06 Jun 2015
The second component of good food storage is your storage facility itself. The goal is cool, dry, pest-free, good air circulation, and in the dark. Anything will last longer under these conditions. The enemies of food storage are pests, humidity, heat, temperature swings, and light. Even canned goods are affected by these things.
So how do we do this? Start with your kitchen cabinets. Look them over and see what you can to do better arrange them, cleaning them out of unwanted junk and sorting out your food by category as you go. Do this first as your cabinets are what you go to first and you see them every day.
For example, my kitchen has 19 cabinets. Eight of them are used for dishes, pots and pans, or other non-food items. All the rest are for food storage. This simple subdivision between perishables (food), dishes and glasses, and other things, will help make it easier to sort after washing, and also to find those rarely used items.
But first, let’s perform a simple upgrade. The major problem with most cabinets is that they’re too dark, making it hard to see in them in dim light, and they have cracks in the corners that could admit bugs. I sanded the interiors of mine, painted them with ultra high-gloss white latex enamel, caulked all the joints, and laid down on the bottom of each cabinet and on each shelf a layer of white sheet-vinyl flooring.
This is a big project and is best done either all at once, so you get it over with. It can be done one cabinet at a time as you work up the energy and enthusiasm, but I prefer the first option. We did it all at once in South Carolina, and it worked beautifully. Here, we’re doing it a cabinet at a time and, what a pain in the ass it is!
The caulking seals the corner seams making it hard for bugs to get in. The high-gloss white paint makes cabinet interiors less cave-like and easier to see into. It is also easier to clean. The sheet vinyl gives you a wipe-clean, padded surface to put things on that doesn’t stick to jars like a painted surface does. Since the vinyl is glued down with floor adhesive, it doesn’t get bugs underneath it. I hate shelf paper. I hate shelf paper. I hate shelf paper. Instead, cut white sheet-vinyl flooring to fit the shelf and glue it down.
The sheet vinyl flooring is especially nice in the cabinet under the sink. It makes it not only easy to wipe clean, it also makes the area waterproof.
When you have recovered from this evolution, do the kitchen drawers. They are tedious and fussy to do, much more so than the cabinets, but you know they will be pristine and fully functional when you are finished. As you go along, doing cabinet after cabinet, do any needed reinforcements to the corners of the drawers and other repairs.
This is a big job, but once finished, you will never have to go back and do it again. Unless you move to another house and have to start over.
As you’re doing the shelves and cabinets, it’ll also be possible to install ready-made cabinet organizers. For example, we modified a drawer to hold spices.
We found the plan in Martha Stewart magazine. After ten years, the drawer still needs to be painted, although it did get its vinyl lining. It is so much easier to know what to do than it is to do it. Most of my kitchen cabinets are in various stages of doneness. Sigh. So much to do, and so little time to do it in. But the drawer holds all my spices, easy to find, easy to use, and readily available without being exposed to light, air, moisture, and bugs. Over and around your stove is the worst possible place to put spices and herbs, closely followed by racks on counter tops and walls where they are always exposed to light, heat, and moist air.
Other miracle organizers need to be carefully evaluated. We installed a pull down knife block, a pull out cleaning caddy under the sink, divided a cabinet using panels to hold cookie sheets and other tall, skinny stuff, and a holder for tinfoil and plastic wrap.
It is easier to find useful organizers for things as opposed to food items. Organizers like this only work if you use them. If your organizers turn into trouble to use — everything has to be stacked just so — you won’t use them and they turn into another piece of annoying junky plastic.
The best way I have found to organize kitchen cabinets for food storage is to segregate like with like and to NOT mix up my dishes with my food. I keep my food storage over the sink and stove, and my dishes all together across the way.
One simple thing I did to free up cabinet space and make it easier to sort my dishes was to get rid of everything that didn’t stack nicely. I do not have a collection in the kitchen of souvenir plastic cups from every fast food restaurant and vacation spot. I do not have plates from five different sets of dishes nor do I have multiple cereal bowls that only stack if you arrange them just so. Get rid of all of that shit.
My Dear Husband (Hi Bill!) was given a service for eight set of dishes by his mother decades ago.
This was not a pattern I liked or would have chosen, but we had a lot of it. So I got rid of every single dish that wasn’t in that pattern and ordered from Replacements, Ltd. loads of plates, salad plates, and the missing completer pieces.
The only exception were the cereal bowls, which were of a poor, almost unusable design. Instead, I found a perfect design from Martha Stewart back when K-Mart carried her line. I bought two dozen cereal bowls in plain white. We use them all the time, and fifteen years later, we still have twenty of them. They stack perfectly and take up very little space.
I did the same thing with the glassware. We own two sizes of Anchor Hocking ‘Tartan’; 16 ounce ice teas and 6 ounce juice glasses. I got rid of everything else. No mis-matched glasses that don’t line up smoothly, none of those dreadful tippy plastic cups, no souvenir cups of any kind, no family pass-alongs. Get rid of them all. I LOVE Tartan glasses. They are heavy, non-tip, the ribs make them easy to hold and less likely to slip out of your hands, and they don’t want to chip or break. Hands down, Tartan is the best glassware I have ever owned, and we will never buy anything else.
We have a wide array of coffee cups (thrift shop and pass-alongs mostly). These get hung up under the cabinet using cup hooks to take advantage of dead space. I went through the serving dishes I had accumulated and got rid of everything that had to be stacked just so, paring down to simple designs that nested easily. I did the same thing with plastic food storage containers, canisters, pots, pans, utensils, and silverware.
All of this took time, effort, and money (especially to Replacements Ltd.!) but it made my dishes far more organized and accessible, so family members were more likely to put dishes away properly after washing them, AND, most importantly, it freed up valuable, limited cabinet space for better food storage.
Once your cabinets work better for you, then you can look into getting pantry storage worked out.
Next Week: Pantry Improvements