10 Smart Tips for Properly Organizing Your Pantry, According to Grocery Store Workers

published May 10, 2022
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Someone straightening cans in kitchen pantry.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

If cooking is an art, then keeping your groceries organized is more of a science. This goes here. That goes there. Systems in your fridge, pantry, and cabinets don’t just keep things neat — they make sure you can easily see what you have. And that means you’ll waste less food and you’ll cut down on buying things you already have (but didn’t realize). Being able to see what you have might even inspire you to cook more often: “When your pantry is organized and intelligible, you’re more likely to prepare and enjoy your food than cave into eating out,” says Lauren Lyons, general manager of Kensington Community Food Co-op in Philadelphia.

The hard part is coming up with a working system. If you’re in need of pantry-organizing tips, look no further than these great ideas from the pros. Here are 10 smart tips for stocking your home pantry, according to grocery store employees.

Credit: Ashley Poskin

1. Rotate your newest items to the back.

“Every time we bring in new items, they go to the back, and the older things go in the front,” says Chris Metzner, director of operations at Rastelli Market Fresh in New Jersey. If your pantry isn’t currently organized by date, Metzner suggests rotating your items so that the freshest items are in the back. That way, you’ll always grab (and eat) the soonest-expiring foods first.

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2. Check your supplies routinely.

Even the most orderly grocery stores end up with expired or damaged food on the shelves, and the same thing can happen in your kitchen. Molly Siegler, senior program manager for culinary development at Whole Foods Market, recommends routinely scanning your shelves for expired foods to make sure you don’t eat something that could make you sick. She even recommends smelling your herbs and spices and tossing them if you can’t smell anything, even if they aren’t technically expired. 

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3. Keep regularly used items at eye level.

Grocery stores put food they want to sell at eye level. Siegler says you can implement a similar practice in your home, keeping your most-used foods front and center. “Store the items that you use most frequently at eye level and keep kid-friendly items on lower shelves,” she says. “High shelves and out-of-the-way nooks are great for back stock or items that are rarely used.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman

4. Only buy what you need.

Just like grocery stores only order goods they expect to sell, Metzner suggests only bringing home what you’ll need and use — especially when it comes to sizes. For example, let’s say you spot a great deal on large bottle of hot sauce. You’ll probably only use a dash every now and then, so you probably don’t really need it. Maybe a smaller bottle makes more sense? “This practice keeps your groceries fresher for longer and saves storage space,” Metzner says.

5. Don’t stack cans.

It may seem more efficient to stack canned goods, but that’s a good way to end up with dents … or bruised toes! (Even at the grocery store, you’ll rarely find cans stacked much higher than two at a time.) Instead, consider a special organizer. It may take up a little more space than you’d like, but it’ll end up preventing a hassle later on, says Metzner. 

Credit: Heather McClees

6. Alphabetize your spices.

Ever notice how easy it is to find herbs and spices on grocery store shelves? That’s because they’re usually alphabetized, Metzner says. Try storing your most-used seasonings close to your cooking area, and keep the rest in alphabetical order in a drawer or on a spice rack in your pantry. 

Credit: Kaitlin Garske

7. Keep heavy items on the bottom.

This one’s purely for safety: Always keep large items, like bags of rice or appliances, on lower shelves like the grocery store does. “You don’t want anything big or heavy on top that can fall and hurt you,” says Metzner. 

Credit: Danielle Centoni

8. Group like items together.

Grocery stores often group similar items together, which makes it more convenient for customers to find what they need. Desi Cerekja, store director at Safeway, in Silver Firs, Washington, recommends adopting the same practice at home. For example, you could keep peanut butter and jelly, ketchup and mustard, and coffee and tea in the same zones.  “Similar to how we organize by aisle, you’ll quickly be able to locate what you need,” Cerejka says. 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

9. Track your consumption.

Another simple-but-effective tip: Keep an inventory (the way your grocery store does), so that you know what you have and, ultimately, what you’re actually using. “By tracking your consumption, you can save money and prevent waste in the future, especially if certain products are perishable,” Cerejka says. 

Jon Roesser, general manager of Weavers Way Co-op in Philadelphia, suggests “auditing” your pantry once a quarter or so. “Optimally, we are reviewing each category regularly and purging out low-turning items,” he says. “If after six months a product doesn’t have sufficient turns, it hasn’t earned a spot on our shelves.” Likewise, if you find that certain pantry items are languishing in the back of your shelves, see if you can donate them and make a note not to re-purchase.

10. Label your shelves.

When they get new deliveries, grocery store employees quickly stock shelves because they know where everything goes. Cerejka recommends following suit at home by labeling your own pantry shelves, which can help you save time when you go into the pantry and stay organized. Plus, you’ll be less tempted to put things back in random places.

How do you organize your pantry? Tell us your ideas in the comments below.