How to Keep Food Safe and Fresh Longer

Tired of buying foods, only to have them go bad before you manage to get them eaten? Improper storage could be the cause. Adopt the following storage habits, and your foods will stay fresh days – if not months – longer.

Most of us have probably thrown out food due to spoilage, but regularly doing this is terribly wasteful and expensive. Thankfully, you can safely preserve the quality of your food and make it last longer by learning a few food storage techniques.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when storing food, such as: how to safely handle food to prevent foodborne illness, the types of containers you use, and how long foods normally last in the fridge or freezer.

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Handling Food Safely
Keep raw meat, poultry, and fish away from other foods so they don’t contaminate them. (This is probably why many fridges have a meat compartment in the bottom of the fridge; if yours doesn’t, store uncooked meat/seafood on the lowest rack to prevent their juices from leaking onto the other foods.)

Refrigerator and Freezer Temperature
The temperature of your refrigerator should be 40 °F or below and the freezer at 0 °F or below

Storing Leftovers and Perishable Food
Timing: Freeze or refrigerate perishable food within two hours or one hour if the temperature is over 90 °F. A general guideline is to eat leftovers within four days. This FSIS chart shows pizza and cooked meat or poultry should last three to four days, while lunch meats and egg, tuna, or macaroni salads may last three to five days.

Containers: Store the food in the best-fitting, shallow containers. Glass storage containers have the benefit of being easy to check the contents, may be microwavable, and are more eco-friendly. If you have plastic containers already, just check to make sure they’re labeled BPA-free.  If the number on the recycling icon on the container has a “7” on it, it likely has BPA in it, which may be hazardous.

Storing Fruits and Vegetables
Produce can be tricky to store because some fruits and vegetables are incompatible when stored together. Some fruits emit ethylene gas which can cause vegetables to spoil prematurely. Vegetarian Times recommends keeping these “gas releasers” out of the fridge: avocados, bananas, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes.

You can refrigerate apples, apricots, canteloupes, figs, and honeydew, but keep them out of the vegetable bin/crisper where you may be storing ethelyne-sensitive vegetables (check the Vegetarian Times article for the list of these vulnerable veggies; VT also recommends which fruits and vegetables to eat first based on how rapidly they spoil).

Most standard fridges have a vegetable crisper designed to keep produce firm and fresher for longer, and sometimes come with moisture and temperature controls. This may be a good place to keep your gas-sensitive vegetables, as the area is sealed off from the rest of the fridge.

Don’t store fruits and vegetables in their own airtight bags or containers, however, because that might speed up decay.

Freezing Foods
Keep your food in air tight packages in the freezer to prevent freezer burn, which degrades the quality of your food.

Finally, the National Center for Home Food Preservation has a long list of freezing information by specific food, as well as general advice like foods that don’t freeze well (e.g., milk sauces), how much headspace to allow between packed food (0.5 inch to 1.5 inch), and freezer management tips like making sure you keep your freezer full for best efficiency.

See the USDA’s cold storage chart for safe time limits for storing food in the fridge or freezer (there are many others available like this one from University of Nebraska-Lincoln and this one from the Colorado State University).

HACCP tips on how to keep food fresh longer and prevent foodborne illness:

1. Buy locally. Local produce lasts much longer than supermarket fare, which has already traveled long distances before it gets to your kitchen.

2. Keeping in mind the specific ways you like to eat it, clean and prep fresh food as soon as you get it into the kitchen, making it much less likely you’ll let it spoil.

3. Wash berries in water with just a bit of vinegar (a life-extension tip gleaned from the fabulous publication Cook’s Illustrated) before popping them into the fridge.

4. Rinse lettuce and other greens immediately in cold water and spin them dry before refrigerating them in the spinner or a breathable cloth bag.

5. To keep fresh celery, carrots and radishes around at all times, chop them and store them in water in the fridge, which keeps them crisp for a surprisingly long time.

6. Keep apples out in plain sight, which helps them get eaten sooner. If they get too soft, just cook them!

7. Store sliced hot peppers and cucumbers in a jar of vinegar in the fridge for several weeks.

8. Rub butter on the cut parts of hard cheeses to prevent them from drying out.

9. Roast slices or chunks of about-to-go-bad beets and tomatoes, then store them in olive oil in the fridge, where they’ll keep for about a week.

10. Turn excess basil and parsley into pesto and gremolata, a zingy condiment featuring lemon zest and garlic.

11. After trimming the ends, store kale, collards and Swiss chard in the fridge in a glass of water with a loose bag over the top.

12. If salad greens begin to wilt, soak them in ice water to crisp them up before fixing a salad. This trick also works wonders on peppers.

13. Rub whole summer and winter squash with vegetable oil and store them in the pantry, where they’ll last for several months.

14. Help keep air out of sour cream and cottage cheese tubs by storing them upside down in the fridge.

15. At the end of the season, pull up whole tomato plants from the garden and hang them upside down in the basement so you can pick fresh tomatoes long after the season has ended.

16. Store dried sage in a jar of salt to keep it crisp.

17. Cure fresh onions by hanging them in a cool, dark place in a pantyhose “bag,” which dries the outer layer before the onions go into storage.

18. When buying produce that contains lots of water, buy smaller pieces, which generally have more flavor and last longer.

19. Keeps apples away from other foods. Apples give off ethylene gas, which can cause foods to spoil.

20. Triple the life of scallions by storing them in a jar of water on the counter. The green onions will keep growing as you snip the tips for fresh eating.

21. Plan meals in order of what needs to be used up first.

22. Grow your own food! If you can’t eat it all yourself, pass it along to friends, family or your local food bank.

23. Asparagus will last longer if its thick ends sit in cold water