Another way to minimize food waste is to keep foods fresh longer. Below are a variety of tips and fun facts to show easy ways to keep foods fresh longer.
- Keep foods fresh longer with a fridge temperature between 34-38 degrees Fahrenheit to inhibit mold and keep foods cold but not frozen (reference: California Department of Education).
- Let foods cool to room temperature before storing the refrigerator or freezer so the appliances do not have to work so hard to cool the foods. This also helps save on your electric bill!
- Leave space around foods in the fridge so air can circulate all around food.
- The back of the fridge is the coldest area from the front (from opening and closing the door). Therefore, store milk, meat, eggs, and other items that need to be kept colder in the back.
- Obviously, keep the door closed as much as possible to keep as much cold air as possible inside the fridge.
- Clean spills ASAP to prevent bacteria from growing.
- Put a sheet or two of paper towels in the bottom of fridge drawers to absorb moister that will form otherwise from fruits and veggies, cheeses or lunch meats, etc.
Keep the temperature at zero (reference: FDA Freezer Facts.
Freezer: Items should be can be packed full.
Now, let me share some tips I have learned over the years to minimize the amount of food that I trash. I also like the foods that I have to be safe, look and taste fresh. Some of the tips below are commonly known. However, from a variety of chefs, I have learned some tricks that I never would have thought about on my own.
BEFORE you go to the farmers market (or supermarket for fruits & veggies), let the family know that they will need to spend 30 minutes to 1 hour when you return helping to rinse and cut some of the veggies (so they last longer). The faster they work, the faster the task will take. Consider building a game around it somehow.
Tasks That Will Need to be Done:
- Thoroughly rinse cilantro and parsley, completely dry veggies with a paper towel and put in a plastic bag and store in the fridge.
- Rinse and cut some green peppers into slices for snacks and lunches.
- Rinse, trim, or cut celery, carrots, radishes, and broccoli so salads can be made quickly.
- Make several “veggie packets” by putting a variety of veggies into sandwich size sealable bags for lunch for everyone for school or work for the next day or two.
- Assemble as much as possible of their lunch for the next day so everyone can “grab and go” in the morning on the way to school or work.
- Rinse berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.) in a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 10 parts water (to prevent mold spores from causing berries to go bad) and then return the berries to the container they came in and put them in the fridge and berries will last a little more than a week by using this method.
Below are some tips to extend the life of some fruits & veggies. Also, a great reference for this is from Fruits & Veggies: More Matters.
Bananas: Cost 59-79 cents per pound at supermarkets and 25-44 cents per pound at farmers markets. Ethylene gas ripens bananas. Slow the ripening process by removing the bananas from the stem and keeping the stem part of the bananas away from each other.
NOTE: ethylene also ripens other fruits so do not put them in a fruit bowl but rather, keep them separate.
FUN FACT: When I worked at a children’s cancer center, a Social Worker showed the kids to hold the bananas “upside down” from the way most people hold bananas. Then they had a “handle” as they peeled and ate the banana!
When bananas are ripe, either bake bread or freeze them. They will keep 2–4 months in the freezer. Freeze with the peel on or off; sliced or whole or mashed (remember to add a teaspoon of lemon juice to maintain the color integrity).
Berries: whether you Pick-Your-Own berries or buy them at the farmers market or supermarket, as soon as you get home, quickly swish them in a solution of 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water and then return them to the container. This inhibits bacteria that is on all berries from growing, which normally very quickly turns your berries mushy or moldy.
Also, before the bread goes stale, make your own breadcrumbs by spreading leftover slices and/or the ends on a cookie sheet and bake in an oven at 300 degrees F. for 10-15 minutes. Turn all the slices over about half-way through. Remove from the oven, let cool. Break the slices into a food processor and grind the torn bread to breadcrumbs. Not only is it cheaper to make your own breadcrumbs, but you can also eliminate the chemicals manufacturers use to extend shelf life. You can also flavor the breadcrumbs in many ways. Store in an airtight jar that is appropriately labeled.
Butter: I only buy butter and butter substitute when it’s on sale (usually around holidays) and keep them in the freezer.
NOTE: sometime make butter with the kids. Sometimes I make my own butter. When my son was young and still at home, we made bread many Sundays and also butter. Talk about comfort food! It is amazing how great it is to put fresh butter on hot bread that just came out of the oven. You have to wait for the bread to cool down before slicing it or you will end up with what my son used to call “Fish Bread”!
It is easy to make butter: buy heavy whipping cream and have the kids beat the cream until it goes beyond whipping cream and finally starts to harden a bit. Add a pinch of salt and let them try eating the butter they just made. The look on their faces when they see this happening is a “Kodak Moment”! By the way, I found a website that provides information about making your own butter. See Morning Chores: 4 Delicious and Different Ways to Make Homemade Butter in Your Kitchen.
Cheese: Turn cottage cheese upside down to make it last longer (removes the air pocket and prohibits bacteria from growing), keep hard cheese in the original wrapper; however, if the wrapper gets torn, wrap the cheese in wax paper or other non-greasy paper and put the wrapped cheese in a plastic re-sealable bag. Cheese tends to take on the aroma of other food items in the fridge so keep cheese away from those types of food items.
NOTE: Let cold cheese warm up for ~30 minutes before eating to permit the flavor to develop.
Eggs: Amazingly versatile and yet inexpensive food item. There are many ways to use eggs (scrambled, fried, poached, hard boiled, baked, meringues, and in other recipes). I always consider safety issues first, so, please see two FDA websites:
To extend the life of eggs, either hard boil or freeze. Yes, you can freeze eggs. See What’s Cooking America for details freezing.
NOTE: I make it easy to quickly see which eggs are hard boiled (I keep them in the egg carton) by adding a couple drops of food coloring and a tablespoon of vinegar to the water as I boil the eggs. This also encourages kids to eat hard boiled eggs in their lunches, especially if you get creative with the colors.
Flour, Grains, Corn Muffin or Cake Mix: stash in the freezer for at least 3 weeks to kill weevil larvae that might be present. After that, you can put the packages on pantry shelves, or just leave the packages in the freezer until you are ready to open the packages, which is what I do. When I need to open the package, I then put the contents in an airtight container and keep the container out of direct sunlight.
Fresh Herbs: Herbs are an excellent way to reduce the amount of sodium that you use when cooking. If you were only to reduce the salt but do nothing else, your foods would be very bland. Unfortunately, fresh herbs tend to be very expensive at the supermarket. There are a number of ways to get fresh herbs and also to keep them fresh longer.
FYI: heat kills the taste of herbs, so add them toward the end of cooking time. A list of common herbs are: Basil, Bay Leaf, Caraway, Chamomile, Chives, Cilantro, Dill, Dill Seed, Fennel Seed, Oregano, Parsley, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Spearmint, Thyme, and Wintergreen.
Ways to Keep Fresh Herbs:
Wash them, completely dry, and put in re-sealable bags in the fridge so you can quickly use them. Be sure to get all the air out of the bag before sealing each time you use them.
Wash them, completely dry, and put in re-sealable bags, and put in the freezer. They actually chop easier when they are partially frozen. Herbs freeze well for 1-2 months.
Wash them, chop them, fill half of each section of an ice cube tray with the herbs, fill the tray with water, and freeze. The next day, remove them from the ice cube tray, insert them into re-sealable bags, label and date, and put back in the freezer.
If you buy fresh herbs with the roots still intact, put the herbs in a jar with water and store in the fridge. They will keep this way for 2 – 2½ weeks.
By far, the cheapest way is to grow them yourself. Most will grow in pots so even if you live in an apartment, you can easily grow the herbs that you use the most. Herb plants last about a year.
Garlic: I no longer buy garlic from the produce section of a supermarket. Rather, I get it from Aldi or farmers markets in a glass jar. No matter what tricks I tried to extend cloves or heads of garlic, they still dried out. By purchasing minced garlic in a jar, I keep it in the fridge and use it by teaspoons, as needed. It never loses its flavor and it does not go bad and I have stopped wasting money.
Lemons and Limes: The citric acid in lemons and limes can be used for many, many things from making salad dressings, to removing the odor of fish, in marinades, zest that is used for many recipes, to make wood furniture polish, lightens stains on clothes, rust remover (combine salt with lemon juice), disinfects wooden cutting boards, makes the garbage disposal smell better, and the list goes on and on. You can get more juice out of lemons and limes if you put the lemon or lime in the microwave for 30-45 seconds. Take the fruit out of the microwave and roll it on a counter or table before cutting in half to juice.
FUN FACT: A trick I learned from a chef is to freeze lemons and limes in an air tight re-sealable plastic bag. Not only can you zest the lemon or lime, but you can also grate some of the lemon and significantly enhance the flavor of the recipe you are making.
Nuts: A super food. There are an amazing number of health benefits of eating nuts, including lowering cholesterol and Part 2, they are chock full of fiber and therefore, keep you feeling full longer, and a host of other benefits. I stock up on nuts (especially around holidays when they go on sale). Because the oil in some nuts go rancid, I resolved that issue by stashing them in the freezer. Then I just use them from the freezer (they last for approximately a year in the freezer). You can also keep them in the fridge for approximately 6 months. Some references: Oldways: 12 Great Ways to Use Walnuts, Northern Nut Growers Association provides an excellent chart that shows the best nuts for heart health, I Love Pecans: Fun Facts about Pecans.
Spices: Enhance the flavor of most spices by gently toasting them. Heat an iron skillet and put the spices in the pan and gently shake the skillet for about 30 seconds, remove the spices, cool, and grate or grind.
Spices are best purchased whole. Prep them yourself as the flavor is more intense if they are freshly grated, ground, shredded or chopped. Common spices are: Allspice, Black Pepper Corns, Cardamom, Cayenne, Celery Seed, Chili Pepper, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander Seed (however, cilantro is an herb), Cumin, Curry, Ginger, Horseradish, Juniper Berries, Mace, Mustard Seed, Nutmeg, Paprika, Poppy, Pumpkin Pie Spice, Tabasco, and Vanilla.
When you do buy spices, it is much, much cheaper to buy them from farmers markets rather than supermarkets (where you will pay 4-5 times as much as at the farmers market).
TAKE ACTION: Defrost your freezer, be sure everything is appropriately labeled and dated, create an inventory as you enter the foods back into the freezer, and put the foods that will expire first toward the front as you return the foods