Ventilation: A Happy, Dry Place for Food

Pantry ventilation keeps food safe and preserved, so you can enjoy it longer. Taking care of the pantry environment is just as important as stocking the food shelves. Learn what to do to keep your pantry happy and dry.

What is the best temperature for a pantry?

The University of Georgia advises keeping your pantry between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain the optimal freshness of your non-perishable items. They warn that heat may contribute to the loss of nutrients in your foods, so it’s best to keep your pantry cool at all times.

According to the USDA, it’s important not to let levels rise above 85 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid spoilage and potential food-borne illnesses.

Should a pantry be dark?

In short, yes! A pantry should stay dark in-between moments of searching for food items and ingredients. Darkness helps food stay fresh longer.

According to Healthfully, “photodegradation” is a process in which light mixes with compounds in a food item and reduces its nutrient content, even artificial light! Not only will foods lose nutrients when exposed to light, but they may also lose flavor, color, and antioxidants.

How to dry out a pantry with moisture and humidity

Proper ventilation and temperature can make all the difference in the freshness and safety of your pantry items. 

Ventilation regulates the temperature, protects against moisture build-up, prevents mold, and maximizes the longevity of your non-perishable foods. You may need to correct ventilation for your pantry if:

  • you have trouble keeping your pantry within the proper temperature range
  • any amount of moisture builds up in your pantry, causing cans to rust
  • you notice mold/mildew visually or by smell

Evaluate your pantry space, year-round climate, and humidity levels. If you live in a location with colder weather with low humidity, you may not need to worry about ventilation. Just make sure you check the temperature of your pantry, check for moisture accumulation, and watch for mold. It may surprise you to learn that even in a colder climate, your pantry can reach higher temperatures than you prefer, in which case it would be better to add ventilation

Pantry ventilation with duct work

Pantry ventilation solutions: adding air registers, duct work considerations, opening a window.

What to do if pantry is too hot

A pantry that is too hot is a problem.  Storing all foods in a cool, dry place is optimal, as noted to be the advice on most food products.  There can be a number of reasons why your pantry is too hot:

  • location
  • lack of ventilation
  • heating/cooling house factors
  • window letting sun in

In the case of location, pantries should ideally be located in the coldest corner of the house, which would be the northeast corner.  That location will always prove to offer beneficial lower temps IF you live in the US midwest and northern regions.  With that said, home design often trumps these pantry location, and the pantry gets dropped into leftover space.  Pantries tend to be dropped in the middle of a floor plan because the homeowner doesn't want to waste a window on a pantry.

Heat-producing rooms, like the kitchen, can be the culprit to an overly-warm pantry.  Consider moving some of your bulk food storage in another, more ideal, temperature spot for best storage.

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Example of mold and mildew in home and poor ventilation.

Example of mold and mildew in home and poor ventilation.

Poorly designed duct systems, location of duct work, or improper air balancing (inadequate return and supply) can contribute to poor ventilation. Plan for an entry/exit strategy for air. Allow air to enter through the louvered door of the closet and exit at the ceiling on back of closet. It's important that heat exits the pantry.  A snug-fitting pantry door could be working against good air flow.

A house set up with geothermal or a heated floor with radiant heat (coils in the floor) will contribute to a hot pantry, especially with the door closed.   In new construction, it would be a smart move to not incorporate heat under the floor in a pantry (any good builder would remove radiant heat beneath a pantry).  In addition, heating the floor of adjacent space around the pantry would also would contribute to pantry heat.  Consider a "convenience" pantry that is close in the kitchen, and another space located away from the heated floors.  If a heat duct running under the pantry is another source of warmth.

Pantry windows are a charming way to let light in, but also heat. The trade-offs are nice ventilation when opened, but hot sun rays streaming in at other times.

How to assure your pantry stays nice and cool

The best way to keep a cool pantry is:

  • plan ahead to control the location of the pantry in the floor design
  • use doors that allow air flow
  • remove or add vents for further air control
  • don't have appliances like freezers or refrigerators in walk-in pantries

What to do if your pantry is stuffy and stale

Stuffy pantries = smelly pantries.  This comes back to an air flow and ventilation issue. Running an air purifier can help, but you need to get to the root of the problem.  When your house is kept too warm or appliances create heat in the room, and the door is shut, conditions are set.

For argument's sake, this section applies to pantries that store canned and dry goods which are not known to produce a lot of smells.  This doesn't apply to root cellar produce.

Pantry with ventilation window to keep pantry cool

Pantry with ventilation window to keep pantry cool.

Food absorbs odors.  Consider taking food out of cardboard and transferring to plastic or glass containers or store food in cardboard elsewhere (such as a cabinet in kitchen).

Modify the door.  Choose a louvered or mesh screen door, or door with grill in the panel.  Make sure the door is not air tight. To preserve a pretty glass door, leave the top half glass and make bottom half louvered. Add more vents to the walls to allow for more air circulation. Add transoms that open over the door (common in old Victorian architecture).  Leave the door propped open or under cut the bottom of the door a bit to allow more airflow.

Try odor absorbers like charcoal, or baking soda. Clean the pantry out routinely. Things that can contribute to pantry odors:

  • spilled food
  • dust
  • pest remains, mouse droppings
  • certain finishes 
  • not using food up in a timely manner, bulk food too much
  • deterioration of storage containers, plastic
  • use of appliances in a pantry such as a microwave or toaster (lingering smells)

The verdict on ventilation for your pantry

Ventilation is a fundamental way of maintaining a dry, cool, mold-free environment for your pantry items. If you desire fresh spices, dry pasta, and baking ingredients, make sure to keep them in air-tight containers in the dark. Keep your canned goods rust-free and your surfaces without mold by eliminating condensation. Overall, maintain proper air-flow in your pantry for optimal food preservation.

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. Years of being a stay-at-home mom and supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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