The Pantry
Typically, the pantry is a closet or one or more cupboards where you store dried herbs and spices, canned and jarred condiments, oils and vinegars, grains and pastas, and such fresh foods as potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger and shallots. Make sure your pantry is cool, dry and dark when not in use, as direct heat or light can sap herbs and spices of their flavor and hasten spoilage of grains and oils.

Stock your pantry
Take inventory of what is in your pantry using the Pantry Staples list (click on the link at right).

Remove everything from the pantry; clean the shelves and line with paper, if needed; and then re-sort the items by type.

Discard items that have passed their expiration date or have a stale or otherwise questionable appearance or odor.

Make a list of items that you need to replace or stock.

Shop for the items on your list.

Restock the pantry, organizing items by type.

Write the purchase date on perishable items and label bulk items.

Keep staples you use often toward the front of the pantry.

Keep dried herbs and spices in tightly sealed containers and preferably in a separate spice or herb organizer, shelf or drawer.

Keep it organized
Look over the recipes in your weekly menu plan and check your pantry to make sure you have all the ingredients you will need.

Rotate items as you use them, moving the oldest ones to the front of the pantry so they will be used first.

Keep a list of the items you use up so you can replace them.

Storing foods in the pantry
Dried herbs and spices:
Dried herbs and spices start losing flavor after about 6 months, so buy in small quantities and replace often. Store in airtight containers.

Oils: Store unopened bottles of oil at room temperature in a cool, dark place. Oils will keep for up to 1 year, but their flavor diminishes over time. Store opened bottles for 3 months at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Grains and pasta: Store grains in airtight containers for up to 3 months. The shelf life of most dried pastas is 1 year. Although safe to eat beyond that time, they will have lost flavor. Once you open a package, put what you do not cook into an airtight container.

Fresh foods: Store in a cool, dark place and check occasionally for sprouting or spoilage. Do not put potatoes alongside onions; when placed next to each other, they produce gases that hasten spoilage.

Canned foods: Discard canned foods if the can shows signs of expansion or buckling. Once a can is opened, transfer the unused contents to an airtight container and refrigerate.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Series, Simple Suppers, by Melanie Barnard (Oxmoor House, 2007).