Stocking Up Your Pantry: Yea or Nay?

Frugal Dad‘s How to Stockpile Food for Survival post unintentionally made me giggle. Before reading the full post, I started thinking about the pseudo grocery store that is my in-laws’ basement. Half of the area is comprised of all manner of cabinets — if it could hold food, it was installed. So what they wound up with is a ragtag bunch of cabinets, drawers and pantries.

In one cabinet, beans. Arranged by type — cannelloni, kidney, navy, pinto, black — you’re likely to find any of those in there. Another cabinet is full of condiments such as mustard, ketchup and many salad dressings. Then there’s the potato chips, pastas, sodas, teabags, cans of crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. They’ve got sundries, too: A seemingly never-ending supply of paper plates, cups, paper towels and toilet paper.

If Armageddon arrives anytime soon, they’ll be ready for it.

But what about expiration dates? On more than one occasion, we’ve brought up a salad dressing or a ketchup bottle from the great beyond and I’ve noticed that the expiration date had since past. Usually, it’s only by a few months, but it still unnerves me. Another family member has cabinets full of canned goods, some of which are far past their expiration dates.

Does this mean stockpiling goods is a bad idea? Not necessarily. There’s a difference between hoarding and legitimate use.

When It’s Worthwhile To Stock Up on Canned Goods (or Non-Perishables)

1. Use coupons to get your deals. If you can get 10 cans of tuna fish for pennies on the dollar, why not? Folks who do extreme couponing tend to take this a bit too far, but if you will use your pantry stock within a reasonable amount of time, it’s worthwhile. Donating extras to a food pantry or a women’s/homeless shelter is even more noble.

2. You buy within reason. Just because you can get 50 bottles of mustard for $5 doesn’t mean you should buy them for your fallout shelter — er, I mean, pantry.I’ve learned that it’s better to have that extra bottle of ketchup in reserve just in case I run out in the middle of consuming my favorite sandwich — taylor ham, egg and cheese on an English muffin — which I first drown in ketchup and then accentuate by adding another dollop of ketchup on the plate next to it for dipping.

As Frugal Dad added, rotating your stock so that the items with the latest expiration dates are in the back is ideal — you’ll use up the stuff that’s closest to expiring first. Also, if you see a can is bulging, DO NOT USE. It could be tainted with botulism. In this case, when in doubt, throw it out!

In the End

We have a small pantry closet in the hallway next to our kitchen. Since it’s just me and Mr. Saver, I don’t go overboard on buying “extras.” We have 2-3 ketchup bottles, 4 mustards, 2 peanut butter jars, 3 boxes of the tea I favor, an extra ranch dressing, a few small bags of brown rice, a half-dozen cans of crushed tomatoes, 4 cans of diced tomatoes, 3 cans of black olives, numerous bottles of Frank’s Red Hot and reduced-sodium soy sauce, random cans of turkey chili, salsa and enchilada sauce, and an extra bottle of the cranberry/pomegranate juice we like. And there’s the extra 16 rolls of toilet paper, 4 boxes of tissues and about 8 rolls of paper towels.

I have yet to throw anything out due to it being past the expiration date. In fact, if it were up to Mr. Saver, I’d have much more foodstuffs stockpiled, but for the time being, I think we’ll be just fine.

Do you have an overstuffed pantry? Have you checked the expiration dates lately?

24 comments to Stocking Up Your Pantry: Yea or Nay?

  • Helen

    If the date is “best before” then the item is still good. Those dates are just a way to make you think you need to buy more.

    Open it, smell it, taste it and see if it’s still good. If you’re throwing it away, you don’t know if its good or not.

    Here in the UK the dates on things are “use by” or Best before.
    Use by, I would throw away, but Best before, I would check first.

  • I think your point about donating to a food bank or women’s shelter can’t be emphasized enough. It’s not only fresh food that can wither and go to waste, but canned food too. Moral of the story: buy what you can consume and give away anything you can’t manage on your own, no matter how discounted the price.

  • I’m a pack rat and I’m a recovering penny-pincher, so when I look at an expired can of soup, I am in a quandry.

    To throw it away goes against my cheapskate grain, but to eat it is scary, too. Especially when I look at another can that has an expiration date that’s 2 and a half years away.

    I think, wow, that expired can is AT LEAST 2 and a half years old, so I ask myself, do I really want to chance eating a can of soup that’s that old? Not really, right?

    Well, I’ve taken both paths and I don’t like neither one!

    Once I chose to eat it, and all the way through I’m smelling and thinking and hoping I’m not going to die!

    And I’ve taken the route of throwing it away, and that hurt’s too, so it ends up being a game of mental ping pong, back and forth.

    Luckily, about two weeks ago I found an answer for future purchases. I found a gourmet food processor who makes survival food designed to last for 15 years and the really surprising part is, the food is as good as restaurant quality, if not better.

    Now I just need to resolve all those past purchases, sitting there in my pantry, screaming at me.

    The thing to remember is, life ain’t too bad when the choices have to deal with too much food in storage. That’s better than being without, so life is good, and I’m not complaining.

    Kurt Gross Knoxville, TN USA

  • I would agree, stock up within reason. don’t buy 14 bottles of ketchup because it was on sale. That is overkill.

  • I have a nice size pantry, and like to stock up when an item is on sale.
    There are some sales that prompt me to really get some quantity. Dove soap 3oz bar. Normally $1.49. When CVS had a crazy deal, 8/$10, but spend $20 get $10 extra care buck, and I had $4off$20 coupon, before you know it, I had 32 bars for about $12. I took the very limit the deal would allow, as the % savings was well worth it.
    When a similar deal hit at the supermarket on Progresso soup, usually $2.49 or so, but 75cents after the discount, coupon etc, I really stocked up. (empty space was for missing tuna).
    I agree, one has to watch the dates, and rotate stock – not tough, new purchase goes in back of existing cans/bottles. Half price anything frozen is no deal when you realize it’s 2 years old and gross. Step 1 for me was to learn to write the date with a sharpie on the bag and suck the air out with a soda straw. Organize the freezer in a way that’s easy to track old to new. I have a standup, full size freezer in basement, and a few shelves look like files, flat food (chicken breast, steak) frozen and standing up filed in a bin by date.
    An overlooked point to all this is the time saved as well. We are nearly 30min round trip to the grocery store. “We’re out of TP” isn’t just paying full price, it’s that half hour and $2 worth of gas. (Nice post – You had me at ‘Pantry’)

  • Well, my problem is that immediately when I buy something in bulk, I want to eat something completely different. So there are cans of beans, tuna, salmon, ham and I don’t know what else in my pantry, which haven’t been touched for months…

  • My very first check I went to Petsmart (when I had only 1 little kitten) and her catfood was buy one case get one free. I came home with a trunk full. I think I spent my whole check (I was living at home) and Salem is our house cat, not just mine. We lived in an apt at the time, it was stocked up high in our dining room. Then she went and got finicky on us. She and her later brother ate the food but after that no more mixing up cat food, 2 flavors only. We have a huge pantry now and I havent bought that much since then though even though we now have a couple more cats.

    We do stockpile only on what we eat and rotate it constantly. I love my pantry and stockpiling.

    • Nicole

      @Brandy: I haven’t thought about stocking up on cat food — we get the large 16-pound bag of dry food — but that’s not a bad idea!

  • I tend to stock up on two things: Kraft Dinner and toilet paper.

    I eat Kraft dinner like it’s going out of style. I’m not sure why, I think it’s just so cheap and convenient that I like to eat a lot of it.

    I stock up on toilet paper, because….well no one likes to go to the bathroom and only to find out there is no paper!

    Another good tip for anyone reading: buy things in bulk that you KNOW you will consume. I always buy the largest ketchup bottle (after running the numbers to ensure it’s cheaper per unit) because I know I’ll use all the ketchup. There isn’t any chance that it will go bad before I’ve used it.

    This only works for things you’re sure you’ll consume. Don’t let things go bad.

    Nice post, and nice pantry!

    • Nicole

      @Learn Save Invest: I’m also a major ketchup user. My supermarket shows unit price along with retail price, so it’s easy to compare bang for your buck.

  • We have a small pantry that we keep stocked with essentials like paper products, cereal, ketchup, mayo, pasta, rice, canned veggies, and canned tomatoes (not canned sauce…we make our own) and a few other miscellaneous items.

    • Nicole

      @Mike: You’ll note I wrote ‘crushed tomatoes’ — we don’t buy premade gravy (sorry, I’m one of those Italians who refused to called it SAUCE)!

  • I love my pantry. It is so stocked. But, we go through food so fast since we have 3 kids that eat constantly. I have made the mistake of letting some of my italian dressing expire (great for marinades!)

    As the previous commenter mentioned, Salsa is a fantastic thing to buy on sale and stock up on until the next sales cycle. We eat a ton of salsa here, so I buy around 10 jars at a time when its on sale.

    Stockpiling is the best!

  • I read that the sales cycle is 6-8 weeks so it’s a good idea to stock up at least the amount you will use in that timeframe when you get a good price on an item.

  • We have an overstuffed pantry, but only because we share it with our roommates. When we move out on our own next year I hope to have an overstuffed pantry for ourselves. Hopefully I’ll then be able to save even more money with coupons by buying in bulk.

    • Nicole

      @Kevin: I can appreciate an overstuffed pantry, but do you think you’d be able to use all of the items before their expiration dates? Or will you just buy stuff cheaply and stock up because you can?

  • We only stockpile staples, but we have a huge pantry so we stockpile alot of staples.

    We usually have 24-36 rolls of Charmin, 12-24 rolls of paper towels (a pet owner necessity in my opinion), 24-48 bottles of water, 10-15 12 packs of soda (I buy when they’re $2.00 a pack and stock up for 6 months), 15 cans of tomato sauce, 10 cans of kidney beans, 5-6 cans of green beans, 5-6 cans of corn, 5-6 cans of different kinds of veggies, 2-3 bottles of ketchup, 2-3 bottles of mustard, 1 extra of mayo (although I do have two right now), 3-4 jars of Prego, lots of pasta, a couple of bags of rice, cooking oil, chips, cereal, candy, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t think of right now.

    I don’t worry about the expiration dates since no food stays in there that long except for pasta sometimes since I’m the only one who eats it. Everything else is well rotated. If there’s a food drive or something, I check all the cans before donating, but we’ve never run into any problems. We do have to throw away stale cereal sometimes…but that’s the price you pay for buying for cravings, lol.

    • Nicole

      @BITFS: Sounds like our pantry! We also have the same issue with cereals sometimes.

  • Hmmm…the example of your in-laws’ pantry sounds very familiar. My parents have a similar thing going on. Except they’ve taken theirs to the extreme, they also have a freezer in their garage that’s filled with frozen lumps of meat. What’s terrifying is the meat is all double and triple wrapped in ziplocks and plastic wrap with NO expiration date marked anywhere. Whenever my husband and I have dinner at their place (a few times a year) we have to make sure our stomachs are cast-iron that day! I guess if the end of the world was coming, I’d know where to get out-dated food. 😉

    • Nicole

      Oh, that’s scary. No, they’re pretty good with their meats — there another full fridge in the basement, too, but they clearly label everything by date.

  • Wow, I had no idea there were even that many kinds of beans! I stockpile a little bit, buying a few things that I know won’t expire before they’re used in bulk.

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