Food storage and organization

By Mir
August 10, 2006

(Alternate title: Did I ever tell you about the ants in the Cheerios?)

The deja vu set in almost immediately as I read this plea from Michelle:

Hello The Beautiful Pretty and Resourceful Mir,

This morning I was enjoying a healthy bowl of Raisin Bran when I noticed
little black dots floating in my milk. Upon closer inspection, they had
legs. LEGS!!! After bleaching my mouth, I tossed all of my boxes of
cereal, flour, etc. However, this has made it difficult to feed my cereal
addiction, but I would like to outfit my pantry with (cheap) containers with
will keep any future scavengers out of my food before I buy any more. I’m
looking for (cheap) stackable, space saving, sealed containers in a variety
of sizes. Everything I’ve found online so far is way to expensive for the
quantity I need to buy, and did I mention that I need something cheap? Can
you recommend anything? Websites? Coupons?

We’ve all had that moment, right? The one where we vow to hermetically seal every food item in the house or just stop eating? (Thank goodness no one’s ever found ants in the Ben & Jerry’s, because I still twitch a little in the presence of Cheerios….)

I want to talk about containers, yes. But first, I want to talk about some corollary issues, because it’s a full-service gig around here like that.

#&*@#! ants. I don’t care how clean your house is; at least where I live, no one is immune to a summertime ant infestation. It comes with the territory. There are chemical companies who will cheerfully offer to come spray your house exterior for a gazillion dollars and thereby completely prevent an invasion (or they’ll come out and treat again), but I don’t think that’s a very cost-effective option unless you actually have some sort of ant phobia. Less expensive is spraying around the perimeter, yourself (supplies available at your local Giant Hardware Store). Better still are the new outdoor poison discs.

They look a lot like the discs we all put around the house inside, but they have an attached spike for driving into the ground and they’re intended for outside. They’re cheap and (in my limited experience thus far) they seem to work. Rock on.

As for inside? There are a million ant remedies that don’t involve pesticides, and I certainly advocate things like a protective ring of boric acid along the baseboards and whatnot if you have the time and the patience and the planning to do so. On the other hand, nothing ruins my day faster than finding insects in my pantry. Every spring I buy a few packs of those poison discs and put one at the back of every pantry shelf. At least that way, the ants tend to go for the poison before the snacks.

Sealing up food. There’s nothing like a little infestation to make you want to triple-seal every speck of food in your house. I understand. On the other hand, for most people it’s just not going to be practical to put everything into containers. So here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Chip clips: You can get a package of 4 or 5 sturdy “chip clips” at your local Dollar Store for, well, a dollar. Have a bunch on hand in your kitchen junk drawer. Use them for things like bags of chips, absolutely. Also consider using them for your cereal; with the bag sealed by a clip, your cardboard cereal box is now just as “safe” as a fancy canister. We also use them for bags of cookies. Not that we ever buy cookies.
  • Remember the freezer! Anyone remember this post about freezing things? In it I pointed out that the freezer is an underutilized way to keep things like rice and flours bug-free. If you have a big freezer, don’t forget about all of the dry goods you can be stashing in there.
  • Zip it, zip it good: Never underestimate the power of a good Ziploc. Again; if you can afford to outfit your entire kitchen in containers, good on ya. But if you can’t? Ziploc bags will achieve a similar bug-barrier for a fraction of the cost.
  • Recycle: More and more food items are coming in glass or plastic containers that can be washed and reused. So wash and reuse. (Duh.)

Alright, then! On to the containers themselves!

The first thing Michelle did, after asking me this question, was provide an excellent answer, herself, which I think was really overachieving-ish of her. My first thought was also the first link she forwarded to me—Ikea has a line of kitchen storage that won’t send you to the poorhouse. Unfortunately, it looks like their containers aren’t available for online purchase, so you’ll need a local Ikea to get your hands on those.

Some of my favorite large storage containers have come from playing the odds a bit; I haven’t seen them do this in a while, but Tupperware used to routinely offer $100 “surprise packs” for $10 or so. You never knew what you’d be getting, and it almost always contained an item or two that made me go, “Huh?” But I also got some large, expensive containers (in discontinued colors, natch) that way.

And of course, there’s clearance at your favorite stores. Sometimes you’ll find that Rubbermaid Container Shape 47 is being discontinued and you can get a good deal on it.

Don’t forget to check out your local Big Chain craft stores. They often carry the larger containers and also run a weekly 40% off coupon in the paper.

There’s still some time to go yard saling, but that’s chancy and also, how do you feel about used food containers? They can be washed out, but…. Well, it’s not for everyone.

Lastly, don’t forget the disposable storagewear like Glad and Ziploc containers. I’m not sure if they make containers large enough for things like entire bags of cereal, but it’s worth taking a look to see what you can find.

Most importantly, remember: Friends don’t let friends eat Cheerios with ants in them. Just sayin’.


  1. You’ll tell us if you see a Tupperware “surprise pack” deal, right? After you’ve order some for yourself of course and they raise the price to $20 for the rest of us… 🙂

  2. It’s also amazing what a little press and seal can do for a container to make it much safer from bugs, you know those boxes of things that have a pour spout but don’t seem to really close all the way – we sweep 3x a day around here just to keep the ants from invading our kitchen!

  3. I had the dreaded weevils infest my pantry a few years ago. I’d take ants any day over itty bitty creepy crawlie worms and their adult moth-like counterparts. My solution was gallon sized generic zip locks for everything opened and unopened. It worked like a charm…once we found the base station for their gross little home invasion in an unopened box of bread mix. I also use the Tupperware containers with the little see through window on bottom for sugar and flour. I’ve never had a problem with them. In fact I may just love them more than anything else I have in my kitchen. Except cheesecake. Cheesecake wins every time.

  4. The deal with Tupperware Surprise Paks currently runs like this: Buy $40 of their stuff, qualify to buy a Surprise Pak ($50 value) for $20. So, not as good a deal as it used to be, but it is High Tupperware Season. They might sing a different tune in February and we’ll all be there to sing along when they do.

  5. When my husband I got first got married we bought a bag of 100 wooden laundry clips (the kind with springs, not the kind that look like little dolls). We use them instead of the fancier chip clips and they work as well for us. Despite my children using them for all sorts of projects and other things, nine years later we still have almost half the bag still to go before we need more chip clips/art projects.

  6. Also, eBay!

  7. I second Jordana’s suggestion of wooden clothespins. I use them on cereal bags inside boxes, chips, crackers, etc. I still love the gallon size Ziplocs but these are very handy to have around the kitchen.

  8. Although we haven’t had many problems with ants or other nasties in this house (now watch, I have jinxed myself and will go downstairs to find the whole kitchen swarming with them), when I still lived with my parents, we used to get these little worm-type things that would chew into packaging, right into cereal bags (“The hell with those clips, let’s go right into the plastic!”), right through boxes, paper bags (“hey, what’s this in the flour, aieee!”) and right through those little pouches that hot chocolate and kraft macaroni and cheese powder come in. I would heartily second the idea of freezing things if you don’t want little pesties everywhere.

    Also, my parents have an upright freezer in their basement that no longer works that is used to store food, it may not be frozen, but nothing can get into it.

  9. Having been through the pantry moth infestation in previous abode, we decided it would be an excellent idea to buy a house in the woods that was infested with a huge variety of things I won’t mention in case anyone is reading on their lunch hour. But hey, at least there were no pantry moths. After a year of cleaning and spraying and exterminators and releasing caught critters with a “That’s right, there’s a new sheriff in town. Go and tell your friends”, we are down once again to living in a semi-bug-free environment. But we still live in the woods. Oh well.

    Oh, yeah, storage stuff. Two words: Mason Jars.

    Canning jars are available cheap at discount and hardware and grocery stores. Anything in my house that is opened (baking powder, dry milk, raisins, pasta, etc) ends up in a Mason Jar. They are tall and skinny and fit well on a shelf. They wash in the dishwasher. Replacement lids are a breeze to find.

    Good luck, and I’m still trying to stop chuckling from the ‘mouth-bleaching’ comment.

  10. i just went through a similar search for stackable containers. i ended up going with the cheap rubbermaid ones for things like baking powder, raisins, brown sugar, etc… i bought them at shopko, but have seen them at target and my grocery store. i have a lovely new cupboard that’s all lined up and labeled… thanks to – i found kitchen labels on their site by googling it, but couldn’t browse through the site to find them – but i’d contact them if you’re interested.

    for the larger items, like cereal, flour, rice and pancake mix, i went to walmart. for under $2, you can buy these GREAT containers that are designed to have the cereal bag slip inside. they’re tall and skinny, which is what i wanted, and they have a flip top lid. my DH thought i was nuts for buying nine, but we have a whole row of neatly organized, easy to find, bug proof dry goods.

  11. We had an an infestation many years ago and it really was gross! I was lucky that both my mom and grandmothers were Tupperware fanatics so I was given lots of Tupperware (a lot of it is orange, yellow and pea soup green but it still works great!).

    Dollar stores are a big thing where I live (Southern Ontario, in Canada) and many of them carry great containers that I think are almost as good as Tupperware. We recently purchased some neat square containers that have a small round sealed container in the centre for things like veggies with dip. Try the dollar store – you may be pleasantly surprised what you will find there.

  12. I have Ikea storage containers in my kitchen and they’re ok… not fabulous, the lids are sometimes tricky, but for the amount of money I spent on them they’re great. The only thing i will say is that the sizes are a bit weird sometimes. I have about 12 teeny tiny containers that hold about 2 ounces, 6 huge containers, and very few of the medium size catch-alls that I find most useful.

  13. We bought a bunch of different sized Martha Stewart Everyday glass containers at Kmart. The big ones hold our 5 different types of flour, cereal, and sugar. The medium ones hold things like egg replacer (powder), brown sugar, cookies and dried fruits. Smallest hold baking powder, coconut, etc. Clear, so we can see everything. Dishwasher safe (so so so important!) and they look nice too (we have open shelving). Not too expensive, and work *great*.

  14. Pssst… If you’re buying dry goods in bulk, remember to pop them into the freezer overnight before putting them into containers for storage on the shelf. If there are any stow-aways, they will perish instead of reproducing.

  15. Freezing cereal, particularly in the summer, has the advantage of keeping it crisp. I’m now going to be adding my crackers for the same effect.

  16. Okay, so maybe you don’t want to hear this, but when i lived overseas in Zambia, Africa with my folks, we didnt have regular groceries come in every day. Sometimes you had to wait a while till certain supplies came in. Having said that… we had weevils in our flour at one point and we sifted them out..then used the flour. I am breathing and healthy at this point, but it is not something I would like to do again. eww.

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