After pondering for quite a while, you have decided to cook over the weekend. Bully for you! You have weighed your desires against your abilities and readied the grocery list for your culinary delight. After a few hours, the grocery is sitting on your counter. You stow it away in the refrigerator and forget about it till the weekend. Right? Wrong!
Grocery storage is as crucial as its purchase:
- A Penn State study of 4000 households in 2020 revealed that the average U.S. household wastes 31.9 percent of the food it purchases every year. It estimated the total annual cost of the wasted food to be $240 billion or $1,866 per household².
- An American Dairy Association Mideast (ADA Mideast) survey conducted in 2018 concluded that 94 percent of Americans waste food at home. Furthermore, ADA Mideast estimates reduced food wastage can save up to $2,000 for a family of four³.
- And finally, Recycle Track Systems notes that food is the single largest component taking up space inside U.S. landfills, making up 22 percent of municipal solid waste¹.
The above statistics lay bare the impacts of food wastage on global, countrywide, and individual levels. And incorrect grocery storage is among the root causes of food wastage in households. With these simple tips and tricks to maximize your grocery’s shelf life, you can eat healthy, spend less and help save the environment by reducing food wastage.
- Your grocery’s shelf life begins with its purchase.
- While the recommendations in the following sections help your grocery remain fresh and last longer, they do not compensate for poor purchase quality.
- Unless specified, never wash the grocery before storage.
Use a spray bottle and mist the unwashed broccoli heads lightly with cold water. Then loosely wrap them with a paper towel and refrigerate. Use within 2 to 3 days.
- If you do not have a spray bottle, gently dampen the paper towels and loosely wrap the heads.
- Broccoli needs to breathe — do not store it in a sealed container or plastic bag.
Cabbage is best stored whole and unwashed until you are ready to use it. Place the whole head in a plastic bag and put the bag in the refrigerator crisper. Use the cabbage head within two weeks.
Cutting causes the cabbage to start losing vitamin C and accelerates its spoilage. To store the surplus after cutting, tightly wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator crisper. Use the cabbage within 2 to 3 days.
If present, cut off the green tops as soon as possible. Place the carrots in a resealable bag or an airtight container and refrigerate. Use the carrots within 3 to 4 weeks.
- Green tops continue to suck water and nutrients from carrots even after refrigeration.
- Store carrots away from items that release ethylene gas, like apples and pears. Ethylene gas accelerates the deterioration of carrots and makes them bitter.
Place cauliflower heads in a plastic bag with holes and refrigerate. Use the cauliflower within 4 to 7 days.
- Cauliflower needs to breathe — do not store it in a sealed plastic bag.
- If you do not have a plastic bag with holes, store cauliflower in a loosely closed plastic bag.
- Moisture leads to decay or discoloration of the cauliflower (or both). Therefore, store cauliflower upside down — the stem-end must be on top — to prevent condensation from forming on the head.
Wrap celery stalks in aluminum foil and put them in the refrigerator crisper. Use the stalks within 2 to 4 weeks.
- Aluminum foil traps the ideal amount of moisture needed to keep the celery moist and crisp. Furthermore, the foil shields celery from ethylene gas released by other produce — ethylene gas browns celery.
- Do not store celery loosely or in a plastic bag.
Remove the stalks from chili peppers, place the peppers in a resealable bag and refrigerate. When stored this way, chili peppers can stay fresh for about a week.
For longer shelf life:
- Wash the chili peppers thoroughly after removing the stalks.
- Pat the peppers dry with a paper towel or fan them out on a paper towel for air drying.
- Place them in a resealable bag with a paper towel.
- Press out most of the air, seal the bag and refrigerate.
Use the peppers within a month.
Wrap chives in a damp paper towel and place them in an open resealable bag or a loosely closed plastic bag. Put the bag in the refrigerator crisper. Use chives within 10 to 14 days.
Store uncut cucumbers on the counter. Uncut cucumbers last about two weeks.
- Room temperature is ideal for cucumber storage.
- Do not store uncut cucumbers in the refrigerator. Temperatures less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) make cucumbers sour.
Wrap cut cucumbers in a dampened paper towel, place them in a plastic bag and refrigerate.
Place whole, unpeeled heads of garlic in a mesh bag or open paper bag and put the bag in a dry, dark place with plenty of air circulation (cabinet or pantry). Whole unpeeled garlic heads last close to six months.
- Do not store whole heads in bright and humid conditions — brightness and moisture cause mold to grow on garlic.
- Do not store whole heads in the refrigerator — garlic sprouts in a few days after refrigeration.
Breaking the head causes garlic to deteriorate quickly. Use the broken head within three weeks.
- Submerge peeled garlic in vinegar and store them at room temperature.
- If you plan to use peeled garlic in a day or two, place them in an airtight container and refrigerate.
Place the ginger in a resealable plastic bag and press out most of the air. Then put the bag in the refrigerator crisper. Use the ginger within three weeks.
- The ideal way to store ginger is to keep it unpeeled and uncut. You can also store peeled and cut ginger as mentioned above, but they will not last as long.
- You can use airtight containers if you do not have resealable plastic bags.
Greens — spinach, arugula, lettuce — can be stored in the box they come in. But place a paper towel on them before putting the box in the refrigerator. Use the greens within 5 to 7 days.
- The paper towel absorbs excess moisture and keeps the leaves crisp and fresh for longer.
- Without the paper towel, greens become soggy and limp, and a slimy residue develops at the bottom of the container.
Place unwashed green beans in a plastic bag and put the bag in the refrigerator crisper. Use the beans within seven days.
Take mushrooms out of their container and wrap them in paper towels. Place the wrapped mushrooms in a paper bag and refrigerate. Use the mushrooms within 7 to 10 days.
- The paper bag absorbs excess moisture and prevents the mushrooms from becoming slimy or moldy or both.
- Do not store mushrooms loosely in a plastic bag.
Place uncut onions in a mesh bag and put the bag in a cool and dry place with plenty of air circulation (cabinet or pantry). If you do not have a mesh bag, store onions in a brown paper bag — punch holes in the top half and secure the bag with a clip. You can use the onions for up to two months or more.
- Onions release moisture and hence, rot faster when stored in humid conditions.
- Do not store uncut onions in the refrigerator.
- Do not store onions near potatoes.
Place cut onions in an airtight container and refrigerate.
Place whole peppers in a plastic bag and put the bag in the refrigerator crisper. Red and yellow peppers will last 4 to 5 days, and green peppers will last about a week.
Place cut peppers in a sealed container or plastic bag. Add a paper towel to absorb excess moisture and put the container in the refrigerator crisper. Use cut peppers within 2 to 3 days.
Place uncut potatoes in an open cardboard box and put the box in a cool and dry place (cabinet or pantry). You can use the potatoes for up to two months or more.
- Potatoes release moisture and hence, rot faster when placed in humid conditions.
- Do not store potatoes in sunlight — sunlight causes potatoes to sprout.
- Do not store uncut potatoes in the refrigerator — refrigeration bruises potatoes and makes them mushy.
- Do not store potatoes near onions.
Place cut and peeled potatoes in an airtight container, fill the container with cold water (pour water till potatoes are fully submerged) and refrigerate.
Store whole winter squash — like acorn squash or butternut — in a cool and dry place at room temperature (counter, cabinet, or pantry). When stored like this, winter squash lasts for 1 to 3 months.
To store the surplus after cutting a squash, wrap it in aluminum foil and refrigerate. Use the cut squash within 2 to 5 days.
Place apples in a plastic bag with holes and put the bag in the refrigerator crisper. Apples last about 4 to 6 weeks.
- Do not store other produce loosely in the same drawer. Apples release ethylene gas — ethylene gas can speed the decay of neighboring produce.
- You can also wrap apples in a damp paper towel instead of placing them in a plastic bag.
Apricots, Peaches and Plums
Apricots, peaches and plums belong to a category of fruits called stone fruits. Place unripe stone fruits on the counter at room temperature until they reach desired ripeness.
- Do not store unripe stone fruits in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures dehydrate both the skin and flesh of the fruits.
- Place stone fruits in a brown paper bag to speed up their ripening. Add a banana to the bag to further accelerate the process.
Place ripe stone fruits in a loosely sealed plastic bag and refrigerate. Use refrigerated apricots, peaches and plums within 3 to 5 days.
Place unripe avocados on the counter at room temperature.
- Cut and use avocados as soon as they are ripe.
- A trick to accelerate avocado ripening is to place it beside bananas. Bananas release ethylene gas, and ethylene gas acts as a hormone to quicken the ripening process.
To store the surplus after cutting an avocado, brush olive oil its exposed surface, place it face-down in an airtight container and refrigerate. Use the avocado within three days.
- Oil protects the avocado from surrounding air.
- You can also brush the avocado with lemon juice to slow oxidation.
Wrap the crown of a banana bunch in plastic wrap and place it on the counter at room temperature.
- Wrapping the crown slows the release of ethylene gas and thus, delays the bunch’s ripening.
- Do not store bananas in the refrigerator. Refrigeration stalls the ripening of the inside of the fruit and reduces the time it takes for the peel to brown and dry out.
When stored properly, blueberries last for about ten days. Blueberries can be stored in the breathable container they come in but ensure you:
- Go through the berries and pick out spoiled, damaged, or moldy berries.
- Place a paper towel at the bottom of the container to absorb excess moisture and refrigerate.
- Do not store blueberries in the refrigerator crisper.
Store grapes in their original package at the back of the refrigerator. Use them within 7 to 14 days.
- Do not store grapes near odorous items like onions and leeks because grapes easily absorb flavors and odors from nearby items.
Lemons and Limes
Wash lemons and limes with cool tap water and dry them well. Place whole lemons and limes in a resealable bag. Then put the bag in the refrigerator crisper. Use whole lemons within 4 to 6 weeks and whole limes within 3 to 4 weeks.
- Do not store lemons and limes on the kitchen counter.
- Do not use soap or detergent for washing.
Place wedges and slices in an airtight plastic container. Then put the container in the refrigerator crisper. The wedges and slices should last a week.
Store unripe mangoes on the counter at room temperature until they reach desired ripeness.
- Do not refrigerate mangoes before they ripen.
- A trick to speed up a mango’s ripening process is to place it in a paper bag.
Refrigerate ripe mangoes and use them within 5 to 6 days.
Figuring out the best way to store strawberries can be tricky. There are a ton of divisive recommendations and hacks to increase their shelf life. Many highly recommend the vinegar bath, while others say it is the worst. For me, the simplest solution turned out to be the best — to sort through and store strawberries in their original carton.
Wait, that’s it?! Yes, all you have to do is go through the strawberries and pick out spoiled, damaged, or moldy ones before putting the carton in the refrigerator crisper. When stored this way, strawberries last 5 to 7 days.
- Do not wash strawberries before storage.
- Do not remove the leaves before storage.
Place tomatoes upside down in a plastic bag and refrigerate them. Use them within 5 to 7 days.
- The stem of a tomato shields its flesh from the air. Removing the stem exposes flesh to the air, and thus, the tomato rots faster.
- In the absence of stems, keeping tomatoes upside down can prevent air from getting inside.
Place the whole watermelon, uncovered, in the refrigerator and use it within a week.
Wrap cut watermelon in plastic or use resealable bags and refrigerate them. Use cut watermelon within 3 to 5 days.
Dairy and Eggs
Take the cheese out of its plastic wrapping and wrap it in parchment or wax paper. Then store the cheese at the back of the refrigerator.
- Cheese needs to breathe — do not store it in a sealed container.
- Plastic protects the cheese from picking up other flavors and odors in your refrigerator but prevents the cheese from breathing. Parchment and wax paper offer all of plastic’s benefits minus its trapping effect.
Additionally, brush olive oil on the exposed surface after cutting the cheese — olive oil traps moisture and protects the cheese from surrounding air.
Store eggs upside down — the pointed end must face downwards — in their carton on a refrigerator shelf.
- The blunt end of an egg has an air pocket between the inner and outer shell membranes. The egg gradually loses moisture during storage, and thus, the air pocket enlarges.
- Keeping the air pocket intact is the key to fresh eggs. If the air pocket is at the top, the yolk remains centered within the egg and prevents the air pocket from rupturing.
- Do not store eggs in the egg compartment attached to the refrigerator door. The refrigerator door is the warmest part of the refrigerator.
Milk and Yogurt
Store milk and yogurt at the back of the refrigerator.
- As mentioned in the previous section, items on the door shelves are exposed to warm air every time you open the refrigerator, and therefore, milk and yogurt can spoil quicker.
- Items at the back of your refrigerator stay cold longer.
Phew! That was a long list, but I hope you found it helpful. If you have personal recommendations for items on this list, please leave a comment, and I will update the article — with credits, of course. You can also mention products you would like to see added. Thanks for reading!
- Food Waste in America in 2021: Statistics & Facts. https://www.rts.com/resources/guides/food-waste-america/
- The Shocking Amount Of Food U.S. Households Waste Every Year. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lanabandoim/2020/01/26/the-shocking-amount-of-food-us-households-waste-every-year/?sh=571c23067dc8
- The average American family wastes 250 pounds of food each year. https://www.earth.com/news/family-wastes-food/
You’re Storing These Groceries All Wrong. https://www.thedailymeal.com/cook/storing-groceries-wrong
The Best Way To Store Vegetables. https://www.naturefresh.ca/how-to-store-vegetables/
How to Store Carrots So They Last for Months. https://food52.com/blog/26003-how-to-store-carrots
How to Store Green Chilies for Months. https://www.spiceindiaonline.com/how-to-store-green-chilies-for-months/
Here’s How to Store Cabbage So It Lasts Longer. https://www.allrecipes.com/article/how-long-does-cabbage-last/
How to Store Cauliflower. https://www.eatingwell.com/article/7917108/how-to-store-cauliflower/
How to Store Chives for Freshness. https://www.glad.com/food-storage/protection-pointers/how-to-store-chives/
How to Store Blueberries So They Last Longer. https://www.myrecipes.com/how-to/how-to-store-blueberries
How to Ripen & Store Mangos. https://mango.org/ripening-and-storing-mangos/
How to Store Watermelons for Freshness. https://www.glad.com/food-storage/protection-pointers/how-to-store-watermelon/
How to Store Limes (Including the Peels). https://www.homestratosphere.com/how-to-store-limes/
How to Store Peaches So They Last Longer (And Taste Their Best). https://www.cookinglight.com/food/in-season/how-to-store-peaches
Should eggs be stored pointed end down? https://www.sciencefocus.com/science/should-eggs-be-stored-pointed-end-down/
Previously Published on medium
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