Millions of pounds of food go to waste every year, and in an era of produce shortages and rising food costs, this is something we should all strive to avoid as much as possible. In addition to not buying more food than you’re certain to use within a week, you can try to store certain items for later use, either by freezing them or packaging them safely. Unfortunately, many people make mistakes when it comes to food storage, and those errors can lead to some rather nasty health issues, in addition to wasted groceries. Here are a few of the more common mistakes that people make when it comes to putting food away:
Storing Onions with Potatoes
Some people may think that the taboo about storing onions with potatoes is an old wives’ tale, but it has actually been proven that keeping these two veggies in close proximity will result in a whole lot of mankiness. Store your potatoes in a cool, dark, dry place, and keep your onions far away, also in a cool, dry place, but one that gets plenty of air circulation. I always refrigerate mine, but that’s your call.
Keeping Leafy Greens in Plastic Bags
If you’ve ever bought lettuce and left it in its plastic bag, you’ve probably noticed that it got all wet and slimy. This is because plastic doesn’t allow air to circulate around the leaves, which accelerates the growth of mold and bacteria, so it rots more quickly. Either store your lettuce in perforated plastic bags, or wash it, dry it out as much as possible in a salad spinner, then layer it with sheets of paper towel and keep it in a large bowl in the fridge.
Refrigerating Berries Without Rinsing in Vinegar First
As scrumptious as they are, berries tend to be little cesspits of bacteria and mold, and it’s not uncommon for a package of raspberries or blueberries to get fuzzy and gross overnight. When you buy a box of berries, rinse them thoroughly in a 3:1 water:vinegar solution, dry them off well, and then refrigerate them in a perforated container.
Not Labeling Frozen Foods
Have you ever tried to analyze some random frozen food item in an attempt to sort out what the hell it is? This is what happens when you don’t label things before you freeze them: you will not remember what they are a few months down the road, and you’ll play a risky guessing game in an attempt to sort them out. Whenever you freeze something, label it with the contents and the date that you froze it. As you add more items to the freezer, pull older items forward so you’ll use them up first.
Not Labeling Home-Canned Items
The rules for frozen foods also apply to home-canned goods: label everything with the contents and the date canned. Sure, most canned goods remain in edible condition for quite a while, but it really is best to use them within a year.
Not Rotating Canned Goods
You may have heard canned goods referred to as “non-perishable food items“, but that just means that they won’t rot without refrigeration. They won’t remain fresh and edible forever. If the canned goods you’ve bought don’t have expiration dates that are easily visible, grab a Sharpie marker and write the date of purchase on the can’s lid. As you purchase more canned goods, pull the older ones forward so they’ll be eaten first.
Keeping Dry Goods in Original Packaging
Mice, meal worms, and mustiness: these three Ms are the main causes of in-edibility when it comes to dry goods, and all can be avoided by repackaging those foods in airtight glass containers. Skip the Rubbermaid containers, because mice can chew right through them. Your best bet is to store dry cereals, grains, pasta, and flours in glass Mason jars, or any other glass jar that you’ve cleaned thoroughly after using the contents. Pasta sauce and pickle jars are ideal, though jam jars are also great for smaller quantities.
Storing Dry Goods in Damp Spaces
You can add mold as a fourth M to the list above if you plan to store dry goods in spaces that are exposed to a fair bit of moisture. Never keep dry pasta or cereal in the cupboards above (or near) the stove, as any moisture that evaporates from kettles or pots will be absorbed into the food.
Keeping Dented Cans
When a can is dented, there’s a greater chance that tiny cracks have formed along the dent, which can lead to spoilage (mmm botulism!) inside it. It’s better to ditch them than risk hospitalization.
Leaving Hot Food on Counters Before Refrigerating It
If you’ve ever been told that you should allow food to cool down before refrigerating it, you probably received that advice from someone who grew up with an icebox, or an early model of fridge. Modern refrigerators are more than capable of cooling warm food quickly; it’s what they’re for.
How long can your foods live? The Shelf Life of Common FoodsFeatured photo credit: istolethetv via Flickr