Well, according to my latest poll, I am not the only one with canned food (in my case store-bought) as part of my food storage supply. At the point that I am writing this, 87% of those that have responded either have store-bought or home-canned food stored. Perhaps none of them have the same problem that I sometimes have--eating the oldest items first and saving the newer items for later, thus keeping them properly rotated.
My husband and I went down in the storage room last night and got part of it organized. Here's an example of my usual method of operation:
1) See an advertisement for a great sale on say, soup, (although some of those 10 for $10 are becoming 10 for $20 more and more consistently) and rush to the store on the last night of the sale.
2) Buy a little extra of perhaps another type of soup (or other item) that was also on sale, though not as well advertised. (As noted, those 10 for $10 sales are becoming more and more scarce--this method doesn't actually happen very often, so I have to take advantage of the prices while I can.)
3) Come home. Explain to my husband why I bought so much soup and/or insert other item here. (Fortunately, he's very understanding. :)
4) Fill my cupboards with new soup.
5)Take the remaining items downstairs to the storage room. (Or get my husband to do so. Yeah, he's pretty great. :)
On the surface, this system looks pretty great. Hey, I got what passes for a good deal these days, and I can probably hold out on the stored items until the next sale comes around, if everything goes right. I'm buying (and this is key) something that my family eats regularly anyway. I've checked the expiration/best buy date, and it is far enough in the future that I feel assured that it will last forever. Sounds pretty good, right?
True confession: I occasionally go down to the storage room specifically to look at my storage to reassure myself that it is coming along. Problem is, I don't always take some of the older cans upstairs with me when I go. I sometimes do #4 above with all of the new items and use them, then repeat, while all those food items downstairs that were going to last forever get older and older and older. This is easy to do because I forget, after checking the dates once, (oh, and I did mention that the storage room is downstairs, right? :) to check them again until I am actually in the process of using them. This (to my shame) is an example of poor rotation.
So last night, we went downstairs and tried to fix the problem. We did one area of canned items, and came up with one casualty--a can of soup that had its date run out more than six months ago. It is no longer on our shelf. We found others whose date is coming up. We are donating them to the local foodbank (which has indicated that it is also in pretty dire straits) long before that date arrives. We also unloaded some bags that were victims of the "drop the bag and run" syndrome down there, and are donating some of those items because we got a really great deal on them and feel it would be good to share--and those dates are the kind that bring up images of forever. Some of the cans will need to be used soon, and those have been placed on the shelf nearest the door for easiest access. The others are placed in roughly chronological order elsewhere, and hopefully we will do better in the future.
Like I said, we aren't done with our "weed out the old' expedition, and unfortunately, I'm sure there are more casualties to come. Some items come without dates, (at least some fruits and vegetables that we have purchased) and in the future, we will mark them with the purchase date in marker on the bottom so that we have some idea of how old they are. In our case, we can sometimes tell by brand when we bought them, because we are always looking for a deal, or buying at more warehouse-type establishments, which sell very brand-specific items. It would still be wiser to mark them with a marker and be sure of the purchase date.
Maybe none of you have this problem, and are more organized than I am. If so, I am impressed, because it is something that I need to work on. If you are just starting on food storage, rotation is something to keep in mind. Put your oldest items to the front, and as you buy/can new items, put them in the back of the rotation so that the older items are consumed first. Makes sense, of course, but it is human nature, I think, to do what is easiest, and just shove the new items in.
Just a note--I would be surprised if not one person who reads this were to say/think, "The dates on the cans are just guidelines. Even if the food gets older, it is still edible, it just has lost some nutritional value," because, frankly, I have heard something along those lines myself. Everyone has to make their own decisions on what they think is suitable to do with outdated food. I myself am a little weird about expiration dates and generally am of the mind, "when in doubt, throw it out." That's why I want to eliminate the possibility of outdated food on my shelves altogether. I just have to be more conscientious about my own rotation.
One final note on expiration dates--I will not donate those items that are outdated or have no dates that I know are old. I remember reading about (sorry, no source, but this was striking enough to me that I remember the gist of the story) someone (I think it was a woman) who was a recipient of donated food. She said that if you couldn't donate food to a food drive, she understood, because she herself couldn't. She just asked that people not donate outdated food because she had opened some and there were some nasty things inside and it was inedible. To find it yourself is one thing. To send it away to someone else who potentially has nothing else to feed their children or grandchildren, and have it be inedible, is something else, and I would hate to be the one responsible for that. I am donating some of the things we got at a fantastic price that have a good date, because we were able to get such a good deal. And because for some, the emergency is now.
Whew, long post, short point. Check your dates. Put canned items in chronological order. Put newer items behind older items as they are purchased. Use oldest items first. Repeat. All of which could be entitled, "note to self." So what's on your shelf?