The worst thing about finally deciding to clean up your fridge or pantry is pulling something out of it that you can’t even recognise. Spoiled food is not only a stinky, nasty sight but also money thrown into the bin. So, the next time you come home from a grocery run, make sure to follow these useful food storage hacks so you can enjoy food more and waste less.
Why Is Proper Food Storage Important?
Have you ever craved for fresh salad only to find out that the ingredients you just bought are already wilted, rotten and past their time? In Australia, food waste is a big problem and makes up about 4.5 million tonnes of landfill each year.
There’s more to this waste issue than throwing away hard-earned grocery budget. This type of waste also releases a harmful greenhouse gas called methane. Also, once food waste combines with other metals in the landfill, a toxic mixture is formed, which seeps through and pollutes our groundwater. One effective way to combat our food waste problem is to know how to store food properly.
Food Storage Hacks that Work
You don’t have to spend so much on containers and sealers to keep food fresh for longer. With these simple food storage hacks, you’ll be surprised how ordinary kitchen supplies you already have can help reduce food waste.
Don’t wash produce before storing them in the fridge.
Frigid air and moisture from washed produce don’t go together. This combination will only cause your fruits and vegetables to deteriorate much faster. So, for most fresh produce, keep them unwashed when putting them in the fridge, and remember to wash them thoroughly before eating or cooking.
Use paper towels for leafy vegetables.
Aside from keeping your spinach, kale and lettuce unwashed before storing them in the fridge, placing them in an airtight container lined with paper towels can extend their life for more than a week. So, stack your greens in between layers of paper towels, just like lasagne. The paper towels will absorb the excess moisture, while the container will protect the vegetables from bruising. Check it after a few days and replace the damp towels when needed.
Wrap food to preserve quality.
Not every food needs to be in containers. Some only need the right wrapper. Here are a few wrapping techniques:
- Banana with plastic wrap. Bananas tend to brown faster when you separate them from the stalk. If you’re not eating them yet, use plastic wrap to cover the banana stalk. This trick prevents the release of ethylene and slows down ripening.
- Celery with aluminium foil. Wrap your unwashed and untrimmed celery in aluminium foil before placing it inside the crisper drawer. The aluminium foil lets ethylene out and keeps the celery fresh. In case you have leftover celery (or carrot) sticks, place them in an airtight container with water to retain moisture and crispness. Make sure to change the water every two days.
- Cheese with baking paper. Rather than plastic wrap, porous paper (wax or parchment paper) will let your cheese breathe without drying out. A tea towel sprinkled with a little vinegar is another alternative cheese wrapper. The vinegar will prevent bacteria from forming on the cheese surface.
Know which food items can be stored together.
Apples, bananas and avocados produce a ripening gas called ethylene. Placing them next to other fruits and vegetables will cause the rest to quickly ripen and rot before you get the chance to eat them. Hence, the saying a rotten apple spoils the bunch. So, make sure to store them separately in the fridge or on the benchtop.
Treat herbs like flowers.
Like vegetables, fresh herbs can quickly wither and rot in the fridge if not correctly stored. It’s unfortunate to throw away spoiled herbs as some of them are quite pricey. These food storage hacks can keep them on hand for your roasts and sauces.
- One trick is to find a jug, vase or glass jar, fill it with enough water then place your bunch of herbs in it like flowers. This hack works well for delicate herbs like cilantro, mint, tarragon and oregano, and it will keep herbs fresh on the benchtop for a few days.
- Another way is to loosely wrap the stems with a damp paper towel, place them in a resealable bag or jar, then refrigerate up to a week. Try this for fresh basil, flat-leaf parsley and chives.
- Chop your herbs in a food processor then add enough oil (about 1 tbsp per 3 tbsp of herbs). Portion the mixture in small freezer bags. Label the herb bags then freeze them for up to 4 months. Alternatively, you can replace oil with water or broth, use an ice cube tray for portioning, freeze up to 6 months, then pop a cube or two whenever you need them for soups, stews and more.
- Woody herbs like rosemary, bay leaf and thyme are best preserved by drying. When dried, store them in airtight jars and use them within 4 to 6 months.
Store bread properly.
Bread from the bakery is usually preservative-free, but it can only last for three days at room temperature. Don’t refrigerate it though. The moist environment in your refrigerator can make your bread stale and more prone to mould growth. Here are food storage hacks you should try instead:
- Place it in a bread box. This specially made container can control moisture to keep your bread fresh for longer at room temperature.
- Wrap it with a dry tea towel then slip it in a paper bag. This trick works like a bread box that gives your loaf room to breathe without drying it out.
- Freeze it. To keep it fresh for up to 6 months, wrap the whole loaf or slices in plastic wrap then with freezer paper or aluminium foil. Write the date on the wrapper before freezing. Thaw out your bread loaf overnight in the fridge then reheat it in the oven. You can do the same for bread slices or use the thawing function of your toaster.
Keep mushrooms in brown bags.
Mushrooms are quite hard to store as they tend to absorb moisture, which makes them soggy. The best food storage hack is to keep them unwashed and store them in brown paper bags with the top folded over before putting in the fridge. Ideally, buy your mushrooms close to the time you want to use them. But if you need to store them for more than a week, you can also sauté them then freeze for up to 6 months.
Aside from reducing food waste, you can also help lessen the amount of plastic and paper waste we make at home. Check out these simple kitchen swaps to complement your zero-waste habit.