It’s that time again. You’ve gone and gotten your weekly supply of groceries, put them in the car and brought them home. And if you are like most people, this is the time to put them away to rot and eventually be thrown out. It’s the same story every week. Unfortunately, a vast amount of the food waste in the United States occurs after food items are purchased and taken home.
Most people pay little to no attention to expiration dates and proper food storage, causing food to go bad before consumption and increasing the country’s food waste exponentially. The great knew is that you can help to combat this issue by learning proper food storage and paying closer attention to what you purchase and when.
Even if you’re not all that concerned with your level of food waste, proper food storage can also help you save a good bit of money. Less food thrown in the trash means less money that was wasted on items you never actually get to eat. Either way, getting this skill set down is a huge win-win.
Keeping Items Fresh For Longer
You may be asking yourself how to keep your items fresher for longer, or how to store certain items that you aren’t used to cooking with. Food storage can be tricky and a little overwhelming if you aren’t sure how to properly keep your items. Not storing them properly is the same as throwing money in the trash can every time you throw out a rotted food item.
Making sure to take the extra time to properly store your food items can ensure that you use them when they are fresh and it keeps you from having to throw away food. Everything has a different shelf life, or a different amount of time it can spend in the fridge or freezer. The key is to make sure that products are stored where they need to be, not where it is easy to get to them.
By doing this, you can ensure that the products you purchase won’t go bad before you have a chance to use them. This means that the money you spent on them won’t go in the trash either, and that is very important.
But how do you know what can be stored where and for how long? It’s simple, and it’s likely that most storage knowledge relates to things you already know. Maybe it was something you picked up from your mother or grandmother, or something that you learned on your own through trial and error.
But most of us have the basics of food storage in our heads. For example, cheese stays in the fridge, while most snack food items can stay at room temperature. Once you know the basics, adding in different products for new recipes can be simple. It will become something that is second nature and you won’t even have to think about it the next time you take a trip to the grocery store.
There are seven different groups of items that you need to know how to store properly. They are meat, dairy, snacks, wine and beverages, fruit and veggies, condiments, and basic pantry items. All of these items require their own specific storage solutions and they all have different storage needs. While some may overlap and need the most basic of food storage, some require preplanning on your part before you can store them.
Also, there are things to take into consideration if you are planning to freeze any of these items instead of using them immediately. But don’t worry, we are going to take a look at each category and discuss the best plan of action when it comes to making sure that all of the items in your kitchen are stored correctly.
Meat & Seafood
The first set of items that we will look at is the meat/seafood section. This includes items like fish, clams, ground beef, pork, and chicken. If you are planning to freeze portions of meat and use the rest within a day or so, you need to make sure to separate out the portions. You don’t want to freeze the entire package, only to need to thaw part of it later. For red meat and chicken, if you are going to use the entire package at one time, keep it in the original package and store in the fridge.
Most red meat and chicken will last about 3 days in the fridge before it starts going bad. For the portions that you wish to freeze, separate them into smaller portions and place into individual plastic freezer bags, this will help with freezer burn. The best way to prevent freezer burn is to vacuum seal the bags that the meat is in. This removes the air which is what causes meat to burn in the freezer. When it comes to seafood, storing it in the fridge on a bed of ice is the best way to go.
However, if you are storing clams or shellfish, leave them in their original package and do not place them on ice. Meat and seafood are basically the same in the freezer, store your fish in individual plastic freezer bags. For most meat and seafood items, you can keep them in your freezer for about 6 months.
With dairy items, most people know the basics of how to store eggs, cheese and milk. But there are special things you need to do depending on the type of cheese you purchase, and there may be things that you didn’t know you could do with dairy products. For example, you can freeze milk and yogurt.
If you buy in bulk when these items are on sale and you know you won’t use them before their expiration date, freeze them. They can stay in their individual containers as long as there is at least an inch between the product and the top of the bottle or container. However, you cannot freeze buttermilk, it will not return to its original state once you thaw it. If you bought too many butter sticks and you don’t know what to do with them, you can freeze those as well.
Make sure to move them from the box and into a plastic freezer bag with their original paper lining still on. If you purchase soft or hard cheeses, they cannot be stored the same way. Soft cheese needs to be in an airtight container inside your fridge, while harder cheeses can be frozen as long as they are removed from their original package and wrapped in wax paper and then placed into a freezer bag.
Fruit & Vegetables
Fruit and vegetable storage varies depending on what type of fruit or vegetable you purchase. But all produce purchased from the grocery store should remain unwashed and in its original package. If you purchase something like lettuce or cabbage from a farmer, you can wash the dirt out of it before storing.
Make sure to dry it completely, wrap it, and place in a plastic bag. When you bring home produce that you normally leave out at room temperature, make sure to remove the packaging that it comes in and store it loose on the counter. Fruits like apples will last longer when stored in the fridge, on average about 3 weeks.
You can also freeze ripened bananas for use later on. The banana will stay ripe even though the peel will look black. Having a problem with an item not being ripe? Place it into a brown paper bag and that will accelerate the ripening process.
When it comes to snacks and baked goods, everything depends on what type of product you are storing. Any kind of baked good, whether store bought or homemade, should be stored in an airtight container or wrapped tightly in something like tin foil or saran wrap. If you buy your bread from the bakery, make sure to keep it at room temperature in its original package.
Even though you do this, most baked goods will only stay fresh between 2 to 4 days without freezing them. All pies or cakes that have an uncooked dairy component to them should be stored in the fridge until consumed or until around 3 days after purchasing or making.
Wine & Beverages
Wine, spirits, and other beverages each have their own different storage and shelf life. If you purchase soda and waters from the supermarket at room temperature, keep them at room temperature when you get home. If you purchased something out of the refrigerated section, make sure to return it to your fridge when you get home.
Because there are so many different types of beverages, there are many different types of storage options. Your average juices can last for a year unopened in your pantry, while only lasting about a week or two opened in the fridge. Soda at room temperature and unopened cans last up to 6 months, but opened and in the fridge it will only stay good for 3 days. Brown liquor, such as bourbon or whiskey has no limit to shelf life even when opened if it’s stored at room temperature.
However, lighter colored spirits such as vodka or clear rum will only last 2 years. For wine junkies, unopened bottles can last on the shelf for as long as a year. But once you open that bottle, it will only stay good in the fridge for 3 days, keeping it out on the counter will turn it bad quicker, so it is best to keep it cold.
Most people keep their condiments well after the expiration date has come and gone. If you stock up on your condiments to keep them handy throughout the year, keep the excess in the pantry unopened, they will last at least a year in this condition.
Once they are opened, move them to the fridge. Most bottles will tell you this on the label. They will only last about 6 months in the fridge, so keep an eye on the expiration date. Most condiments will only last 4 to 6 months at best once they are opened, but hot sauce is one of the few exceptions. It will last up to 3 years.
It is also grouped with olive and vegetable oils, and can be kept at room temperature even after it has been opened.
Basic Pantry Items
When it comes to storing items in your pantry, you want to make sure that your pantry is in a cool place in your house. This is important as it allows proper air flow to and from the products and you don’t risk them getting too hot and spoiling in their containers. The pantry also needs to be semi-dark. A lot of items do better if they stay in a dry, dark place.
Organizing your pantry by product dates will also help you keep track of dates and keep you from losing something in your pantry. You do not want to lose something in there and find it a few weeks or months later after it has already expired. Keeping dried herbs and seasonings in your pantry is also a good idea. This will help to keep them as fresh as possible. Exposing them to heat can shorten their shelf life and turn them sour.
It takes a little extra planning on your part to make sure that your food items are stored properly. But the extra time is worth it in the long run. You will be able to spend more time enjoying the food you purchased instead of throwing having to throw it away. Knowing these basics can also come in handy if you are trying to keep your pantry well stocked with items that have a longer shelf life.
Whether you are trying to stay well stocked, lower the amount of waste you produce, or just same some money by not throwing food away, proper food storage is an essential skill that everyone should learn.