Safely storing food and extending shelf life

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Many of us have probably thrown away food due to spoilage. Unfortunately, doing this can be wasteful and expensive. Here’s how to get the most out of your food by storing it properly.

Last week Farm and Dairy published an article about how to properly interpret date labels on food packaging. This week we’re helping you store your food safely and properly. Properly storing food can prevent early spoilage and can extend shelf life, which can lead to saving on grocery bills.

Properly storing food 101

The Virginia Cooperative Extension has a great article on food storage guidelines. In case you don’t have time to read the entire piece, or if you’re just looking for bullet points, we’ve gleaned the most useful information from it for you.

Related: Miscues over ‘sell-by dates’ leads to consumer loss (Infographic)

Things to consider

A good place to start is to store the food like the grocery did. If you notice, produce like apples, fresh corn, onions and tomatoes are often unrefrigerated at the store. Other produce, however, is usually chilled. Things like cabbage, lettuce, broccoli and spinach are always in a cool environment.

  • Pro tip: The grocery store doesn’t want to get you sick, so food is stored in a manner that keeps it safe. When in doubt, treat your food like the grocery.

First in, first out

First in, first out, or FIFO, is a way to properly rotate foods to help keep foods from spoiling. According to Eco Lab, the principle states, “the foods that are received or prepared first should be used first…New foods should always be placed behind older foods on shelves…” The restaurant industry lives by this mantra, and so should you.

Handling food

When handling raw meat, poultry and fish, keep them away from other foods. Cross contamination happens when bacteria from one food is spread to another. This can be bad news if some chicken juices get on your salad greens. Sure, the chicken is cooked to a temperature that kills salmonella, but your greens? Probably not.

  • Pro tip: Store raw fish, poultry or meat on the lower racks of your refrigerator.
  • Pro tip: Clean cutting boards and knives after exposure to raw meat.
  • Pro tip: Keep raw meats away from vegetables that may be eaten raw.
  • Pro tip: Wash your hands after handling any kind of raw meat, fish or poultry.

Poultry, meat, fish, eggs

These food items are highly perishable. If anything gets you sick in your kitchen, the chances the bacteria originated from one of these products is highly likely.

Whole cuts of meat generally begin spoiling after 3 days in the refrigerator. Ground meats, however, are more susceptible to spoilage because bacteria has more surface area on which to grow. Ground meat, according to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, should be used, or frozen, within 24 hours of purchase.

  • Pro tip: Refrigerate at between 33 degrees and 36 degrees.

Poultry should be prepared, or frozen, within 24 hours of purchasing. Poultry may be stored in the freezer for up to 12 months.

Fresh fish and shrimp should be consumed within 1 to 2 days. Frozen lean fish may be stored for 3 to 6 months in the freezer. Shrimp may be stored up to 12 months.

Related:Keeping kale fresh in the freezer

Breads and grains

Unlike meats, breads and grains are easily stored at room temperature. Breads and grains store best in cool, dry and airtight places. The important thing is to keep your bread and grains dry. Moisture can hurry fungus growth.

Grains, in particular, do well from being in sealed containers. RecipeTips.com has a pretty comprehensive guide on how to store different kind of grains including buckwheat, corn and barley.

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables can be tricky. Some fruits emit ethylene gas which causes vegetables and other fruits to spoil prematurely. Keep those fruits out of the refrigerator to lengthen the freshness of your vegetables.

Vegetarian Times recommends not refrigerating the following gas releasers: avocados, bananas, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, tomatoes.

Don’t put the following fruits and vegetables near gas releasers: broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, leafy greens, squash, watermelon.

  • Pro tip: According to Buzzfeed’s 35 Clever Food Hacks, placing an apple with potatoes prevents potatoes from budding. 
  • Pro tip: Store cut lettuce and greens covered in cool water. This can keep your lettuce fresh for days.

Vegetarian Times also has a great guide on when to eat fruits and vegetables based on how quickly they spoil.

For more information on food safety, visit Foodsafety.gov.

About the Author

Will Flannigan is Farm and Dairy's online editor. He grew up in Salem, Ohio, and is new to the agricultural scene. Will enjoys hiking, community theater and learning new things. More Stories by Will Flannigan

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