Cleaning the house used to mean days of work, turning out the house from top to bottom. With today's easy-care furnishings and improved cleaning products, most of us have given up that twice-a-year chore. But the part of your kitchen that doesn't show - inside the cupboards and refrigerator - still needs an annual or semiannual cleanup to be sure the food you're storing is safe and high-quality. These storage tips and times will help you with the job:
CUPBOARDS- Sugar will keep two years in a tight-lidded container.
- All-purpose flour usually will last six to eight months in a tightly covered container. Discard flour or any other grain product if you see signs of insects.
- Store whole-grain flours and other whole-grain products in the refrigerator or freezer. The small amount of oil they contain can become rancid, giving an off-flavor. They also are more attractive to insects.
- Store tea bags in an airtight tin for up to 18 months. Unopened ground coffee in a can lasts two years. Opened ground or freeze-dried coffee crystals last about two months; for longer storage, refrigerate.
- Don't store spices over the stove. It may be convenient, but heat and moisture steal the flavor. Whole spices retain flavor about one year; ground spices about six months.
- Check boxed goods for "use by" dates. If there's no date, remember that boxed pasta lasts one year or more; dry cake or similar mixtures about one year.
- Store commercially canned tomato products, fruits and fruit juices up to 18 months.
- Other commercially canned goods can be stored for two to five years if the cans look healthy; no dents, holes, rust, bulges or leaks.
- Home-canned foods should be used within one year.
- If in doubt, throw it out. Never taste suspicious-looking or smelling canned goods or anything that spurts liquid when opened.
- Check the temperature. Your refrigerator should maintain 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less.
- Remember that fresh poultry and fish keep only one to two days; fresh meat three to five days. For longer storage, wrap in moisture- and vapor-proof wrap and freeze immediately after purchase.
- Most leftovers will keep three to four days.
- Canned hams needing refrigeration last about nine months. Don't freeze a ham in the can.
- Vacuum-packed meats last two weeks unopened; five to seven days after opening.
- You can safely cut a small mold spot from hard cheese, salami and firm fruits and vegetables. Keep your knife out of the mold and cut away one inch around and below the spot. Discard other moldy foods.
- Discard old, frozen-over packages. Keep packages if they're not past the "use-by" date. Date the packages you save and place them up front to use first.
- Defrost your freezer at least once a year, more often if necessary. When the freezer is frosted over, it can't work efficiently. Also ice crystals can invade food, causing loss of quality.
- Be sure your freezer maintains 0 degrees Fahrenheit or less.
- Never store food of any kind under the sink; leaky pipes, household chemical spills, insects or rodents can cause contamination.
- Call the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-800-535-4555. Washington, D.C.-area residents call 447-3333. Weekdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern time).
- To order "The Food Keeper," a chart that shows storage times for many foods, send 50 cents and a stamped, self-addressed legal-size envelope to: Food Marketing Institute, 1750 K. St. NW, Washington, DC 20006.