How to Safely Store Dry Food: 7 Tips
While many people know to get rid of perishables — produce, meats, opened condiments, etc. — after a certain number of days in the refrigerator, they may not give as much thought to storing dry food safely. However, dry food can spoil just as quickly as perishables if not adequately safeguarded.
These seven tips will guide you to storing dry foods correctly for the most extended shelf life and food quality.
1. Organize and Rotate Dry Foods by Date
Maintaining an organized dry food storage area will ensure your goods stay fresh. While most dry foods last beyond their expiration dates, it may be in your best interest to regularly rotate foods you’re not eating and replace those that have sat for a long time.
Manufacturing and distribution facilities, grocery stores and consumers can benefit from the “first in, first out” (FIFO) food system. FIFO is a standard procedure that encourages you to label and store foods by their storage dates, placing products nearest to their expirations in the front.
Properly organizing your dry goods is essential when implementing a FIFO storage system. Consider packaged and use-by dates when positioning your products to improve efficiency and food safety.
2. Store Packages At an Appropriate Temperature
Although dry goods don’t necessarily require refrigeration, storing products at the right temperature is crucial to prolong their shelf life and quality.
Store canned foods, baking ingredients, grains and cereals where there’s adequate ventilation to prevent mold and other bacteria.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends keeping dry foods at around 50° Fahrenheit — however, most products can be stowed at 70° F without spoiling.
To ensure your storage area stays at the correct temperature, place a thermometer nearby and check it regularly. Also, be sure to keep your dry goods away from vents, windows or other areas where they might face exposure to extreme temperature fluctuations.
3. Monitor Humidity and Moisture Levels
Air conditioners and dehumidifiers can help guarantee humidity and moisture levels are sufficient for safe storage. Ideally, humidity levels between 50% and 55% are best for optimal food quality and extended shelf life.
Most moisture-resistant food packaging is designed for maximum food preservation. On the other hand, opened or damaged packaging isn’t conducive to proper, safe storage.
Transfer opened items to airtight containers to protect them from humidity, moisture, contamination and bugs. The less exposure to air, the longer your dry goods will avoid spoilage.
4. Ensure Packaging Is Tightly Sealed
In addition to preventing humidity and moisture, ensuring that packages are tightly sealed helps control pest infestations and disease.
While garages are popular overflow storage for dry foods, they typically attract pests and rodents looking for a safe place to hide, reproduce and forage food. Unfortunately, rats and mice carry over 35 different diseases, while other insects are capable of serious home damage.
Of course, dry foods may have had pest problems before you even brought them home from the store. Regardless, you’ll want to eliminate the pest infestation as soon as possible.
Throw the pest-infested food away — then vacuum and wash the shelves and cabinets thoroughly with detergent or disinfectants. Be sure to empty the vacuum filter immediately so the bugs can’t find their way back.
You can freeze dry food products at 0° F for four days to kill any remaining eggs and insects. However, using insecticides in cabinets to control pests is hazardous to your health, and dry foods exposed to insecticides should be thrown away.
5. Avoid Direct Sunlight
Avoiding direct sunlight is equally important to maintaining appropriate temperatures and humidity levels in your dry food storage area.
Sunlight has oxidizing effects that cause foods to lose their nutritional properties and decrease their overall quality.
If you store your dry goods in an area of your home that gets a lot of sunlight throughout the day, perhaps invest in a shade to cover the window or skylights. It’s better to store your food where you can flip a light switch to grab what you need.
6. Keep Dry Foods Above the Floor
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes the Food Code every four years, providing scientifically-based legal requirements for proper food storage at retail and food service establishments.
According to the most recent Food Code publication in 2017, dry foods should be kept at least six inches above the floor and away from the wall and ceiling to decrease temperature condensation and pest activity. Allowing extra space also makes it easier to clean around the storage area.
Install shelving in a storage cabinet, add drawers or position the food on raised pallets so that packaged goods are off the ground at all times.
7. Store Cleaners and Supplies Separately
Store cleaning solutions and supplies in a separate location for the safest dry food storage.
Research has found that sponges contain 54 billion microbial bacteria per cubic square centimeter, while mops, brooms and other supplies may hold chemical residues from toxic cleaners.
Storing food and cleaners separately can also avert mistaking lookalike items, such as condiments or salt and sugar ingredients. Accidental ingestion of chemical cleaners can cause severe illness or death.
Follow Dry Food Storage Guidelines for Optimal Safety
Proper storage of dry goods is just as critical as perishables. While dry food products tend to be longer lasting than fruits, vegetables and meats, their quality and shelf life are ultimately determined by how their environment and packaging are maintained.