Rotten or wasted food is something that most of us have unfortunately experienced. You open the fridge door and there’s a peculiar smell that remains unidentifiable and pervasive. It haunts the fridge, seeping into your leftovers and pre-packed school lunches. Finally, it becomes unbearable and it’s time to examine the usual suspects: the berries you bought the other day that are already bruised and molding, the wrinkling tomatoes, the wilting spinach, the bread with suspicious flecks of blue.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 40% of all food in the United States is wasted each year, with the average household throwing away $640 worth of food annually. Sending food to a landfill is not only bad for your wallet but also harmful to the environment. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste across the supply chain contributes 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Whether you’re living on a budget, or simply hate seeing your grocery bill go down the drain (or in the compost), learning the most effective ways to store food will help you save money and reduce waste.
Let’s take a closer look at the best storage techniques from Save the Food to avoid wasting food and prevent that phantom refrigerator odor.
If you’re planning on using up most of your bread within a few days from purchase, you can keep your bread on the counter. However, bread will last much longer if you freeze it. Freezing your bread can keep it fresh for up to six months! As an added bonus, if you make your sandwich with frozen bread, the bread will thaw over the course of the day, keeping the rest of your lunch cool and your bread fresh.
As a general rule, it’s best not to wash your produce until you’re ready to use it. This prevents bacteria growth which is encouraged by dampness. However, it is important to always remember to wash your produce with cold water before you use it, as this removes microbes and any trace of pesticides.
Let’s take a closer look at how to store some popular produce choices:
Apples are best stored in the refrigerator where they can remain fresh for up to 6 weeks. To keep apples fresh, store them in a breathable bag in the low-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Be sure to handle them carefully to prevent bruising, and separate any with bruises from other apples or they will cause them to brown!
Bananas should be stored on the counter at room temperature, away from other fruit as they release gases that cause other produce to ripen and spoil more quickly. Once ripe, you can store bananas in the refrigerator. The skin may darken, but the banana will be just right for several days. Bananas can also be frozen with or without the skin and are great for baking or smoothies!
Berries can usually be stored in the refrigerator in an aerated container or tray lined with cloth, and then covered loosely with another cloth. If space is constrained, add second and third layers with cloths between them. Strawberries keep best if you leave the green caps on until ready to eat.
Avocados should be stored on the counter until ripe, then can be moved to the refrigerator. To accelerate ripening, you can place your avocados in a closed paper bag alongside an apple or banana. Be sure not to refrigerate your avocado before it is ripe, or it will never ripen. Avocado-based products such as guacamole should be stored with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the food to avoid browning.
Onions last longest if stored whole in a cool, dark, dry, well-ventilated place. Onions with mold or signs of dampness should be removed immediately so they don’t affect others. Consider storing them in hanging sacks, as it encourages ventilation. Do not store the onions near potatoes because onions will cause the potatoes to sprout. Partially used onions should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator with the peel left on if possible.
Cucumbers can be stored in a cool place on the counter or wrapped in a damp cloth and placed in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. They should not be stored near tomatoes, apples, avocados, or bananas, which produce gasses that will cause them to spoil quickly, and are best if used within a few days, as more time at low temperatures can damage them.
Tomatoes, if whole, can be stored on the counter away from direct sunlight with the stem end up, but cut tomatoes should be refrigerated. If refrigerating, store in their original container or in a breathable bag in the low-humidity drawer. For best flavor, let them come to room temperature before eating.
Dairy and eggs should be kept in the fridge, but not in the door which is exposed to more heat! Try keeping them on a back shelf where the temperature is more consistent.
Meat should be kept on the bottom shelf of the fridge, where it remains cold and has the lowest chance of leaking and contaminating other items. If you won’t be using it within two days, freeze it to keep it fresh and use later.
Interested in learning more? Visit Save the Food to explore more ways to make the most of your food!
Don’t forget, food waste doesn’t just happen in the home. CET has a collection of resources available at Wasted Food Solutions to help businesses and institutions in numerous states divert food waste from disposal. Help food achieve its highest potential and check out Wasted Food Solutions to get involved.