Storing Foods to Avoid Waste
Spoilage is sometimes hard to avoid. Food might not be as fresh as you think when you buy it, or it could get forgotten at the back of the fridge or cupboard. Pantry items can suffer this fate, but produce is usually the bigger concern. Proper storage can help delay the inevitable degradation of food and reduce food waste.
One of my first pieces of advice: make a habit of checking on your produce regularly. That might sound a little strange, and I’m not talking about anything too obsessive, but be mindful of what you’ve purchased and how long it might last. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:
- If you have a couple of mangos in your fruit basket, check them every now and then to see how they’re holding up. If they’re starting to soften, stick them in the fridge to keep them fresh longer. (Same with avocados and pineapple.)
- Fresh berries in the fridge? Check their condition and if they are starting to degrade, freeze them or use them up in a smoothie.
- Apples can be particularly problematic depending on the time of year they’re purchased. They can look great at the store, seen through their shiny cellophane bag or stacked in their little baskets in the fall, but sometimes you get them home and find they are not as fresh as you thought or are turning mealy fast. Check them and if they feel soft or look bruised, make a plan for using them in applesauce or desserts.
- Citrus is another tricky one. Like the mangos I mentioned above, you can transfer citrus to the fridge to extend its life. I also highly recommend a juicer–the old-fashioned kind that you use to squeeze out the juice by hand. When citrus starts to degrade, juice it. Drink sweeter citrus juice on its own or use it in smoothies. Uset tart citrus like lime or lemon to flavour water or in salad dressings or sauces like pico de gallo or tzatziki. Or, if you are a baker, make a lemon loaf that uses the rind and the juice.
Some other standard food storage tips:
- As mentioned above, some fruits are best kept at room temperature, but once they start to ripen, put them in the fridge to slow the process and prevent them from over-ripening.
- Cut the tops off root vegetables like carrots and beets to extend their life. The tops draw moisture from the vegetable and cause it to dry out faster.
- We wrap some vegetables in foil to keep them fresh longer, but the jury is definitely out on this method. If you do a Google search, you’ll find a few proponents for this method and just as many that say plastic rules. (I’m talking about the fridge here. Storing room temperature fruit and vegetables in plastic will hasten their demise.)
- We also wrap our green onions in foil, but I just read that they should be stored upright with their roots in water at room temperature. Same goes for cilantro and parsley. The more you know.
And since there is plenty that I don’t know about individual fruits and vegetables, I will turn you over to others who have more expertise than me. Here are a few articles that I found helpful for learning how best to store fruits and vegetables.
- How To Keep Your Produce Fresh for Weeks. From Wirecutter, this post has a great chart that summarizes their recommendations.
- Everything You Need to Know About Storing Vegetables by Quick and Dirty Tips.
- How to Store Any Vegetable and Keep It Fresh As Long As Possible by Food & Wine.
- How to Store Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs. Keeping in mind that many of us do not have root cellars, I still found this article from the Farmer’s Almanac useful, with tips for storing and preserving produce. (It does talk about canning and making jam, so it may not be for everyone, but for those who are so inclined, it may be helpful.)
- The Best Way to Store Fresh Herbs. A serious deep dive into herb storage by Serious Eats.
As for those pantry items I mentioned off the top, take the time to store them properly. Close the plastic bags inside a cracker or cereal box with a binder clip or elastic band. If you have the space and budget, transfer cereal to plastic containers. In our house, we go through phases with cereal, sometimes eating a lot and then very little. Plastic storage helps prevent staleness in cereal that sits for a while.