Organizing the food storage in your home is a great way to simplify meal preparation and planning while keeping your food fresh for longer. It gives you the convenience of grab-and-go food with all the nutritional benefits you gain from your at-home cooking, whether it’s the simple meals, canning meals you put together to please the whole family, or your personal culinary masterpieces.
Additionally, having methods for proper storage can help you cut down on food waste. Decreasing your food waste is good for the environment and good for your wallet. After all, it can be a drag on your finances to continually buy food that you won’t ever get to eat.
Each type of food has its own storage needs, including tips or tricks that will keep it in peak condition for longer. The best way to preserve your food is, of course, the method that works best with your lifestyle and eating habits.
Nonetheless, if you find that you’re throwing away a lot of spoiled food, it might be time to experiment with new storage techniques and even some home preserving, such as pickling or canning, to help you keep healthy snacks in your kitchen and allow your food budget to go further.
How to Cut Down on Food Waste
Wasting food can drag down anyone who spends a lot of time in their kitchen. While it’s inevitable for food to go bad eventually, you ideally want to stay ahead of the process, so that you can prepare items before this happens.
In many cases, food waste tends to result from having a plan for part of your produce, but not knowing exactly how to use the other part. For example, many of us put the radishes in the salad, but toss the greens to the compost.
Meal planning can help us use all parts of the food we eat. However, it must be paired with proper storage in order to keep these foods fresh for the time that we’re ready to prepare them.
Ways to Rescue Foods that Are About to Go Bad
The number one way to save food that’s about to go bad is to find a way to prepare it and quickly. Bake or blend them into something, or prepare a casserole and add heat to give food a second life. When we cook things, we are altering their chemistry. Cooking can give your food a new life.
- Bake it into Bread – Overly ripe bananas are prime for making good banana bread. That’s not all, though. You can use Zucchini, sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach to make quick breads as well in your own home bread maker.
- Blend it into a Smoothie – Wilted spinach is still good for something, if not salads. Blend it up into a smoothie along with some of those overripe fruits. While the added sugar that these fruits accrue as they become overripe can make them unappetizing as standalone snacks, they are sure to make a delicious smoothie.
- Make DIY Vegetable Stock – During soup season, it can be more expensive to constantly purchase your vegetable stock, when you can easily make it at home from assorted vegetables in your fridge that are close to turning.
- Preserve Herbs by Freezing Them in Olive Oil – Herbs can be expensive, and often you get more than what you’re recipe calls for. To make sure to get the most out of the herbs you buy, chop them all at once. Save out what you need for the recipe and your cooking for the week. Then, add the remaining chopped herbs into an ice cube tray. Fill the remaining cube with 1-2 Tablespoons (14-28 grams) of olive oil, and freeze them. Pull these out for quick flavor punches when you’re ready to saute some vegetables.
- Make Olive Oil Infusions – Your peppers, herbs, lemons and other citrus that are about to turn can make great olive oil infusions. Cut them so that they fit into whatever bottle you’re using for infusions. Then allow them to sit in the olive oil for at least a week before using or gifting.
- Throw It Into a Stew – Stews aren’t born in a day. Usually, they’re the accumulation of about a month’s worth of frozen odds and ends that you’ve squirreled away after preparing a meal. When it comes to putting together a peasant stew, just about anything goes, from softening celery and carrots to a bottle of wine that’s been open too long. Throw in your kale and hardier greens, chicken and vegetable stock, and a bit of meat or chicken that might be waiting in your freezer.
- Make Croutons from Stale Breads – Make your own croutons by cutting your stale bread into squares. Drizzle them with olive oil and add seasonings, such as salt, pepper, basil, and oregano. Place them on a sheet pan and bake at 400 degrees for about fifteen minutes until they are golden and no longer soft. You can also make your own bagel or pita chips from stale bagels or pitas following this same method.
- Roast Tomatoes That Are on The Edge – You can preserve your tomatoes for another week by roasting them in the oven and then storing them in olive oil inside your fridge. While you’re at it, you can roast some of your other more delicate vegetables as well and store them all together for a future pasta sauce.
- Puree Overripened or Overcooked Foods – Berries are an amazing snack on a warm day, and they can brighten up anything from your morning yogurt to a light dessert. However, it’s no secret that these berries go bad quickly. Pureeing the berries is a great way to preserve them in a way that helps prepare for your next use of them. Pureed berries are great for making jams and preserves, a mix-in for yogurt, dessert or ice cream toppings, or frozen to add to smoothies. You can also puree overcooked veggies to make sauces and salsas, as well as soups and stews.
- Use Them for Cleaning – There are many herbs that perfectly complement your homemade cleaning solutions, such as rosemary, basil, and sage. However, nothing cleans better than your overripe lemons. The lemon’s acid makes it useful for cleaning and sanitizing the house, not to mention it makes everything smell bright and fresh. Throw it into your vinegar cleaning spray, or sprinkle a lemon half with baking soda to scrub stubborn stains off your pots and pans.
Save and Eat Leftovers
It’s often a good thing to cook more than you plan to serve at a meal. This can save you a lot of time, as eating leftovers means not having to plan and cook your meals for the following day. For many, however, leftovers have gotten a bad reputation. There’s no good reason for this, other than that they may not look as attractive the next day as when you first make the meal.
Here are some tips to make it easier to eat those leftovers:
- Put them in appropriately-sized refrigerator or freezer containers. This will help you tell how much is in a portion while saving you on freezer space. If you’re intending to take them into work for lunches the next day or two, then go ahead and already separate them into appropriate portions and storage containers so you can simply grab and go.
- Label them with at least the date. If you think of it, you can add onto the label any components that go with the meal, or even ideas you had for fixing it up, such as “add fresh spinach.” You can easily get into a labeling habit by keeping a roll of masking tape and a permanent marker next to the fridge.
- Incorporate the leftovers into your meal plan or your weekly routine.
- Spruce them up to give your leftovers a better, fresher taste:
- Mix in fresh ingredients, such as fresh salad greens, tomatoes or fruit.
- If you have the time, reheat your leftovers on the stove or in the oven, rather than in the microwave. The oven is particularly helpful for anything with a crisp texture, while the stove can help you to add new flavor into your leftovers while keeping it from drying out.
- Make it into a topping for tacos, burritos, a quesadilla, or flatbread.
- Toss leftover proteins into a new stir fry.
- Bake pastas, and cook vegetable leftovers into a pot pie or casserole.
- Freshen the food up with added herbs and spices, and use your favorite salsa or sauces for dressing and dipping.
Making a food list is as easy as keeping a notepad or two on your refrigerator. While there are numerous food lists that you can keep around to inspire your eating habits, such as meal planning and food inspiration lists, there are two main lists that will help you cut down on food waste: a grocery list and a list of the foods your throw away.
Make a Grocery List
Everyone makes their grocery list differently. Some people only add to it as they run out of what they already have in the fridge. Other people will make a list based on their meal plan for the week. Each method works, since this list is really important to save you from overbuying foods that may already be in your fridge.
Overpurchasing is one of the main culprits of food waste. If you evaluate what’s already in the fridge, you will be able to plan meals around food that you already have.
When we go to the store without a list, we are often compelled to purchase the same things that we know we’ll eat, without remembering whether we already have a stock of these foods in the fridge. Using a grocery list will tell you whether you have plenty of that food already.
Keep a List of Foods that Your Throw Away
Your throw away list isn’t meant to shame you. Instead, this list is an important way of seeing what foods you’re more inclined to eat before their expiration and what foods you’re less inclined to eat. If there’s a food that you consistently find yourself throwing away, then this is a good indication that it’s probably time to buy less of it.
Clean and Prep Your Food When You Get Home
You will be more likely to eat your food, particularly raw or healthy food, if it’s prepped and ready in the refrigerator. When you get home from the grocery store, go ahead and cut your carrots and slice some apples so you can eat them at the appropriate times. This is also a good time to store or freeze your excess, including half of your bundle of herbs that you don’t intend to use that week.
The Best Ways to Preserve Food
Canning has a tried and true tradition of food preservation and storage, and now it’s making a big splash in the urban homesteading community. From jams and sauces to homemade pickles, this is one of the best ways to preserve your own food.
Not only does it give you the freedom of making things your way, but it also lets you control the preservatives and sugars that go into your canned goods. Canned goods make great sauces and toppings, and pickled veggies can spruce up any salad in seconds.
Getting Started With Canning
Canning refers to processing your own food into glass jars at high temperatures. This both eliminates bacterial contaminants and creates a vacuum seal to stop the food’s natural spoilage cycle and give your canned goods a long shelf life.
Canning can be done in two ways: water bath canning and pressure canning.
Water Bath Canning
Water bath canning uses lower temperatures and is better suited for foods that are high in acid. This method is safe for high acid foods, because the acid can partly preserve these foods and eliminate bacteria on its own.
Between the time and temperature, water bath canning is able to eliminate mold, yeast, and other spoilage-causing enzymes. It’s commonly used for fruit juices and preserves, jams and jellies, salsa and marinara, pickles, chutneys, sauces, and pie fillings.
This method requires either a boiling water bath canner, or you can make it work with your own equipment using a large and deep saucepot with a lid and a rack that fits down inside it. You want your pot to be deep enough that you can immerse the jars with about 1-2 inches of free water above.
Additionally, you’ll need lids, jars, and bands designed for glass preserving. Also useful are a jar lifter, canning funnel, and various tools, including a wooden spoon, ladle, and paring knife.
Begin by picking a recipe suited for canning. These recipes will have the proper acid balance. This might make them different from the usual pie filling or salsa that you use when cooking something fresh. Therefore, it’s important to either do your homework and balance the acid level in your home recipe, or find a recipe recommended for the canning process.
- Make sure that all the jars, lids, and bands fit. Check for cracks, chips in the glass, unevenness and sharp edges. Wash all jars in hot soapy water. To be extra safe, you can also boil all tools, jars, and lids prior to beginning.
- Fill the pot at least half-way with water. Cover it and bring it to a simmer of about 180 degrees.
- Preheat the jars in the hot water. This steps helps to prevent shattering when you add hot food into them.
- When the sauce is ready, carefully remove the pre-heated jar from the pot. Fill the jars one at a time. Leave headspace as necessary. Headspace creates the vacuum between the foot and the lid of the jar. Use a rubber spatula to remove bubbles. Clean off any residue from the outside of the jar.
- Place the rim securely on top of the jar and screw the band onto the jar and rim, then submerge the jar into the hot water. Repeat this process for each jar.
- Place the lid on the pot and bring to a rolling boil, allowing it to boil for about 10 minutes. This is dependent on altitude, so for every 1,000 feet above sea level you are, add another minute to your boiling time. For example, at 5,000 feet above sea level, you would boil for 15 minutes.
- Once your processing time is completed, remove from heat, and take off the lid of the pot. Allow the jars to sit there for about five minutes to acclimate to the non-boiling temperature.
- Then, remove the cans from the pot and set them on a towel. Leave them for 12-24 hours. Inspect the lid for any flexing or movement. If, when you remove the band, you can lift the lid with your fingertips, the jar is not sealed properly, so immediately put it into the refrigerator.
This process uses a high temperature of about 240 degrees Fahrenheit. The high heat is required by foods that have a low acid content to destroy bacteria while creating a vacuum seal.
Pressure canning is commonly used for meat and poultry, salsas, vegetables, chili, and seafood. Keep in mind that combining a high-acid food, such as tomatoes with low-acid foods, such as vegetables or meats will make for a low-acid canning process and therefore require pressure canning.
This canning method requires a pressure canner to work. In this case, it’s best to follow the directions provided with your particular pressure canner.
Homemade Pickles and the Pickling Process
The pickling process is very similar to the water bath canning process. Home pickling offers you a lot of latitude on taste, such as whether you prefer sweet, salty, or sour pickles, and the actual combination of the pickles.
Pickling refers to more than just cucumbers and relish. There are a variety of pickles you can make from your produce, such as pickled beets or peppers. Remember that when it comes to pickling vegetables, you don’t have to do a whole can of each veggie. There are many recipes that mix vegetables together for a variety of pickles.
Here are some vegetables you could easily pickle in your own home:
- Thin-cut Carrots or Carrot Ribbons
- Red onions
- Green Beans
- Hot Pepper, such Sweet Banana or Jalapenos
- Watermelon Rinds
The list doesn’t end here, so if there’s something you want to make pickles out of, there’s probably a recipe for it.
Using a Vacuum Sealer to Preserve Food
Canning, however, isn’t the only way to effectively store food for the long-term. Vacuum sealing your food for freezer storage has some great advantages. The best reason to have a vacuum sealer is to preserve both raw and cooked food for a longer freezer life. The vacuum seal keeps out moisture and oxygen, which prevents premature spoilage. It also helps to prevent freezer burn, which can alter the flavor of the food.
Not only does vacuum sealing save your food from spoilage, but it also helps it to taste fresher for longer. Freshness often correlates to preserving nutrients in the food, particularly with vegetables. Ultimately, using a vacuum sealer means convenient and fresh, preservative-free freezer meals.
When vacuum sealed:
- Vegetables and proteins can last for two to three years in freezer storage.
- Stews, soups, and broths can last for one to two years in freezer storage.
- Bread and carbohydrates can last for one to three years in freezer storage.
- Pantry items, such as pasta, flour, and sugar can last for one to two years.
Different vacuum sealers have different functions, gadgets, and setups to allow you the easiest and most efficient experience, so it’s important to read the manual of your particular model. Nonetheless, there are some constant trends among the various vacuum sealers. For example, it’s important to make sure that you have the correct bags for your vacuum sealer.
With the correct bags, you are ready to start sealing. The process is to fill the bag with whatever you intend to seal, remove all the air from the bag using the sealer’s built-in vacuum system, and then seal the bag using the built-in heat sealer. Make sure that you have an air-tight seal and that nothing is puncturing the seal or the bag before storing it.
Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your vacuum sealer:
- Reseal pantry items to keep them fresh with infrequent use. This can be useful for infrequently used prepared items, such as bread crumbs or infrequently-used spices.
- Use vacuum sealing to preserve the freshness of dried prepared foods, such as trail mix or dried fruit.
- When using the vacuum sealer on delicate fruits and berries, pre-freeze fruit, vegetables, and anything else that might be squished by the vacuum-sealing process. You can do this by first laying the delicate items out on a tray in the freezer. Then, once they are firm, move them to the vacuum seal bag and continue the sealing process.
- If you are planning to freeze a dish that doesn’t reheat well, then it’s better to freeze it raw. Otherwise, you can vacuum seal and freeze already cooked foods.
- Additionally, vacuum sealing can be a good way to help with portion control or meal prep, as you create your own pull and bake freezer meals.
- Vacuum seal in the correct portions. For example, if you have enough food to make three of a meal, then apportion these out before sealing them up.
- Pre-freeze liquids to easily seal them into a bag.
- Don’t over-fill your bags, since this can cause faulty sealing and air-leakage.
- Always label your sealed packages with the contents and the date that it was prepared or stored.
Keeping Pests Out of Your Stored Foods
Pests are particularly a problem in dry food storage and for those who buy in bulk. Every kind of pest has its own agenda and way of getting rid of it, from weevils to pantry moths. Here are a few tips for how to prevent an infestation.
- Keep the kitchen tidy and don’t leave pans in the sink to dissuade disease-carrying bugs, such as roaches.
- Store food in containers with tight lids.
- Flour and dry goods should be kept in a tightly sealed container and stored in a cool, dry place.
- To keep weevils away from your flour, rice, or cornmeal storage, add a bay leaf into the container.
- If you do have an infestation, freeze the flour for 48 hours to kill insects that may be present.
- Keep an adhesive trap in your pantry for indications of a pantry moth infestation. This won’t do much for the infestation itself, but it will give you an early indication if you’re about to have a problem.
- To keep flies and gnats out of your kitchen, makes sure to clean regularly and keep sugar containers covered, including juices and sodas. Additionally, take out your trash regularly, so that any decaying food in the garbage won’t lure flies.
- If you have a fruit fly problem, try making a trap. You can make your own trap by putting fragrant overripe fruit, such as a banana or peach, and apple cider vinegar into a container. Then wrap the top of the container with plastic wrap and poke a few holes in the top. Do not make the holes too large. This will draw the flies into the container through the holes. Then, the flies will have difficulty leaving through the same holes and drown. Traps, however, won’t fix a problem if there is still something in your kitchen that is luring the fruit flies, such as overly ripe fruit either on your counter or in the trash.
Avoiding Rot and Cross Contamination
Rot and bacteria are most likely to form in foods that are hot and moist. This is not the same as propping the asparagus up in a vase to keep from wilting. Instead, moisture becomes a problem when it gets into the nooks and crannies of the food and starts to mold or grow bacteria that then decompose the food. For most foods, dry cool environments are ideal for keeping bacteria at bay.
- Not all parts of the fridge are cooled equally. The higher up something is on the shelves, the more cooling it receives. At the same time, save the door space, which is subject to the most temperature fluctuation, for items that are the most stable or most heavily processed.
- When we pre-rinse our fresh food, we shorten its freshness window by a matter of days. This is true for berries as well as lettuces.
- While it’s a good practice to put your leftovers into a storage container right away, closing the lid and trapping in heat right away can rapidly increase the growth of bacteria in the food. You should leave the hot leftovers a little room to breathe and release heat.
- If your leftover meal contains a sauce that covers most of the ingredients, try to store this separately from the rest of the leftovers. Allowing your food to sit in the sauce will make it more likely to mold or rot. Similarly, store salads separately from their dressings.
- Don’t store delicate foods, produce, or oils too close to the stovetop, since high temperatures and fluctuations will cause them to spoil more quickly.
One of the best ways to avoid cross-contamination in your kitchen, besides washing all cutlery between use, is to use designated cutting boards and even storage containers for raw meats and proteins. This is particularly important for poultry and non-sushi-grade raw fish. Nonetheless, it’s a good rule to follow for all your raw meat.
When you use a cutting board, you create nicks and cuts in the surface that are more difficult to clean than the rest of the surface. This is the ideal place for bacteria to grow.
It’s not a bad idea to pick a wooden cutting board for your raw proteins either, since wood has natural antibacterial properties, and the seasoning and sealing required by wood cutting boards can help them remain clean of long-living bacteria. Nonetheless, for anyone who is a meat-eater, it’s important to have a cutting board for raw meats, where anything that comes off of it must be cooked.
What to Store Where
Where you store your food and produce will have a big influence on how long it lasts in your home. While some produce requires refrigeration, others are better off at room temperature. To lengthen the lifespan of the food you buy, it’s best to know where to store it.
What Should Go in the Fridge
The ideal refrigerator temperature should be 38-40 degrees ℉. Produce that you purchase pre-cut or already peeled should always be stored in the fridge.
- Grapes and Cherries – These should be stored in the fridge and unwashed.
- Delicate Berries – This category includes blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Keep these in the refrigerator. Only wash right before eating.
- Citrus Fruit and Melons – Oranges, lemons, limes, and clementines will all keep longer if stored in the refrigerator. Honeydew and cantaloupe should be stored in the fridge before and after cutting. Watermelon should be moved to the fridge once cut.
- Vegetables – Broccoli and cauliflower, celery, corn, green beans, carrots, beets, and radishes. Wilted vegetables can often be revived by soaking the stems in water, like flowers in a vase, inside the refrigerator. This is particularly true of crisp lettuce, asparagus, kale, collards, chard, green onions, and cut broccoli. Similarly, to keep radishes, celery, and carrots, cut them up and store the pieces suspended in water.
- Leafy Greens – Lettuce, spinach, collards, chard, and kale.
- Mushrooms – These should remain unwashed when in the fridge, since washing them will make them slimy.
- Meat, Poultry, and Fish – Keep in the fridge only the proteins that you intend to prepare in the next day or two. Store the rest in the freezer.
- Cheese – Wrap cheese in wax paper to store it in the fridge. This allows it to breathe while also remaining dry.
- Dairy Milk – To help your dairy milk last longer, keep it in the main part of the fridge rather than the door, so that it is exposed to fewer temperature fluctuations.
What to Store in the Freezer?
You can freeze many things, from bread and butter to fruit and vegetables. However, it’s important to take into account that freezing changes things, and defrosted produce will never be the same as it was when fresh.
Many people will find it useful to freeze whole meals, such as a tray of baked lasagna. One way to use an overabundance of ingredients is to make a double batch whenever you make dinner, and then save the second tray in the freezer for another night when you don’t have time to cook.
Others will prefer to freeze individual ingredients so that they can pull them out at a planned time to make a new, fresh meal. Remember that if you’re pulling a delicate meal out of the chest freezer you will need to thaw it gently over time. You can move it from the freezer to the fridge overnight for a very gentle thaw, or rest it in a bowl of cold water on the counter for a number of hours if you need to use it later that day.
Try not to rush this process by using the defrost setting on the microwave or using water that is too hot, or it could scald your protein or break down the fats in your meal.
- Meat, Fish, and Poultry – Use the freezer to store the meat, poultry, or fish that you won’t fix within a day or two of purchasing. This includes smoked meats, such as bacon and ham, that you aren’t preparing within a few days.
What Foods can Stay on the Kitchen Counter?
- Apples – Apples can be stored on the counter for up to a week. In the fridge, they will last longer than a week. Since they produce ethylene gas, it’s best to keep them away from other produce, since they will cause produce neighbors to ripen more quickly.
- Avocados – You can purchase avocados before they’re ripe and then move them to the fridge if you don’t use them right when they are ripe.
- Bananas – Bananas should remain on the counter their entire lifespan. Additionally, bananas last longer if kept together in a bunch. If the bananas are ripening before you can eat them, peel them and move them to the freezer for use in smoothies or quick breads.
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature and will spoil more quickly if stored in the fridge.
- Vegetables – Cucumbers, eggplant, and peppers.
- Onion and the Onion Family – Garlic, onions, and shallots can be stored on the counter. Ideally, however, these would be stored somewhere that’s cool, dark, and dry, such as a root cellar.
- Root Vegetables – Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash, such as acorn and spaghetti squash, can be stored in a cool dry place on the counter or in a root cellar.
Making Your Storage Look Good
Labeling is one of the most important aspects of keeping your kitchen up to date and remaining aware of food spoilage risks. Labeling with dates is more important than putting a name to the food you store.
Even though labeling is among the more important parts of food organization throughout your kitchen, it’s also a step that many people skip. Not only is it an extra step, but the way of doing this in the culinary world usually involves making labels with masking tape and a sharpie, making the process less than glamorous. Creating aesthetic labels for your stored goods can go a long way towards incentivizing you to maintain your organized labeling.
One way to make this easier on yourself is to put adhesive labels on each of your containers. This means that all you need to do is pull out a writing apparatus to put the correct name and date to it. Common labeling types are wet-erase markers that can write on lamination and will simply wash off in the washing machine. For the more farmhouse kitchen style, chalkboard stickers can offer a cute aesthetic while performing the same service.
How to Make the Most of Your Fridge and Freezer Space
For families that cook often, fridge and freezer space is prime real estate. To make sure that you’re making the most of it, invest in high quality, well-sealed and durable uniform food containers that fit together nicely and don’t take up more space than they need to. Round bowls are great for prepping and serving, However, they waste a lot of space in the fridge. Rectangular containers use space most efficiently.
Avoiding clutter in your fridge and freezer not only opens up space for you to store more foods, but it also helps you see what there is to eat so less goes to waste. If you keep things neat and visible it’s easier to grab what you need, as well as see what needs to be eaten.
Food storage should operate using first in, first out. This means that the older foods should migrate to the front of your food storage so that you eat them sooner than the newer foods.
You can implement first in, first out in the fridge when you unload new groceries. Move all your older food forward in the fridge and pack the new groceries into the back. Then as you clear out the older food, you can move the newer items forward.
Picking Foods with a Long Shelf Life
Foods with long shelf lives are extremely useful when you need to throw together a meal from what you have. This is where your canned goods really come in handy – don’t forget you will also need a can opener to unlock that goodness!
Remember that most expiration and sell-by dates represent food quality for the store, as opposed to actual food safety. When it comes to judging whether a food is turning, it’s important to trust your own senses.
- Is it molding?
- Does it have a foul smell?
- Is it the wrong consistency from what it should be?
- Does it taste wrong?
These observations will tell you more about whether or not your food is safe to eat than expiration dates.
What Foods Last the Longest
- Honey – Honey that is properly produced (i.e. with a water percentage below .14 percent) will not spoil. If your honey crystallizes, making it more difficult to use, gradually warm it until the crystals melt out. While this can be done in gradual increments in the microwave, the best way to do this is by setting up a pot of lightly simmering water and putting your honey container into the water until the honey loosens. Overheated honey loses many of its helpful and nutritious benefits. Only use 100 percent honey and avoid honey that might have a corn syrup additive.
- Grains – Grains, such as oats, rice, flour, and popcorn, have a very long shelf life. They can last in your pantry, as long as they are resealed after each opening, for two to three years.
- Dried Beans – Dried beans are not only healthier than their canned versions, since they aren’t loaded with sodium and preservatives, but they also last as long or even longer. They can keep for years, as long as they’re stored in a cool dry place out of the sunlight.
- Seeds – Chia and hemp seeds can remain at peak nutritious and delicious performance for about a year, as long as they’re resealed.
- Soy Sauce – An opened bottle of soy sauce can last for about 2-3 years, while an unopened bottle doesn’t really expire.
- Mustard – Unopened mustard can last about three years, while an opened bottle can last a whole year.
- Pure, Grade A Maple Syrup – If stored in the refrigerator or freezer and sealed away from contaminants, pure maple syrup can last forever.
- Coconut Oil – Virgin or extra-virgin coconut oil can last for years. However, watch out for expeller-pressed or refined coconut oils that only have a shelf life of about two or three months after opening.
- Canned Tomatoes – Canned tomatoes can help you put together a meal from just about any other ingredient in your fridge. Fortunately, they also last at least two years if unopened.
- Jerky – Beef jerky that remains in a sealed, unopened container can last a year or two. You can even make it yourself to last this long, as long as it’s dried until there’s no moisture left that will grow bacteria and you seal it with a vacuum sealer.
- White Vinegar, Hard Liquor, and Salt – It’s safe to say that these natural preservatives have a long shelf life of their own.
Some Useful Staples With Shorter Shelf Lives
Items that spoil quickly are among the most nutritious, so there’s no need to stay away from them. The key is to remain aware of their timelines and cook and consume them while they’re in their prime. Nonetheless, there are some staples that we might feel more secure about than we should. Some foods give us the illusion of having a longer shelf life when in reality their window of freshness is relatively short.
Here are some to watch out for:
- Coffee and Tea – Once opened, ground coffee lasts three to five months and whole bean coffee lasts about six months
- Condiments – When refrigerated, the average condiment can last about 6 months.
- Dried Herbs and Spices – Unground spices will last for a few years. However, ground spices may stale within 6 months to a year, depending on their quality and freshness when purchased.
- Bottled Juices – Once opened and in the fridge, bottled juices are likely to be contaminated and therefore should be consumed within three to four days.
- Potatoes – At room temperature, potatoes often last for three to five weeks. After this point, they will begin to mold or grow soft and wrinkly.
Proper food storage, from pickling and canning to organization and meal planning, not only cuts down on your grocery bill, but it also helps you save time and effort in the long run. The majority of fresh foods can be saved and transformed before they go bad. This can be done by cooking them, sealing them for storage in the freezer, or by pickling and canning for use later.
Organization is an important key to cutting down on food waste. You can keep you food storage areas organized by implementing first in, first out, labeling and dating your stored food, and updating lists to discourage over-purchasing. Organization will also help you stay ahead of issue that cause food to spoil more quickly, such as pests, cross contamination, and premature rotting.
Just remember that all of your fresh foods, including protein and produce, have different preferred storing temperatures that help them last longer. If you’re unsure about the best place to store something, such as in the fridge, on the counter, or in the freezer, taking a second to look it up could give you another couple of days of freshness.
As you become more comfortable with your storage method, the more second-nature it will be and the less food you will end up wasting.