Sell-by and use-by and pantry staples, oh my!

The recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and government officials have been to limit our amount of interactions with others and practice social distancing.

To follow these guidelines, many of us are reducing our trips to the grocery store, which means we may be buying more food at one time to last us a few more days or weeks.

I, for one, struggle with this because I actually enjoy going to the grocery store. Having to limit my trips is difficult. It is also making me think a little more about meal choices and food storage.

Many of us have been buying shelf-stable foods and packing our pantry with these items so we don’t have to go to the grocery store often.

I’ve been searching recipes to try as I have more time to devote to “playing in the kitchen,”’ and you can find some yummy ones that use some of these basic pantry staples.

Some great items to have on hand include canned fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines; canned beans such as black, kidney, garbanzo, cannellini and chickpeas; and canned vegetables such as tomatoes, corn or green beans.

Other items to consider are broth and peanut butter/nut butter as well as salsa.

There are also several options for rice and grains including brown rice, whole-grain pasta, couscous, rolled oats and breadcrumbs.

Make sure to grab some common oils, vinegars and condiments to add flavor — think about extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, mustard, hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce.

And don’t forget some seasonings like salt and pepper and spice blends like chili powder and Italian seasoning as well as common herbs and spices like bay leaves, parsley, cumin, oregano, paprika, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.

To make sure you keep these foods on hand and don’t waste a bunch of time and money on foods that spoil, make sure you are following proper storage guidelines.

Ultimately, the shelf life of any food depends on the type of food, its packaging, temperature and humidity.

It is important to keep the refrigerator temperature at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and freezer temperature should be kept at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some food may not freeze well, resulting in changes in appearance, texture, color or moisture, but they may still be safely frozen. Remember to rotate your foods using the “First In, First Out” (FIFO) rule.

Some food have dates on the package to assist the consumer in proper storage. The most commonly used dates are the sell-by date, use-by date, expiration date and pack date.

The sell-by date is the last recommended day of sale. Foods eaten after this date are usually safe to eat as long as they are stored, handled and prepared properly and show no signs of spoilage. Meat, fish, poultry, breads and baked goods commonly have sell-by dates.

Use-by dates recommend how long the food will retain top quality after you buy it. Foods may be safely consumed after this date if they are stored, handled and prepared properly. Packaged foods like cereals, snack foods and frozen entrées often have use-by dates.

An expiration date indicates the last day a food should be eaten. Throw away food not consumed by this date.

A pack date is the date the food was processed or packaged. Pack dates give no safety or quality information about the food.

Included with this column is a table of some commonly-purchased pantry items and their storage times.

Check out a more extensive list in our FCS3595 publication that can be found on our website

As always, feel free to contact the office at 744-4682 if you have any question about food storage or packing your pantry.

Check out our Clark County Cooperative Extension Facebook page for some exciting projects later this week.

Stay well and remember, #healthyathome.

Shonda Johnston is the Clark County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. She can be reached at 859-744-4682 or by email at