Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The importance of rotation

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?


The Scavenger said...

My wife is the same way about old food, one day past the date and it's out of here. I think we may all be guilty of not paying enough attention to the dates when storing food. I know I am. Good information, thanks for the reminder.


Hannah said...

Great post on food storage!
It depends on what the food is, and how out-dated it is. Usually canned items don't last long in my house, but just the other day I was baking something and used some powdered milk that was a month past due and it seemed to be fine. I wouldn't use it much past that, though.

We are in the middle of a "food storage rotation" series on our website - different ways to rotate food. There are many different methods and people should just find the one (or a few) that works best for them!


Marie said...

Chris--thanks for your comment. I think that what happens with me is that I want to get the cans/whatever the item is in storage and be done with it, never to worry about it again. Problem is, sometimes the food storage takes a little more attention than that. Fortunately, not a lot more, (besides eating it:) but I'm working on my rotation methods.

Hannah--thanks for your input. I will have to check out your blog--I need all the information I can find for improving my food storage. Thanks for letting me know about it!


Ron said...

I used to work in a grocery store, and we always put the new stuff in the back. As a consumer, of course, I always buy the stuff in the back so it's fresher.

Around here, there are salvage grocery stores. If one is not picky about dented cans or a couple of weeks past expiration date (at least for some items) they are a real bargain. I never saw stores like this when we lived up north though.


Marie said...

Ron--I actually read about one of those grocery stores the other day. I don't think I would be brave enough to shop there--but never say never. The prices did sound pretty good... :) Thanks for your comment.


riverwalker said...

I am at the point where my canned food storage space has about run out of room and will have to include more freeze-dried long term items. The wife writes the expiration dates in big letters with a black magic marker on all the cans and boxes - easier to read and make sure you are using older stuff first. Great post marie!



Marie said...

Riverwalker--That's a brilliant method by your wife--it would be a lot easier to see a date in big black letters than to search for the tiny ones they usually put on the ends of cans. It would save a lot of time for sorting and/or using storage. Thanks for your input!


Someone You Know said...


I would like to second Riverwalker's wife's method.

When I buy factory-canned food, I dig through the cans to find the ones with the longest best buy date.

When i get home the new cans go into the storage area, the basement, and the old food is brought upstairs and used.

I put an expiration date like 9/09 on the bottom of the can using a magic marker. The first number is the month and the second number is the year. This date is usually shorter then the recommended best buy date.

We usually store more wet-canned food then we can eat, so we actively donate to the local food pantries. This extra food is for family or if we need it for extended emergencies.

PS. Keep up the great blogging.

Marie said...

I like your method--especially the actually bringing the food up to use. I have my cans arranged according to date, but I still need to get more in the habit of taking the new ones to the shelf and trading them for the old ones. I also like how you work in helping other people automatically and make sure that the food they receive will not be close to expiration...
I looked at your website, and it is extensive! Wow. What a service to share your knowledge! Thanks for your comment--I appreciate it.