Save Money (and the World) with These Food Preservation Tips
When food goes bad and needs to be tossed out, it isn’t just a waste of money. It’s also a waste of food somebody out there could have eaten.
While obviously it’s not easy for each and every one of us to send our surplus food to starving people, we can lessen the problem by not letting the food we buy for ourselves go to waste.
If you find yourself throwing away food because you just don’t want it anymore, then we can’t help you. But if your issue is food going bad prematurely, we might be able to give you some ideas on how to save it.
Location, Location, Location
Sometimes, a change of scenery is all something needs to stay fresh.
For example, things like onions and potatoes ought to be kept in a cool, dry place out of the sun – but not the fridge, where the excessive cold can ruin their consistency. You also shouldn’t keep onions and potatoes next to one another as they can absorb the gases the other emits. This will cause them to go bad faster.
There are actually quite a few foods that shouldn’t be kept in close proximity to each other due to either absorbing or emitting gases and odors.
For example, keep apples away from other fruits and vegetables. They should be kept in a separate, sealed bag because the ethylene gas they produce harms other foods, except, oddly enough, potatoes. An apple in a potato sack can help preserve the spuds and keep them from growing eyes.
That said, fruits and vegetables don’t make good roommates in general, so it’s best to separate them. It looks like those apples are going to be lonely.
If you have a bunch of sticks of butter and are only using a few right now, put the rest in the freezer.
As for your milk, it might have that nice little spot in the door, but that’s not a good place for keeping it cold. So, keep it in the body of your fridge. (By the way, milk retains coldness even better in a glass bottle!)
Meanwhile, if you have red spices (chili powder, cayenne pepper or paprika), stick those in the fridge to preserve color as well as flavor.
Lemons and limes last longest when refrigerated in a zipper-locked bag. However, other citrus fruits should not be refrigerated, at least not before you cut them up.
Come to think of it, there are many things you really shouldn’t put in the fridge. Here’s a lightning-round list:
Keep It on the Counter
–Melons, like citrus fruits, should only be refrigerated after you cut them up.
–Tomatoes and cucumbers lose their consistency when refrigerated. For tomatoes specifically, keep them in a small box lined with newspaper (and for bonus points, keep them upside down so moisture doesn’t escape from the stems).
-Let avocados ripen on the counter, then cut them in half the long way (keeping the seed) and cover them with clingwrap, and then refrigerate them. For even better preservation, squirt some lemon juice on the avocado before you wrap it up; this will stave off browning.
–Honey and olive oil will simply coagulate in the fridge.
–Bread, contrary to belief, goes stale faster in the fridge. For fresh bread, your best bet is to wrap it in a kitchen towel and place it in a paper bag.
–Mushrooms are best kept in paper bags on the counter as well, as the paper absorbs the moisture they emit.
–Peaches and nectarines are tricky ones. While they will be preserved longer in the fridge, they will seemingly turn to stone. Keep in mind, they’re also foods that emit gases that harm other foods. Whether you keep them in a brown paper bag on your counter or in the fridge depends entirely on how quickly you plan to eat them.
–Asparagus, as well as any herbs you have, do well placed in a glass of water on a windowsill with an open plastic bag draped on top. If you want to take your food preservation to the next level, try this: put cut-up herbs you want to save in an ice cube tray, cover it with olive oil, and when you want to use the herbs again, just cook out the oil-cubes on the stove.
Change the Scenery
Other times, it’s not about moving the food, but modifying how it’s stored. For example, raisins are best kept in a jar or some other airtight container to preserve freshness.
Lettuce and other crunchy vegetables should be stored in the vegetable crisper. You can help that drawer do its job by lining it with paper towels. This will absorb the moisture they emit, so your greens won’t get soggy. This also makes it much easier to clean the edges of the drawer.
There’s a raging debate over the best way to store cheese.
Some say you should use wax or parchment paper so the cheese can breathe without over-oxidizing, while others say the best method is to wrap your cheese in a paper towel soaked in vinegar (and the true believers insist the vinegar won’t denature the cheese as long as you don’t use too much). Others think you should use newspaper again. If you’re able to experiment, be sure to let us know what works for you.
A Little Prep Work
Some foods last the longest when you prepare them a bit. For example, wrap your celery in aluminum foil right after you bring it home.
It’s typically not a good idea to rinse food right after you buy it because moisture does a number on produce.
There are some exceptions, though, like berries. Right when you bring them home, wash them in a mixture that’s three parts water to one part vinegar; this will kill any bacteria lingering in the nooks and crannies of the berries.
A good wash can also bring limp lettuce back to life. If it seems wilted, give it a good wash in ice water and watch as it freezes back into form.
Did you buy carrots or beets complete with the stems? Good on you for buying healthy, but you’d best dispose of those stems as soon as you can. Because nature is broken sometimes, those leafy roots suck up nutrients long after they’ve been harvested, so your best move is to lop them off.
Speaking of stems, don’t you hate how quickly bananas overripen? That’s because the ethylene gas (the same gas apples emit) escapes through the stems and ripens them quicker.
To avoid this, wrap the stems in plastic wrap to trap the ethylene. Now knowing this, you can understand how separating bananas will cause them to go bad even faster, but if you separate them and wrap the stems, then they’ll stay good for even longer than they would together. Science is nifty, isn’t it?
All this talk of fruits and vegetables is nice, but it may leave you craving some junk food.
If you keep brown sugar in your home and don’t like to see it get all clumped up, toss some marshmallows into the bag. This will absorb the moisture without messing with the taste of the sugar. If anything, it might make it sweeter.
Of course, the end goal of all this is you won’t need to buy as much food when your food lasts longer. It may be tempting to keep buying food at the same rate as always, but it’s important not to underestimate what you already have.