Save Money and Prevent Food Waste with These Food Storage Tips
Have you ever bought lots of fresh veggies, only to forget about them and have them die in the back of the fridge? Food waste is an avoidable problem that we all deal with, but it’s manageable with a plan and proper food storage.
To start, implement a few simple steps into your food shopping routine, such as meal planning and/or making a list ahead of going to the store to prevent over-buying. You’re bound to already notice a difference with a lighter grocery bill. Making sure you take a little bit of time to prep and properly store everything once you get home will also pay off in the long run. And I do mean that literally—the average family of four spends $1,500 on the food they don’t end up eating!
My list below is not exhaustive, but hopefully provides some helpful tips to get the most out of your groceries:
Put fresh herbs in a glass or mason jar with a couple of inches of water. It’ll keep them fresher for longer and look like a lovely bouquet in your kitchen.
To keep them for even longer, especially through the winter months, there are a couple of different methods to preserve them:
- Chop your herbs, place them in some boiling water for a couple of minutes, let cool and freeze in something as simple as an ice cube tray. The boiling water will blanch the herbs, which will help them retain some flavor.
- You can also opt for freezing them in olive oil, especially if they are herbs you normally cook with. The cube of herbs and oil will melt and cook down as you add it to your hot pan.
- A third way to preserve your herbs is to take a full bunch, rinse, and place in a freezer bag. This will preserve the freshness for up to one month.
Citrus fruits like oranges and mangoes, tomatoes, and avocados (yes, technically fruits!) can be stored at room temperature but should be moved to the fridge once they ripen. Some fruits can ripen faster than others, so keep a close eye on them.
Apples: Contrary to the quaint Instagram photos of kitchen counters with bowls full of market goodies, don’t keep apples mixed with other fruits or vegetables. Apples emit ethylene gas, which causes other fresh food nearby to ripen quicker than they might normally. Keep apples in a plastic bag on their own and in the fridge.
Bananas: Like apples, bananas should be kept away from other fruits and vegetables. They tend to ripen quickly and emit the same sort of gas as apples to bring other produce down with them! . Since bananas do ripen fast, a simple way to slow the ripening process a bit is to cover the stem in plastic wrap.
Avocado: Avocados are famous for ripening at lightning speed, especially once they’re sliced in half. Just don’t throw away that avocado pit! Keep the pit in the remaining half to help keep it fresher for longer. You can also put the avocado pit in guacamole for the same purpose.
Berries: To clean and add a few extra days to the life of your fresh berries, wash them in a mixture of water and vinegar. This applies to strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and other sorts of berries. You can also freeze berries as they hit their ripest stage in order to make them last a bit longer. Just make sure they are dry beforehand to prevent freezer burn.
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Moisture control is important with your fresh fruits and veggies! Line the produce drawers in your fridge with a paper towel (or even a reusable towel) to keep excess moisture at bay. It may not seem like much, but it makes a world of difference. Many of your vegetables should be stored in the fridge, away from anything else (or in a bag, with a paper towel, if space is limited) and should not be rinsed until just before you plan to use them.
Potatoes: Keep potatoes in a dry, dark, cool space (not in the fridge, though). To keep them from sprouting for even longer, put an apple in the bag with them! The Ethylene gas that apples produce helps keep potatoes firm and fresh. Do not store potatoes and onions together, though—they will spoil quickly!
Lettuce and other leafy greens: Wrap them in a paper towel, place in a bag in the fridge, and check on them often and replace the towel as needed. This is to keep moisture from lingering too long and wilting the leaves. When ready to prepare them for a meal, revive the leafy greens by rinsing them with some cold water.
Celery: Keep celery fresh and crunchy for longer by wrapping it in aluminum foil before refrigerating. If your celery is wilting, cut off the bottom and stick it in a jar or cup of water to resuscitate!
Green Onions: Get two, even three, times the life of the green onions you buy at the store by putting the ends in a small jar of water on your counter and watch it grow! Trim as needed.
When your fruit or vegetables might be hitting their peak ripeness, you can always freeze them (after they’ve dried) to keep them longer and avoid having to toss them in the compost.
Cheese: We take our dairy products pretty seriously in Vermont. Store your hard cheese in parchment paper or reusable silicone bags rather than in the plastic wrap from the store. Doing so will keep it from drying out and help preserve its flavor and consistency. Store in the refrigerator.
Milk: Pay close attention to the date on the carton and be sure to store it in the main part of your refrigerator. The door is a common place to store milk, but it’s actually the “warmest” spot in your fridge! Also, if you find yourself with a carton of milk in your fridge the day before you go out of town, you can freeze it instead of dumping it down the drain later! Make sure you have a few inches of empty space in the carton, since it will expand as it freezes. Defrost in the fridge and use within a few days.
Butter: I buy butter in bunches if it’s on sale! It holds up extremely well in the freezer. Defrost as needed in the refrigerator, but store one section at a time at room temperature in what I like to call a “butter boat.” Room temperature butter holds up extremely well and is much more malleable, which also means you are likely to use less. Win-win all around!
Yogurts/Sour Cream/Cottage Cheese: The method for preserving these items is rather simple but unexpected, so stay with me on this one… Store these items upside-down in their container in your refrigerator. This is to reduce the amount of air/oxygen getting in and being trapped inside the container, which could cause mold and bacteria to form over time. Storing these items upside-down creates a seal inside the container.
Expiration or “sell by” dates may not always be accurate or mean that the food item is immediately spoiled. As we’ve discussed, there are a variety of ways to preserve certain food items until you’re ready to consume it. Overall: Trust your nose, your instincts, and your taste buds.
Bread: It may seem like second nature to toss your new loaf of bread in the fridge to keep it fresh, but the cold temperature and moisture of the refrigerator actually make loaves go stale even faster. Keep it at room temperature in a dark, cool container or get yourself a “bread box!”
Bulk Dry Foods: Split these items up and store them in smaller airtight containers. This will not only help you portion appropriately but prevents the entire lot from being exposed to excess air and moisture that speeds up its decline. This is also a great way to save money long-term with fewer trips to the store. Just keep a log of your pantry items (with dates) handy so everything gets used in a timely manner.
Honey: If you see crystallization or thickening starting to happen to your honey (especially if you have fresh honey from a beekeeper friend or family member), don’t fret! You can revive your honey by placing the jar (I recommend storing your honey in mason jars, or a similar glass jar) in a shallow pot of water and bring it to a slow boil. Leave it until you see the honey return to its normal state, remove from the water, stir, and let cool to room temperature. Ta da! Good as new.
Meat: Pay close attention to the dates listed on the meat packaging and plan your storage accordingly. My method is to take advantage of a great meat sale, or purchase in bulk, and then portion out, label/date, and freeze almost everything in smaller containers. I’ll take out what I need for dinner the evening prior and defrost in my refrigerator. I don’t purchase and freeze too much to avoid potential waste, and I make sure to rotate my freezer stock appropriately, to avoid items getting freezer burned and lost at the bottom of the pile.
Containers: Learning proper food storage tips is a great step to be more environmentally conscious. It’s not just how you prep your food for storage, but what you actually store it in, too. Consider alternative storage items to plastic, such as glass containers, reusable food wraps, or reusable silicone bags.
Following good food storage practices also helps to reduce your own food waste. Vermont’s Recycling & Composting Initiative, part of the Department of Environmental Conservation, also provides a plethora of helpful tips and information for you to help “scrap food waste” at https://scrapfoodwaste.org/. My food list above is certainly not exhaustive; there is so much more to learn! I recommend visiting https://savethefood.com/storage for more information and tips on a larger list of food items.
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