One of the most frustrating things to deal with is throwing out and wasting food. On average, American families throw away about $2,000 worth of groceries a year due to old, spoiled, or expired food.
Fresh produce is one of the most common items to get thrown away, along with forgotten leftovers and food scraps like the heels of a loaf of bread or meat bones. Here are ten easy storage methods, both long-term and short-term, to help reduce food waste throughout the year.
Freezing your food will prevent it from spoiling before you’re ready to eat it. Some foods can be frozen as-is, while others may need to be blanched first. To save space, freeze liquids like soups in freezer bags and lay them flat on a baking sheet. Once frozen, stack them neatly in the freezer. Sauces can be frozen within ice cube trays for easy single-serving uses.
For meat freezing, separate your meats into smaller quantities while they’re still fresh. For example, instead of freezing an entire pack of chicken breasts, separate them into 2-3 bags depending on how much chicken you cook at one time. It’s better to defrost a few breasts at one time and then defrost more when you need them.
Canning is another great way to store food. The easiest method is called water-bath canning which is essentially heating food using boiling water and forming a vacuum seal on the jar. This method helps preserve acidic foods like pickles and tomatoes. Mason jars are the best storage container for canning and provide a great seal—a must for safe food consumption.
Like canning, pickling is a very common way to store vegetables and fruits. This involves soaking food in a brine or salted water, or an acid-based solution like vinegar or lemon juice.
Did you know that you can pickle more than just cucumbers? Pickling vegetables like carrots, tomatoes or okra can extend their shelf life up to three times longer than usual. Grapes, watermelon rinds and peaches can also be pickled. You can create an awesome combo of flavors by boiling the vinegar first but let it cool before adding the food. You don’t want to accidentally cook the food and lose that tasty crunch.
A simple and inexpensive way to preserve food is through drying or dehydrating. This practice removes water, repels moisture-loving bacteria, and concentrates flavors. There are several different methods you can try but the easiest forms are oven drying and using an electric dehydrator.
Oven drying is easy for first timers. Preheat your oven to 130-140°F. Place your fruits and vegetables on a rack or drying tray. You’ll know the food is fully dry when it’s wrinkly and shrunken. Fruits lose their stickiness and vegetables should be brittle. Cool and store your dry food in a cool, dry place. If you’re wanting to dry your food often, invest in an electric food dehydrator. It’s the most efficient way to dehydrate food.
One of the easiest ways to make your food last longer is to simply dunk it in vinegar. This will rid your fruits, vegetables, and herbs of infectious germs—thus extending its shelf life. Some of the most popular foods that taste delicious in vinegar are carrots, radishes, beets, green beans, zucchini, cauliflower, and so much more.
This next method of preservation has been used for centuries in Italy, Spain, and France. Olive oil can preserve many foods that would normally be cooked in the oil like meats, fish, herbs, cheese, and certain vegetables. These preserved foods can last for several weeks in the refrigerator, a year in the freezer and more than a year at room temperature. To keep the food at room temperature, boil them in vinegar or salt water first.
If you’re preserving vegetables, thoroughly dry the veggies after washing them and make sure they’re free of rot or blemishes. For best results, cook the food with stainless steel cookware and store them in glass containers. Make sure the food is completely submerged in the oil as well.
Jams & Jellies
One way to keep long-lasting fruit around the house is to turn it into jam or jelly. Fruits that are high in pectin are best but adding sugar can act as a preservative as well. Homemade jam can last in the refrigerator up to three weeks or stay frozen for six months.
Many vegetables will last more than a week if you wrap them in a damp paper or cloth towel and put them in the veggie bin or a plastic bag in the refrigerator. This is a great way to extend the shelf life of your asparagus, celery, beets, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower and more.
Some fruits are best kept in the refrigerator like berries, cherries, grapes, melons, and pineapple. For the most part, these fruits belong in the “crisper drawer” of the refrigerator—typically at the bottom.
Many people assume fruit will last longer in the refrigerator, but that’s not true for all fruits. Fruits like apples, tomatoes, grapefruit, lemons, limes, and oranges can last about a week at room temperature on the counter.
Bananas should sit at room temperature until ripe and typically last about 3-6 days—unless you put them in the refrigerator. This will slow down further ripening and extend its shelf life, even if the skin of the unopened banana turns black.
You’ve probably seen those super-tidy pantries on Pinterest full of the clear containers with the white close-top lids (see above). You just push a button and it kind of vacuum-seals the lid onto the container. These storage containers are great for keeping your grains fresh like pasta, cereal, and basic sandwich bread. This eliminates throwing out food when the bag or box hasn’t been tied up or closed properly.
All these tips, tricks and methods are super easy and, more importantly, will save you money in the long run. We hope you learned something valuable and found a few new ideas to try out after your next grocery trip.