Throw Away These 12 Kitchen Items Immediately (and Be Glad You Did)
Remove all cooking oils from cabinet shelves, check expiration dates, open lids to make sure the necks aren't chipped, and give the oils a taste to ensure they're still good. Throw out chipped bottles, rancid oils, and those past their expiration dates. No matter how carefully a bottle top is tightened, oils tend to leak, says cleaning expert Mary Findley. She advises cleaning the bottles you plan to keep and washing down the shelves with soapy water before returning oils to their spots.
Spices come with expiration dates, which should be checked a few times each year to ensure the seasonings you're sprinkling are at their flavor peak. Can't find an expiration date? Pinch the herb or spice between your fingers; if it no longer has a distinctive scent, it's past its use-by date. Findley suggests dumping out the expired seasonings, cleaning and drying the jars, and then refilling them with purchased-in-bulk organic herbs and spices. You'll save money, enjoy tastier seasonings, and reduce landfill waste.
Edit jumbled piles of plastic containers to free up cabinet space and make storage operations run more smoothly. Cleaning coach Leslie Reichert advises pulling out all your plastic containers, matching lids to their containers, and tossing out unmatched components. Throw out plastic containers labeled 3, 6, or 7, which are made of hazardous plastics. Keep those coded 1, 2, 4, or 5, which are safer for humans and the environment. Organize the containers by size to see what's what; store only those you really need and are likely to use.
Every kitchen has a junk drawer that stows masses of miscellaneous household stuff. If you're not careful, this space can easily become a holding area for unusable items like dried-out pens or keys without corresponding locks. Empty out each junk drawer, and sort through the contents. Throw out any item without a purpose. Recycle no-longer-needed receipts, takeout menus, and user manuals that are available online. Outfit each drawer with dividers to sort the goods returning to your "dejunked" drawers.
Too-Old Pantry Staples
Empty food cabinets and use your sense of smell or taste to take stock of pantry staples, suggests cleaning specialist Melissa Maker. "Smell pantry items (i.e. flour, nuts), or do a quick taste test and dispose of anything rancid," Maker says. "Keep a running list of items you need to replace [and] get rid of items you didn't or won't use. Look for expiration dates on packages and cans, and dispose of anything that is old. Finally, be ruthless: If you have six cans of creamed corn and kid No. 2 has developed a corn allergy, you can safely donate the creamed corn." When restocking the cabinet, think like a grocer and place items with the nearest expiration dates in the front so you will remember to use those staples first.
Freezers easily suffer from overload with leftovers getting buried behind other items to create a frozen wasteland of inedible foods. Keep your freezer tidy (and ensure the food you're reheating is safe to eat) by purging frozen foods periodically. As a general rule, you should throw out anything that's been in the freezer for more than a year. Plan to toss leftover cooked meat and poultry after 6 months, frozen raw ground meat after 4 months, and leftover soups and stews after 3 months, according to guidelines from Foodsafety.gov, an outreach of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services.
Dated Refrigerated Items
Throw out expired condiments, opened lunch meat, and leftovers that have been in the fridge for more than three to five days. Toss fresh ground beef, poultry, and sausage after about two days; throw out fresh steaks, chops, and roasts that have been in the refrigerator for five days. Check condiment expiration dates weekly, advises Reichert, but schedule a thorough refrigerator purge annually to give your fridge a fresh start every year.
Slow cookers, stand mixers, blenders, and roasting pans take up more than their fair share of cabinet space. Move equipment you don't use on a monthly basis to a pantry, the basement, or an underused closet. Reichert recommends putting a date on the appliance or pan when you store it; you're likely to be surprised by how much time has passed when you grab it to use it again.
Throw away cracked, chipped, and stained glasses and mugs. They're unsightly and unsafe, says Reichert, who adds: "Chips and cracks can lead to many injuries, from a small cut to handles coming off when you least expect it." Too many souvenier glasses or meaningful mugs crowding your shelves? Donate those in good shape, or repurpose good-looking glasses and mugs as vases, pencil holders, and vanity organizers.
Damaged Pots, Pans, and Baking Trays
Sort through all of your cooking and baking pans to determine what needs to go and what can stay. Throw out any nonstick pots, skillets, and baking pans that have peeling or scratched surfaces, as they are no longer safe to use. Toss pans with baked-on gunk that won't come off; donate specialty pans that you never use. "Then organize the pots and pans by size, and only keep the ones you use on a regular basis," Reichert says. "See if every lid has a pot—if not, out goes the lid."
Cutlery and Cutting Tools
Clean out drawers that hold your gadgets, silverware, and knives. Get rid of mismatched silverware pieces, never-used tools, and lesser-quality knives. Keeping only what you need and use regularly ensures that you'll be able to quickly find what you need when you need it.
Stash reusable shopping bags in your car instead of a cabinet or drawer—this will open up a good deal of cabinet space for storing more important kitchen gear. Paper grocery and shopping bags piling up? Keep only those you'll need for a week or two and recycle the rest. Or check with local food pantries or homeless shelters to see if they can use your extra baggage.