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food storage hacks

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The USDA reports that between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply in the United States goes to waste each year. This equates to well over $100 billion in food waste annually. Not to play the guilt game on you that your mother did when you wouldn’t finish your food as a kid, but it is rather heartbreaking to think of the sustenance crowding our landfills that millions of starving people around the world would have been grateful for. In all likelihood, you aren’t some mustache-twirling millionaire who enjoys throwing out food. You’re probably like the many Americans who simply don’t get around to eating certain things before they go bad. You do your best to plan your meals for the week and buy ingredients that you believe you’ll eat, but you still find yourself dumping bags of grapes and tubs of cream cheese in the garbage can. It stings a little every time. You almost feel like you’re taking food out of someone’s mouth by doing it. You also see your dollars going in the trash.

Planning out groceries better and taking stock of what you have before buying more are some ways you can prevent food waste. But there are also some clever hacks that can prolong the life of some popular foods so you don’t have to race the clock before things become moldy, floppy, soggy, or stale. Keep in mind that stuffing yourself to the point of discomfort with food that’s about to expire isn’t really preventing food waste, either. If you didn’t need the calories, it was kind of a waste. Let’s all try to honor our resources, and follow these tips for keeping popular foods fresh.

food storage hacks

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Add these to your fridge

If you’ve ever seen what looked like plastic fruit in your friend’s refrigerator, it might have been the very thing conserving her produce. Ethylene gas is emitted by many fruits and vegetables but makes its neighboring produce go bad quickly. Ethylene absorbers like these do just what their name says, allowing your produce to last up to three times as long than it would without them. The plastic containers have a lid that screws on and off and holds packets that do the absorbing, and the packets need to be replaced every three months. They also absorb odors to keep your refrigerator smelling fresher.

food storage hacks

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Keep milk on the shelf

We’re so used to storing beverages in the door of the fridge, including milk. You may even keep your butter in the door. The problem with this is that the door is the closest to outside of the fridge, meaning it’s the warmest part. Putting dairy products in the door puts them at risk of spoiling, so store your milk on the actual fridge shelves. Ironically, there is one way that warmth can extend the life of milk: research shows that boiling milk before placing it in the fridge can kill off extra bacteria – like an additional form of pasteurization – to help extend its shelf life by weeks.

food storage hacks

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Keep these foods in paper bags

As a form of fungi themselves, mushrooms develop mold rather quickly. You can tell they’ve gone bad when they’re slimy, become slightly fuzzy in texture, or begin to flake. Instead of keeping them in the plastic-wrapped boxes they typically come in, transfer them to a paper bag. It’s more porous, allowing them to breathe. Strawberries also last longer if placed in a paper bag in the refrigerator. As another food that comes in clusters, when one strawberry develops molds, it infects the others instantly, so this trick can prevent that issue. In order to stop potatoes from sprouting spores, you can also store these in a paper bag in a dry, cool place. You can also store loaves of bread in a paper bag on the counter to keep them fresh for a few days.

food storage hacks

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Preserve your guac and avos

Seeing as avocados are priced like gold these days, you don’t want to let yours go bad before you eat them. And avocados turn fast. One day makes the difference from a rock-hard inedible avocado to a semi-soft, ready-to-eat fruit. When avocados aren’t yet ripe, store them on the counter. Check their firmness every day, and when they reach the perfect readiness, put them in the fridge – they’ll stop ripening and should last about a week. If you cut into one, store the remainder with the pit in, as its oils keep the fruit fresh. If you’ve made guacamole or some spread with your avocado, sprinkle it with lemon juice and put it in an airtight container to keep it fresh.

food storage hacks

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Put root vegetables in sand

Next time you pick up sand from your local DIY store, it may not be to make a sandbox in your yard for your kid, but rather to keep your carrots and parsnips fresh. Root vegetables do well in high humidity. They grow under the earth after all so they’re used to the cool feel of soil. Store veggies like turnips, beets, radishes, and carrots in a pot filled with sand, covered in a dark, cool place. These vegetables can actually last for several months when stored like this, removing any sort of rush around incorporating them into your recipes.

food storage hacks

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Paper towels in your veggie drawer

Greens like lettuce and spinach emit moisture when they become chilled in your refrigerator. That’s one reason it’s so hard to keep your romaine crisp and fresh and it turns floppy within days of entering your home. When they sit on the plastic drawers, there is nowhere for the moisture to go, so it sits on the leaves, causing them to wilt quickly. Lining your veggie crisper with highly-absorbent paper towels gives the moisture somewhere to go that’s away from the greens so they can stay fresh longer. It also keeps your drawers clean so you can wipe them down less frequently.

food storage hacks

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More tricks for bread

Stop teasing your mom for keeping loaves of bread in the freezer and defrosting them for special occasions as if they’re pies. She’s onto something. Bread maintains its consistency after being defrosted. You can store it whole, or pre-slice it, but just make sure to put wax paper between the slices if you go that direction – otherwise, they stick together when frozen. If you do keep your bread on the counters for immediate consumption, beware of where you place them. Heat and moisture are not friends of bread and can cause it to mold quickly, so don’t put fresh bread near heat-emitting appliances like the dishwasher or oven.

food storage hacks

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Wrapping your cheese

If you’re a cheese snob, then you know that this dairy product can be quite the expense. Allegedly, the most expensive cheese in the world fetches $600 per kilogram. Maybe you don’t dabble in that variety, but you know the good stuff is pricey, so having it go bad before you eat it is a true waste. In order to keep hard cheese in good condition, double wrap it: first with parchment paper, then with foil to let the cheese breathe without losing all moisture. To keep soft cheeses with a hard rind like brie or Coulommiers fresh, add them to a glass container lined with paper towels with the lid left slightly off to allow them to breathe.

food storage hacks

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Re-wrap your meat

Many people bring fresh meat home and just stash it in the refrigerator or freezer in whatever container it came in. That’s usually a slab of styrofoam covered with saran wrap. But styrofoam is by no means airtight and saran wrap punctures easily. Furthermore, the meat is usually sitting in its own juices, the moisture from which can cause it to go bad faster. When you get your meat home, remove it from the store wrapping, pat it dry, and store it in an airtight container for the fridge. If it’s going in the freezer, pat it dry and put it in an airtight freezer bag.

food storage hacks

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Put vinegar on your berries

That may sound nasty at first, but you’ll use such a small amount that you won’t taste the vinegar, and you’ll rinse it off anyway. The idea behind rinsing your berries with water and a bit of vinegar is that the vinegar kills off bacteria and mold spores that love to grow on berries – and you know that when one berry grows mold, it spreads through the basket rapidly. After rinsing these, put them in a container lined with paper towel with the lid slightly ajar. This will absorb moisture from the berries and let them breathe. If you have a clamshell container, that will work, too – just poke holes in it for ventilation.

food storage hacks

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Keep these foods intact

Many fruits and vegetables last longer when left intact. Bananas are a great example, so keep them in their bundle, only removing the ones you want to eat immediately. If you want to eat romaine lettuce, try to make your way through a whole head rather than ripping off pieces because the broken leaves will wilt when exposed to oxygen. In general, produce starts to rot rapidly once cut into in any way, which is another reason (besides saving money) to buy whole pineapples, watermelon, mango – you name it – instead of the pre-cut stuff. Though not a popular way to buy these, Brussels sprouts last longer on their stalk than they do after being plucked off.

food storage hacks

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Don’t buy too much

If you like to stock up on tons of food to reduce trips to the store, there may be two reasons you wind up throwing a lot of groceries away. First off, you probably miscalculate how quickly you’ll get to all of that food. This is especially true if you’re just a family of two (or single), so you can’t eat it before it spoils. Secondly, crowding a refrigerator makes it difficult for air to circulate, which can leave some areas warm, causing the food that sits there to spoil. If your fridge is packed tight like a warehouse in Storage Wars, then it’s overcrowded and the cold air can’t reach every item.

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