How to store food to reduce food waste. Storing food properly ensures that it will stay fresher longer and reduces the risks of cross-contamination. Proper food storage will not only reduce food waste but also help your wallet. Here are some food storage tips.
1. Prep Items for Easy Snacking and Cooking
When you get home from the store, take the time to wash, dry, chop, dice, and slice your grocery items. Then store them in clear storage containers to have as snacks and speed up your meal prep.
2. Check Your Refrigerator and Freezer
Make sure it is functioning properly. Check the seals and make sure it is set to the proper temperature. Your refrigerator should be set at 40° F or below. Your freezer should be set at 0° F. Keep a thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer to make sure they are cooling properly.
3. First In First Out (FIFO)
When unpacking your groceries place the oldest items in front of the newest items. I also like to keep my more perishable items in the front as well as a reminder to use them first. Avoid clutter! Remember out of sight out of mind.
4. Best Refrigerator Practices
Refrigerating food correctly is important to ensure that food remains safe to eat and stop harmful bacteria from spreading from raw to ready-to-eat foods.
- Ready-to-Eat Foods: These items should be stored on the top and middle shelves. They should also be kept in sealed containers to prevent cross-contamination.
- Raw Meat, Poultry, and Fish: Meat should be placed in a sealed container to contain any raw juices and stored on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator below any prepared or ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination.
- Produce: Most produce should be placed in the produce drawers. Remember to keep the more delicate items that will spoil faster on top.
- Berries: Wait to wash berries until just before eating them to prevent mold.
- Fresh Herbs: Fresh herbs should be placed in a jar of water and covered loosely with a plastic bag.
- Condiments and Juices: These can be safely stored on the door, which is the warmest part of the refrigerator.
5. Best Freezer Practices
If you have items that you think will spoil before you can eat them, place them in the freezer. Remember that freezing foods can change their quality and texture. So proper preparation is necessary. Separate items into serving-sized portions so that you don’t have to thaw an entire package of chicken breasts just to use one. When possible lay an item flat to freeze, once it is frozen it will be easier to stack. Remember the longer an item is frozen the lower it’s quality, so continue to follow the FIFO rule here as well.
- Dairy: Remember liquids expand as they freeze so don’t fill the container all the way up.
- Vegetables: Most vegetables need to be blanched before they can be frozen. See below for instructions. Freezing raw vegetables can mean a loss of color, texture, and flavor. Freeze vegetables in a single layer on a sheet pan to prevent them from freezing in one large clump. Once frozen, transfer to an airtight container or plastic bag.
- Fruits: Freeze fruits in a single layer on a sheet pan this will prevent them from freezing in one large clump. Once frozen, transfer to an airtight container or plastic bag.
- Nuts, Beans, and Grains: Freeze in airtight containers or bags.
- Raw and Cooked Meat and Seafood: Freeze in individual portions in an airtight container or plastic bag.
- Meat or Vegetable Stock: Freeze stock in ice cube trays first and transfer to a container or plastic bag.
- Cooked Pasta: Cool before freezing and portion into airtight containers or bags.
- Soups and Casseroles: Cool before freezing. To save time use a freezer-friendly container that is also oven safe. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
- Pesto, Tomato Paste, and Tomato Sauce: Freeze these items in ice cube trays first and transfer to an airtight container or plastic bag.
- Baked Goods and Tortillas: Wrap items in plastic wrap or aluminum foil to prevent them from coming into contact with air and forming ice crystals.
- Fresh Herbs: Mix with olive oil and freeze in ice cube trays first and transfer to an airtight container or plastic bag.
How to Blanch Vegetables
When vegetables are frozen the water content inside of them expands, rupturing cell walls. Once these vegetables are thawed they become mushy. Blanching helps to maintain a vegetable’s color, texture, and nutrients. It will also help them to last longer by destroying any microorganisms that are on the surface.
- Prep vegetables by chopping them into bite-sized pieces.
- Prepare a large bowl of ice water known as an ice bath.
- For every pound of vegetables bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil.
- Add the vegetables to the pot in small batches. Blanch individual types of vegetables separately starting with the lightest colored ones first to prevent darker colored vegetables from discoloring lighter colored vegetables.
- Once the water has come back to a boil, start testing for doneness. Every 60 seconds remove one piece, dip it into the bowl of ice water, and taste. Keep tasting until the vegetables are cooked to your liking. Most vegetables take between 2-5 minutes.
- When the vegetables are done, remove them from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and place them into the ice bath to stop the cooking process.
- Once the vegetables have cooled completely, remove them from the ice bath and drain on a towel-lined tray.
- Allow the vegetables to dry completely before freezing.
A month from now you don’t want to be wondering what a mystery item is and how long it has been in your refrigerator.
- Keep permanent markers and masking tape nearby in your kitchen.
- Label everything with the name and date it was frozen.
- For already cooked items like soups and casseroles, I also like to include reheating instructions.
Best Thawing Methods for Frozen Foods
- Refrigerator: Thawing items in the refrigerator is the slowest method, but also the safest. Most items will take 1-2 days to thaw depending upon their size.
- Water: If you need to thaw something more quickly you can use the water method. Place the item in a leak-proof bag and immerse in cold water. Either leave a small trickle of water running or change the water every 30 minutes.
- Microwave: Using the microwave is the fastest way to thaw items. Arrange the items on a microwave-safe plate and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for defrosting. Once the items are thawed they will need to be cooked immediately.
6. Store Certain Items Separately
Many fruits give off natural gases as they ripen, causing other nearby produce to spoil faster. Store bananas, avocados, apples, cantaloupe, peaches, pears, green onions, and tomatoes by themselves. Also, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, and onions should always be stored at room temperature.
7. Learn to Preserve
Preservation allows you to store both raw and cooked food for an extended period of time. Food preservation techniques like fermenting and pickling have been used for thousands of years. Fermenting, pickling, curing, drying, canning, sugaring, and freezing are all methods you can use to help food last longer. Buying in-season produce and preserving it saves you money and allows you to enjoy delicious produce all year round.
8. Follow the 2-Hour Rule
For safety reasons, perishables should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. If the temperature is above 90° F, food shouldn’t be left out for more than one hour.
9. Pantry Storage
- Keep your dry ingredients in clear, airtight containers so that you will always know when an item is running low.
- Whole spices last much longer than crushed or ground. Small airtight containers are best. Be sure to avoid light, heat, and humidity.
- Store canned goods in a cool dry place. Do not store them above the stove or under the sink.
10. Items that Make Proper Storage Easier
- Ice cube trays with covers to prevent food from absorbing freezer odors.
- Ziploc bags come in a variety of sizes.
- Vacuum Sealers remove air, one of the main causes of mold and food spoilage, from bags and create an airtight seal to lock in freshness.
- Covered oven-safe casserole dishes make it easy to take a meal straight from the freezer to the oven.
- Dehydrator allows you to dry anything from pineapple slices to beef jerky.
- Canning Jars