How to Store Your Food So It Lasts as Long as Possible
Check out our tips for ensuring your produce stays fresh and leftovers stay safe.
As we try to minimize our trips to the grocery store and stretch our budgets during the coronavirus pandemic, it's important to make sure our groceries last as long as possible. Besides meal planning and buying only what we need for one to two weeks at a time, the way we store our food is one of the most important things we can do to ensure our groceries stay fresh and safe.
Check out our tips for storing 10 kitchen staples so you can eliminate food waste, save money and stave off an extra trip to the grocery store.
Each type of bread has specific storage needs. If you just bought a regular sliced loaf from the grocery store, it will have a longer shelf life than your freshly baked sourdough. These products have ingredients to help them stay fresh for a week or two after purchase. Storing your bread in the freezer is a great way to extend the shelf life of these loaves if you just stocked up and won't eat three loaves of bread in the next week!
Additionally, Madelyn Osten, head baker at Sullivan Street Bakery in Miami, told Food & Wine that storing your loaf of bread on top of the refrigerator (guilty) will cause paper-bagged bread to dry out faster and plastic-bagged bread to mold sooner. She advises storing your bread in a cool, dry area of your kitchen—even a cabinet or deep drawer works.
Red Star Yeast has some great tips for home bakers who want to make their fresh loaves last as long as possible. Since homemade bread isn't made with preservatives, it needs to be eaten within days. Red Star Yeast advises storing your crusty loves on the counter at room temperature in airtight bags, plastic wrap or foil. Store what you know you won't use in your freezer and use within 6-8 weeks so you don't lose the flavor and freshness.
Knowing how to properly store your produce is essential for preventing spoilage. Our guide on where to store fruits and vegetables is a great place to start, but there's (a little) more to the story.
Some fruits naturally emit ethylene gas, which can speed up the ripening process of other produce near it. Bananas are the most commonly known fruit, and there are plenty of hacks out there to help speed up the ripening of your avocado by storing both fruits together in a paper bag.
On the other hand, you want to keep those avocados far away from your bananas if you don't need to use them until later in the week. Leafy greens are the most susceptible to ethylene gas spoilage, so be sure to keep those away from apples, stone fruits, bananas, pears and tomatoes. You can learn more about ethylene gas in produce, here.
Storing cheese isn't always as simple as putting it in a zip-top bag and calling it a day. Cheeses need to be stored differently based on variety. Check out our guide to storing all your favorite cheeses, here. Don't forget to store them in one of your refrigerator drawers to keep them from drying out.
Though it's a hot debate on the internet, butter is one of those surprising foods you should actually refrigerate. While keeping it in a kitchen cabinet or on the counter makes for easy spreading, butter should be stored near the back of your fridge to keep it cold and fresh.
The Dairy Council of California advises refrigerating milk as soon as possible. Storing milk away from the door of your fridge can also help extend its shelf life. It can be used several days past the expiration date if you handle it properly, but you can also freeze milk if you know you won't get through a carton in time or want to take advantage of a sale.
Big-batch cooking is a great way to make the most of your time—and get lunch or dinner on the table in minutes the rest of the week. Your leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days, but you need to practice proper food-handling techniques to ensure they stay safe. The USDA also has a handy Leftovers and Food Safety guide to help you keep food out of the "danger zone," and thaw, reheat and refreeze leftovers with ease.
Meat and Poultry
Meat should be stored in your fridge or freezer as soon as you leave the supermarket or butcher shop to reduce the risk of spoilage. If you're storing your meat in the fridge, it's important to keep it wrapped as tightly as possible to minimize air exposure that causes meat to dry out or become discolored. The American Meat Association advises storing meat in the coldest part of your fridge. (Find out how long various meats last in the fridge, here.)
If you aren't planning to use meat within a few days after purchase, you can freeze it for 6-12 months (depending on the type of meat). Meat should be wrapped in freezer-safe packaging at 0 degrees.
The American Egg Board advises storing eggs in their original cartons on an inside shelf of the fridge. Eggs also need to be kept away from pungent foods because they will absorb the odor (think: onions, garlic or raw fish).
Raw, whole eggs should stay fresh up to three weeks after purchase if stored this way. Raw eggs that have been removed from their shell need to be stored in a tightly covered container. You can also freeze raw whole eggs, yolks and whites for up to a year and defrost them overnight when you're ready to use them.
Related: How to Stock Your Pantry
Whether buying fancy coffee beans is your form of self-care or you like to buy the giant bags from Costco, it's important to store your coffee beans properly to prevent spoilage. The National Coffee Association says coffee beans' biggest enemies are air, moisture, heat and light, so you need to take storage seriously.
Coffee beans need to be stored in an opaque, airtight container in a cool location at room temperature. Your coffee beans' original packaging isn't the best for extending shelf life, so you may want to invest in a reusable container with an airtight seal (we like this $21 one from OXO). While the National Coffee Association says coffee is best served as quickly as possible, be sure to also put your beans in an airtight container if you store yours in the freezer.
Flour and Grains
Flour is another one of those surprising foods you never knew you needed to refrigerate. You can also keep it in the freezer.
Whole-grain flours are especially in need of cold storage, as the natural oils present in these grains cause them to go rancid more quickly. Flour should be kept in an airtight container away from other food with pungent odors.
The Whole Grain Council advises storing whole, intact grains (think: brown rice) in airtight containers. They will keep up to six months on a cool, dry pantry shelf and up to a year in the freezer. (We love this 5-piece set for all our grain-storing needs, $49.99.)
Nuts and Oils
Similarly to whole-grain flours, the natural oils in nuts can cause them to go rancid if they aren't stored at cold temperatures. Exposure to heat, light, oxygen and humidity can all make them go bad quickly. Storing them in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer is your best bet for keeping them fresh. Experts also suggest storing your natural nut butters in the fridge as well.
The only exceptions here are coconut shreds and chestnuts because they have a higher moisture content. Both can be kept in a cupboard or drawer.
Oils are fine to keep in your pantry or in a cabinet, as long as they are in a cool, dark place. Light, air and heat all contribute to oil's deterioration, so you'll want to keep your oil away from the stove when you're cooking or baking. If you buy oil in bulk, or know you won't get through a bottle within a month or two, you can refrigerate the bottles and let them come to room temperature before using.
Herbs and Spices
Dried herbs and spices need to be kept in an airtight container in a dark, dry place. Dried and ground herbs and spices hit their peak after six months, so you may want to consider buying different-sized containers depending on how frequently you use a certain herb or spice.
Soft herbs, like basil and cilantro, will last much longer than you'd expect with a little TLC. Check out our tips for keeping fresh herbs last longer, from freezing them to giving them the "flower treatment."