Proper food storage and handling practices can help reduce food waste and its negative impacts on the environment. And, it can save you a lot of money in the long run if done properly.
Food waste is a significant global issue, with staggering amounts of food being wasted each year.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, approximately 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted globally every year. In developed countries, consumers discard approximately 220 million tons of food annually.
Food waste has severe environmental consequences. When food decomposes in landfills, it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Additionally, wasted resources such as water, energy, and land are used in the production, transportation, and processing of food that ultimately goes to waste.
Keeping your food fresh for longer not only helps the environment and your wallet but also ensures that you have high-quality ingredients when you need them.
Here are 50 tips to help you maximize the freshness and shelf-life of your food:
- Store fruits and vegetables separately as some fruits produce ethylene gas, which can accelerate ripening and spoilage.
Here are some common fruits that release ethylene gas:
Melons (such as cantaloupes and honeydews)
These fruits can speed up the ripening process of other fruits and vegetables when stored together, leading to faster spoilage. Therefore, it’s advisable to store ethylene-producing fruits separately or in designated ethylene-absorbing containers to help extend the freshness of other produce.
- You can keep citrus fruits at room temperature for up to a week, but refrigerate them for longer shelf life. Food savers like these can extend their life even more.
- Keep bananas with their bunch to slow down ripening.
- Wrap the crown of a bunch of bananas with plastic wrap to slow down ripening.
- Hang bananas from a hook to reduce brusing and discoloration. This one goes under the cabinet and folds away for easy hiding when you have no bananas.
- Store avocados at room temperature until they ripen, then transfer them to the refrigerator to slow down further ripening.
- Use airtight containers like these to store dry goods like flour, rice, and cereal to prevent them from going stale.
- Place a slice of bread in the container with freshly baked goods to retain moisture and prevent staleness.
- Store dried fruit in airtight containers to prevent them from drying out further.
- Use airtight containers or resealable bags to store leftover chips and pretzels. If you don’t have a resealable bag, consider buying this inexpensive tool that will turn your plastic bags into sealed bags again.
- Keep dried pasta in airtight containers to protect it from moisture and pests.
- Label and date homemade or leftover food containers to keep track of their freshness and avoid food waste.
- Store bread in a bread box or airtight container to maintain freshness.
- Use airtight containers to store opened packages of crackers, cookies, and snacks.
- Keep dried beans and legumes in airtight containers to protect them from moisture and pests.
- Use vacuum-sealed bags or airtight containers to store coffee beans or ground coffee.
- Don’t store tomatoes in the fridge.
- Revive old hard brown sugar with a marshmellow or fresh piece of bread. Or, buy a ceramic hydrating stone.
- Follow a First-In first-Out (FIFO) method to eating food that is the oldest first.
- Use a smartphone app like Fridgely to keep track of your expiration dates.
Pantry or Basement Storage
- Store opened bottles of vinegar in a cool, dark place to maintain quality.
- Store opened bottles of oil in a cool, dark place to prevent rancidity.
- Keep potatoes, onions, and garlic in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated area, but not in the refrigerator.
- Keep spices and dried herbs in airtight containers away from heat and moisture.
What to Refrigerate and How
- Store fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley in a glass of water, covering them with a plastic bag and refrigerating. Or, buy one of these herb storage containers:
- Place berries on a paper towel-lined fruit container to absorb excess moisture and help them last longer. Don’t wash berries until you are ready to eat them.
- Wrap leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach, in a paper towel before placing them in a bag to absorb excess moisture.
- Place lettuce in the fridge crisper drawer to keep it crisp.
- Before storing lettuce, inspect it and discard any leaves that are bruised or wilted. This helps prevent the spread of moisture and spoilage.
- Keep milk and dairy products on the refrigerator’s coldest shelf, away from the door’s warmer temperatures.
- Store mushrooms in a paper bag to maintain freshness and prevent them from becoming slimy.
- Keep eggs in their original carton and store them in the refrigerator’s main compartment.
- Place a paper towel in a bag of pre-washed salad greens to absorb excess moisture and prevent wilting.
- Keep opened jars of nut butter upside down in the refrigerator to prevent the oil from separating.
- Wrap cheese tightly in wax paper or parchment paper before storing it in the refrigerator.
- Use Beeswax wraps instead of plastic wrap to keep things fresh and tightly sealed while being able to wash the wrapping multiple times for reuse.
- Use airtight containers or zipper bags to store leftover chopped vegetables and herbs in the refrigerator.
- Place celery in the fridge crisper drawer to maintain crispness and prevent it from drying out.
- Store nuts in the refrigerator or freezer to extend their shelf life and prevent them from turning rancid.
- Store opened wine bottles in the refrigerator to slow down oxidation.
- Transfer canned goods to airtight fridge containers after opening to maintain freshness and prevent metallic taste.
- Store opened canned pet food in the refrigerator, covered with a lid or plastic wrap.
- Keep opened packages of bacon or deli meats tightly wrapped in the refrigerator.
- Store opened packages of tortillas in resealable bags in the refrigerator to prevent them from drying out.
- Store flour and other baking ingredients in the refrigerator or freezer to extend their shelf life.
- Keep opened jars of pickles, olives, and condiments tightly sealed in the refrigerator.
- Let hot food cool down before putting in the refridgerator to avoid condensation which can create bacteria (and can lower the temperature of your fridge, putting other items at risk).
What To Freeze and How
- Freeze leftover broth or stock in ice cube trays for convenient portioning.
- Freeze ripe bananas for later use in smoothies or baking.
- Freeze fresh ginger and grate it while frozen for easy use in cooking.
- Store tomato paste in a resealable bag or container in the freezer for future use.
- Freeze leftover sauces, soups, and stews in portion-sized containers for quick and easy meals.
- Freeze overripe fruit to use later in smoothies, sauces, or baking.
- Freeze leftover fruit that children discard or don’t eat for smoothies (optional, if you have kids that don’t finish their fruit on a regular basis)
- Freeze grated cheese to easily sprinkle on dishes or melt into sauces.
- Freeze leftover wine in ice cube trays to use for cooking.
- Freeze leftover cooked grains like rice or quinoa for quick meal additions.
- Store opened bags of chocolate chips or other baking ingredients in the freezer to prevent them from melting.
- Store homemade cookie dough in the freezer for freshly baked cookies on demand.
- Freeze ripe mangoes for later use in smoothies or desserts.
Follow Good Fridge Rules
Using your refrigerator properly is essential for maintaining food freshness, preventing spoilage, and ensuring food safety. By following these guidelines, you can optimize the use of your refrigerator, ensure food safety, and maintain the freshness of your food items for longer periods.
How to make the most out of your fridge:
- Keep your refrigerator temperature at or below 40°F (4°C) and your freezer at 0°F (-18°C). This temperature range helps slow down bacterial growth and keeps perishable foods fresh.
- Use a thermometer to verify the temperatures periodically and adjust the settings if necessary.
Organizing Your Fridge:
- Upper Shelf: This area is the warmest part of the fridge, making it suitable for ready-to-eat foods like leftovers, cooked meats, and drinks.
- Middle Shelf: Use this shelf for dairy products, eggs, and other packaged foods. Keep milk at the back where the temperature is colder and more stable.
- Lower Shelf: This is the coldest part of the fridge, so store raw meats, fish, and poultry in sealed containers to prevent any potential cross-contamination.
- Crisper Drawers: These drawers have adjustable humidity settings. Use one drawer for storing fruits (with low humidity) and the other for vegetables (with higher humidity). Keep them in separate drawers to maintain freshness. Place a newspaper or paper towel at the bottom of the fruit drawers to soak up any moisture (which can make produce wilt faster).
- Door Shelves: Use these shelves for storing condiments, sauces, and items with high acidity or preservatives. Avoid placing perishable items like milk or eggs in the door, as temperature fluctuations occur frequently.
- Keep raw meats, poultry, and fish on the lowest shelf to prevent their juices from dripping onto other foods.
- For meats, consider double-wrapping them to provide an extra layer of protection.
- Use airtight containers or wrap food tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil to prevent air and moisture from entering. This helps maintain freshness and prevents odors from spreading.
- Store leftovers in shallow containers to facilitate faster cooling and minimize the risk of bacterial growth.
- Get leftovers into the fridge within two hours of cooking to ensure the highest level of safety.
- Label and date the wrapped food to keep track of its freshness and ensure you use the oldest items first.
- Avoid overcrowding your fridge, as it restricts air circulation and may lead to uneven cooling. Allow some space between items for proper airflow.
Handling Fresh Produce:
- Wash fruits and vegetables before storing them, except for berries, which are best washed just before consumption to maintain their quality.
- Remove any damaged or spoiled pieces to prevent the spread of mold or bacteria.
- Store produce in the crisper drawers or in perforated bags to maintain humidity levels and preserve freshness. Some vegetables, like leafy greens, can benefit from being stored in a slightly damp paper towel to retain moisture.
- Regularly clean spills and food debris to prevent bacterial growth and odors.
- Use mild soapy water or a mixture of baking soda and water to clean the interior of the fridge. Avoid using abrasive cleaners that may damage the surface.
- Clean the fridge regularly to prevent the buildup of dirt, grime, and odors.
Avoid Cross Contamination
Specific food items should be stored separately from others, in order to minimize the risk of cross-contamination, preserve food quality, and ensure the safety of your meals. It’s important to organize your refrigerator accordingly and follow proper food storage practices to maintain optimal freshness and reduce the likelihood of foodborne illnesses.
Here are some examples of foods that should be stored separately and the reasons behind it:
- Raw meat and poultry should be stored away from other foods, especially those consumed raw or ready-to-eat, such as fruits, vegetables, and cooked dishes. This separation helps prevent the transfer of harmful bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli, or Campylobacter, which are commonly found in raw meats and can cause foodborne illnesses if ingested.
- Seafood, including fish, shellfish, and crustaceans, should also be stored separately from other foods, especially those that are ready-to-eat or have a shorter shelf life. This prevents the potential contamination of other foods with any bacteria or odors associated with seafood.
- Eggs should be stored separately to avoid the risk of Salmonella contamination. It’s best to keep them in their original carton, which helps protect them and prevents any potential cross-contamination with other foods in the refrigerator.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables should be stored away from raw meats, poultry, and seafood. This separation is necessary to prevent the transfer of bacteria from these raw animal products, which can lead to foodborne illnesses. Additionally, some fruits release ethylene gas as they ripen, which can accelerate the spoilage of nearby vegetables, so it’s advisable to store them separately to maintain their freshness.
- Ready-to-eat foods, such as deli meats, cooked dishes, leftovers, and prepared salads, should be stored separately from raw meats, poultry, and seafood. This prevents potential cross-contamination from raw products that may contain harmful bacteria. It’s also important to store ready-to-eat foods above raw meats in the refrigerator to prevent any potential drips or juices from contaminating them.
- Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese should be stored separately from strong-smelling foods like onions, garlic, or highly aromatic spices. Dairy products can easily absorb odors, affecting their quality and taste.
- Foods with strong odors, such as certain cheeses, onions, or pungent spices, should be stored separately to prevent their aromas from permeating other foods in the refrigerator. This helps maintain the flavors and quality of different food items.
Bonus Food Idea
For those of you who want to go above and beyond, consider investing in a food vacuum sealer or a dehydrator to make the most of every scrap from your meals.
By following the recommendations on this list, you can significantly extend the freshness and shelf life of various foods, reducing waste and ensuring that your ingredients stay delicious and usable for longer periods.
If you are interested in other ideas for helping the environment – check out this post: 50 Ways You Can Save the Planet