make sure nothing is emerging. Also be aware that sometimes you'll seal your jars correctly but still get bugs. That is because the bug eggs were in the bag when you bought them and they're hatched out. To stop that, put your dry food in the freezer for a few days when you bring them home from the store. That will kill any bug eggs.

    Lisa, like you, I find the op stops are a great place to find jars.

    Mama K, I don't know about spray painting the lids, but I have a feeling it's not a good idea. Paint is usually petroleum based and therefore wouldn't be good near your food.

    Glad you found me again, Cynthia. : )

  17. Where I visited in PNG earlier this year some people, including the nun in charge of the school for people with disabilities in the town I visited, used empty plastic paint buckets to store food...!!! They did keep most of the food in its original packaging and then store it inside the bucket but still. A very "okay I'm in PNG" moment there.

  18. If you go to http://providentliving.org/
    and click on "Family Home Storage" in the left hand column, it will take you to storage ideas. If you click on the "long-term storage" and look in the bottom right side, you will see a "food storage calculator". It will give you an idea of how much grains and beans you need to store to have a year's worth of supplies for emergencies.

    The website is free for all to use. Just click on anything that looks interesting to you.
    It has all kinds of ideas for being frugal in all areas of life. There are budgeting lessons and financial calculators. Nutrition and fitness info. There is an employment area where you can find resources for and about employment. Helps for addictions and even patterns to make items to donate to humanitarian organizations.

    By the way, I have a 55gal food grade drum a corner of my living room with water in it. I cover it with either a table cloth or a sheet and use it for an end table.
    Use four 5 gal buckets for the "legs" and place a nice board over them and you have a "coffee table". Do the same for an "end table". The boards can be stained/painted/polyurethaned or just covered with a cloth folded/cut to fit it.

    We have lots of bugs here in the Southern US, along with a lot of humidity.
    You can place crackers, cookies (biscuits), chips (crisps?), boxed cereals(Cherio's, Wheat-a-bix) or uncooked dry cereals(Oatmeal flakes, grits, pancake mix), cake mixes - even homemade ones - anything that would be shelf-stable on it's own in a canning jar and put a lid and ring on it and snug it down. No need to process - it doesn't need refrigeration. Instead, melt some paraffin wax, turn the jar upside down and dunk the top into the melted wax - all the way to a little past the bottom of the ring. You want the wax to be under the ring a bit to help make a seal with the wax. The wax seals out the air and the contents will stay crisp for a long time. When you're ready to use the food, peel the wax away (save it for reuse, reuse the lid too. It's not been "sealed") and open the jar. Food is still crispy and unless it's left on the shelf too long, tasty. It works!


  19. Sorry, should have explained better - I am from Australia and I had bought Coles homebrand foods and they do not have use by dates so presuming they will last a long time! Thanks for advice re jars.

  20. Just a thought: I buy those buckets brand new for $4 each at a local fishing pond. The little bait shop there sells them for storing your carp or catfish bait in, but they are great for everything! Much smaller and easier then the ones you find at paint stores.

  21. I use www.madetosimplify.com for storage on bulk food items I use daily/weekly.


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