Most of us have probably thrown out food due to spoilage, but regularly doing this is terribly wasteful and expensive. Thankfully, you can safely preserve the quality of your food and make it last longer by learning a few food storage techniques.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when storing food, such as: how to safely handle food to prevent foodborne illness, the types of containers you use, and how long foods normally last in the fridge or freezer. Here are some guidelines from the USDA (and, where noted, other sources):
Handling Food Safely
Keep raw meat, poultry, and fish away from other foods so they don’t contaminate them. (This is probably why many fridges have a meat compartment in the bottom of the fridge; if yours doesn’t, store uncooked meat/seafood on the lowest rack to prevent their juices from leaking onto the other foods.)
Also always wash your hands—there’s a best way to do it—before and after handling food, whether cooking or putting it away.
Refrigerator and Freezer Temperature
The temperature of your refrigerator should be 40 °F or below and the freezer at 0 °F or below.
Storing Leftovers and Perishable Food
Timing: Freeze or refrigerate perishable food within two hours or one hour if the temperature is over 90 °F. A general guideline is to eat leftovers within four days. This chart shows pizza and cooked meat or poultry should last three to four days, while lunch meats and egg, tuna, or macaroni salads may last three to five days.
Containers: Store the food in the best-fitting, shallow containers. Glass storage containers have the benefit of being easy to check the contents, may be microwavable, and are more eco-friendly. If you have plastic containers already, just check to make sure they’re labeled BPA-free; as dealnews mentions in “6 Best Choices for Food Storage Containers,” if the number on the recycling icon on the container has a “7” on it, it likely has BPA in it, which may be hazardous. If your kitchen is drowning in food containers, it may be time to trim your stash to include only the most essential types of containers.
One trick for making sure your leftovers actually get eaten, not just stored prettily, is to put the most recently cooked food behind earlier leftovers. If you have trouble remembering when you put the food in the fridge, try using a dry erase marker to note the date on the cover.
Storing Fruits and Vegetables
Produce can be tricky to store because some fruits and vegetables are incompatible when stored together. Some fruits emit ethylene gas which can cause vegetables to spoil prematurely. Vegetarian Times recommends keeping these “gas releasers” out of the fridge: avocados, bananas, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes.
You can refrigerate apples, apricots, canteloupes, figs, and honeydew, but keep them out of the vegetable bin/crisper where you may be storing ethelyne-sensitive vegetables (check the Vegetarian Times article for the list of these vulnerable veggies; VT also recommends which fruits and vegetables to eat first based on how rapidly they spoil).
Speaking of the vegetable bin, most standard fridges have a vegetable crisper designed to keep produce firm and fresher for longer, and sometimes come with moisture and temperature controls. This may be a good place to keep your gas-sensitive vegetables, as the area is sealed off from the rest of the fridge.
Don’t store fruits and vegetables in their own airtight bags or containers, however, because that might speed up decay. Produce preserving products likeDebbie Meyer Green Bags, on the other hand, might help extend the life of your produce (but we can’t personally vouch for them).