Spring-clean your kitchen for better nutrition

March 20, 2023
Father and daughter looking into fridge

You washed the dishes, the counters, and the floor. How about a fresh start with your food, too?

Research shows that a clean, organized kitchen helps you eat healthier overall. Here are a few tips to get started.

Refrigerator and freezer: Remove all items one section at a time. Wipe down shelves, drawers, and sticky jars with hot, soapy water. Toss foods that are past their prime.

Labels can be confusing about food freshness -- and safety. The University of Minnesota Extension gives these guidelines:

  • "Best if used by" describes product quality: The product may not taste as expected, but it’s safe to consume.
  • “Use by” applies to perishable food like meat, yogurt and eggs. If properly stored, you have a one-week grace period to use up the product. Discard infant formula past its "use by" date as the nutritional value may be compromised. 
  • "Sell by" dates on poultry, fish, meat, bread and dairy products tell the store how long to display the product for sale. Most food is safe to eat for a week after the "sell by" date. Fresh meat, fish and poultry should be cooked within a day or two, or freeze it for longer storage. Eggs are safe in your cold fridge for 3-5 weeks after their "sell by" date. Milk is good one week longer, and butter is good one month longer than the sell by date.

Leftovers and open lunch meat should be tossed after three days. Opened condiments are generally good for 6-12 months. Frozen foods are safe for a long time but the quality can diminish. Use up freezer-burned meats in soups, stews, and casseroles.

To stay organized, write the date on the package when the food is opened.

Pantry and spice rack: Canned and boxed items like cake mix, rice, and instant potatoes last longest stored in a cool, dark place. Items past date likely are safe but may not be as tasty. Don’t eat food from dented or rusted cans or boxes that have been exposed to moisture.

Cooking oils stored in a cool, dark place are best within 1-3 months of opening. Dried herbs and spices are generally good for 2-4 years after opening.

And remember the most important food safety tip:  When in doubt, throw it out.