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Prairie Fare: Cupboards Need Regular Sorting

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
Put your oldest food in the front so you use it first.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

The other day I flipped on the TV and came upon a show about hoarding behavior. A camera crew captured footage of someone climbing over a mountain of boxes, clothing and trash to get around his home. The piles were so high that his head nearly touched the ceiling.

The next time I opened my cupboard, I thought about that episode. I don’t like to waste food, but was I “hoarding” food that was lower in quality or potentially unsafe? I tossed a couple of things that were well past their prime.

Let’s take an imaginary trip through a cupboard. We’ll shrink a food inspector down to doll size so he can climb around in a cupboard. Our imaginary inspector, Ben, will accompany Sandy, a homeowner, through her cupboard.

“Hey Ben, are you ready for this? Sandy’s cupboard hasn’t been sorted in awhile,” I said as I looked into the cupboard.

“Let’s get to work,” Ben said as he crawled over some boxes and cans to the back of the cupboard. He turned on a flashlight.

Ben began to sort the canned goods and Sandy helped hoist the cans.

“Ben, these dates are really confusing! I write my date of purchase on the cans and packages of foods, but I don’t understand what the manufacturers’ dates mean. Some food packages say ‘use by’ and other foods say ‘sell by.’ This baby formula has an expiration date. What does this mean?” Sandy asked as she pointed at a date stamp.

“The sell-by date is meant for the store. The use-by date is a quality date. It’s the last date recommended for use of the product while it is at peak quality. The food may be safe to eat, but the texture and even the nutritional value may decline through time. You should not feed your baby any formula past its expiration date,” Ben replied, as he dusted off a can of mandarin oranges.

“How long do canned fruit and canned vegetables maintain their quality?” Sandy asked.

“Well, I see you’ve had these oranges for three and a half years. Acidic foods, such as commercially canned fruits and vegetables, are of best quality when used within 18 months. Low-acid foods, such as commercially canned vegetables and tuna, have a storage life of two to five years. Your oranges are past their prime and may have some flavor and texture changes,” he replied.

“How about my home-canned salsa from last summer” Sandy asked as she moved two jars of salsa. “Everyone loves it!”

“This looks tasty. To have a safe home-canned product, you need to begin with a safe recipe. Did you follow the recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture or your local Extension Service?” he asked.

“Yes, I did!” she said as she moved the salsa to one section.

“That’s good. We find too many people who experiment with home canning and that’s not safe. Home-canned goods are at their best quality if used in a year but are safe longer than that,” he noted.

“I haven’t done very much baking lately. How long are baking powder and cake mixes OK?” Sandy asked as she held a container of baking powder from 2005.

“According to the USDA, for best quality, store baking powder for up to six months in an unopened container or for three months after opening. Cake and brownie mixes are of best quality when stored for about a year on your shelf,” Ben noted.

“Sandy, I see bottles of bleach and dish soap. Be careful not to keep cleaning agents with food items,” Ben remarked as he separated the items.

“Oops. I ran out of space in my closet. I will move those!” Sandy noted.

“After grocery shopping, rotate your stock so you don’t lose track of what you have. Put your oldest food in the front so you use it first,” Ben noted before he jumped out of the cupboard with a jar of salsa in his arms.

“I have some tortilla chips in the other cupboard,” Sandy said with a laugh.

How’s your canned fruit supply? Try this tasty recipe. For more information, visit

Jungle Fruit Crumble

1 can (15.25-oz.) sliced peaches or fruit of choice, drained

1 can (15.25-oz.) apricot halves or fruit of choice, drained

1 can (15.5-oz.) pineapple chunks or fruit of choice, drained

1 can (8-oz.) tropical fruit cocktail or fruit of choice, drained

1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1/4 c. sugar

1/4 c. packed brown sugar

4 Tbsp. cold butter or margarine, cut up

1/4 c. shredded coconut

1/4 c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place the well-drained fruit in a 9-inch-square baking dish. Mix gently with a rubber spatula. Combine the flour and sugar, crumbling any lumps. Cut in the butter, using your fingers or a fork, until the mixture forms finer crumbs. Stir in the coconut and walnuts. Sprinkle over fruit. Bake until golden brown, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped topping.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 340 calories, 58 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 13 g of fat, 4 g of fiber and 77 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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