The great pantry clean out

jars in pantry

Like any busy working mum, cleaning out my pantry isn’t high on my to-do list. A few flying insects that had a preference for dark places didn’t seem cause for concern. In fact, it wasn’t until my husband declared a household coffee crisis that the full extent of the problem was revealed. Not only were we out of coffee (gasp!), but we were also forced to acknowledge we had seventeen different types of tea in the house and an army of tiny larvae inching its way through the tea. Ewww. At first I was confused, because they weren’t traditional household fly larvae, nor were they blowfly larvae. A quick google search left me horrified – moths grew from larvae. And pantry moths are a situation. 

Having never considered the lifecycle of a moth before, it hadn’t occurred to me that they started their life as an egg and that these eggs are commonly laid in dry goods such as flours, grains and other cereals. The eggs quickly grew into cornflake-crunching creepy-crawlers, and bred in such numbers that my whole pantry almost needed to be boarded up in order to save my house. 

After I calmed myself down, I considered the many benefits of a proper clean out. 

  1. It’s a really great opportunity to make sure I throw out all contaminated ingredients. The contamination was depressing – not only was my tea collection infested, but so were the flours, cereal boxes, and many other odds and ends. They were everywhere! I threw out so much food. (Well, actually, I composted it, but regardless – the financial cost was enormous.) The clean-up really highlighted the need for me to find a better way to store and use up goods rather than just shoving them in the back of the cupboard. 
  2. I could use all of those empty jars I’ve been collecting as storage containers! 
  3. I could do a stock take! I found so many random ingredients in my pantry that I’d forgotten I’d even bought. The clean out gave me a chance to create an inventory of all the ingredients I had on hand, and I then spent the next couple of months diligently creating recipes around these ingredients. 

Three months on, I’ve identified transparent storage containers as being an integral part of avoiding a recurrence of pantry moths and in reducing food waste – in my glass jars, everything remains visible! I know exactly what I’ve got at all times, even if I’m not looking for it. The air-tight component also has the added benefit of keeping things fresher for longer, and if I do happen to bring home any more infested goods, they can’t get outside the container and into anything else. Win win win! Note: I use ziplock bags to seal up anything that isn’t practical to keep in a jar or container.

I identified that I need to get better at using things up. Because I’m time-poor, I find it easiest just to rummage around in the cupboard every weekend to remind myself of what’s in there. 

As a result, my pantry is now more organised, I’m more aware of what I have on hand, and most importantly I know exactly when I’m running low on coffee.

Pantry clean out tips

  • Pop any newly-purchased dry goods (such as flours, rice, or cereal) in the freezer for 48-72 hours to kill off any pantry moth eggs these products may be carrying to prevent new infestations. 
  • Reuse glass jars as storage vessels (large passata or coffee jars work well) or invest in some clear storage containers to keep everything visible. 
  • Don’t forget to label and date your flours or anything that looks slightly similar to any other ingredient. 
  • Categorising your goods by type – baking, condiments, canned etc – will make it easier to find ingredients. 
  • Install an “eat me first” basket where you place all ingredients approaching their use-by-date. Make sure you communicate this to your household so everyone knows where to go first when they’re hungry.

This article was written and shared by one of our Love Food Hate Waste subscribers. If you have an interesting Love Food Hate Waste story to share you can email us at lovefoodhatewaste@brisbane.qld.gov.au

Date posted: Wednesday, 6th March, 2019
Last updated:8 May 2019
Topics: blog green