Most of us start each year with a resolution or two (or more) and this year Is no exception for me. Besides the annual resolutions to walk more and weigh less, I resolved this year to tackle one part of my home each month and declutter and clean it.

This resolve came in part from my daughter being home for five weeks at the end of the year because the University of Chicago Business School shut down with COVID. Since she is used to apartment living with roommates and limited cupboard space for food, she complained that I had too much food in the pantry.

I know there was a lot of stuff in the pantry – partly because I had stockpiled canned goods and flour for COVID and partly because I had bought things that I thought I needed but already had. I didn’t feel too bad about the COVID stockpile. My son has 10 cans of Progresso chicken noodle soup sitting on his kitchen counter in his coop in New York City. After I got past the multiple cans of beans and tuna, I still had a lot of duplicates. The only problem was that I couldn’t see the extras because of all the stuff shoved into the pantry. I doubt I will use up two bottles of Lyle’s Golden Syrup since I still haven’t made the sticky toffee pudding that I bought the syrup for in the first place – or the macaroons that I keep buying shredded coconut for.

I decided that my daughter was right about the clutter. It was time to address it! I martialed my forces and ordered a bunch of storage containers from Amazon to organize my pantry. The containers seemed to help. They let me stack smaller containers, consolidate bags of flour and save space. Plus I felt more organized – and more motivated to keep going. The more I sorted and organized, the more duplicates I found. I took some canned goods to a food drive and felt virtuous! Not only was I cleaning my pantry but I was also making a social contribution!

I found a stash of cans of condensed milk and evaporated milk . I use the condensed milk to make Spanish flan but I haven’t made flan in at least five years. I decided to make flan during the Christmas holidays – it would be a good way to use up at least one can. Condensed milk should be a pale creamy color but when I opened the first can it was a solid brown – more like coffee with a dash of cream. Two more cans were the same color. Turns out that condensed milk that is ten years old is not very appealing. Fortunately I found a newer can so I could finish making the flan.

After that experience, I looked at the Internet to find out about how long canned food will last and this is what I discovered.

Canned foods that are kept in good condition are actually safe to eat indefinitely, according to the USDA. However, there are several factors that may affect their shelf life, such as can corrosion and rusting, high temperatures, and other container problems. Over the years, many canned foods will experience taste and texture changes, and may eventually lose their nutritional value — which is why it is recommended to consume different types of canned products by a certain time for the best quality. (Accordingly, the dates that are often printed on cans are for quality, not safety.)

I felt better reading that the condensed milk was probably okay to use – but since it looked so strange, I decided to use a newer can from my stockpile.

The end result is encouraging. My pantry is less cluttered. I can find things more easily and I now know that I have two jars of jalapeno slices and three jars of barbecue sauce – in addition to a few other things that I only need once every two years! Most important of all though – I have a lot more sympathy for the sellers that I encourage to declutter and clean! It isn’t easy to tackle big jobs like that.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by clutter and you want to get rid of those multiple cans of beans, soup, tuna or even condensed milk that you stockpiled last March, you might be ready to get rid of them by donating them to a good cause. The Capital Area Food Bank is a great place to donate. Local shelters like My Sister’s Place are also grateful for non-persishables. If you can’t get out or don’t feel comfortable doing so, give me a call. I will be glad to come to you, collect your donation from your front door step and make sure it gets into good hands. It would give me a chance to wave hello!

Hope you are doing well in all this craziness. With the roll out of the vaccines, I feel like we are at the beginning of the end – or at least the end of the beginning – but at least we are here!


And after!
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