Waste Less Food with These Smart Storage Strategies

·6 min read

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After a trip to the grocery or farmers market, it's more than a matter of putting everything away. Get in the habit of organizing your food for freshness from the start. You'll save money and help the environment by keeping methane-producing food waste out of landfills.

Keep it visible. You won't use what you don't remember you have. Line up items neatly, keep labels facing out, and embrace clear containers. Store refrigerated leftovers at eye level and in front so they're easy to see and available to use in a new meal.

Give everything a date. This can either be the day you bought it or a toss date. ID leftovers and homemade items. A few minutes of labeling before storing will pay off. The USDA FoodKeeper App lets you search for types of food to learn how long they will keep. Go to foodsafety.gov or download the app on your phone. Keep tape and a permanent marker in the kitchen to note contents and dates. A dry-erase marker works well on glass containers. For a uniform look, utilize expiration stickers, like those from Savvy & Sorted ($8 for 160).

Decant bulk items. Separate food into portions you're likely to use. It will all stay fresher longer than if you continually draw from one big package.

Illustration by Sam Kalda

Refrigerator Food Storage Ideas

Think of your fridge shelves and bins as zones where food is grouped based on specific traits and typical use. Commit to putting everything in its best place after meals by following this plan.

Place dairy on the bottom. Your fridge's temperature can vary, mostly due to the door being opened. Milk, eggs, and cheese do best in the coldest spot—often the bottom shelf.

Preserve fruit. The top shelf is a good place for delicate fruit, such as berries. To keep them fresh longer, don't rinse them until you're ready to eat them.

Keep vegetables fresh. Store asparagus and herbs upright in glass containers with a little water. Put leafy greens in an airtight container with a dry or damp paper towel.

Place produce in drawers. Produce that put off ethylene gas (apples, ripe peaches and plums) belong in a drawer so they don't ripen other produce too quickly.

Stock the fridge door. Considered the least cool spot, the fridge door is best for soft drinks, water, condiments, and purchased juices.

$370: Average amount a person could save each year simply by reducing food waste.

—SOURCE: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Illustration by Sam Kalda

Freezer Food Storage Ideas

Like the refrigerator, your freezer should be organized by category. Bins help contain odd shapes and reduce the chance something will fall when you open the door. Long-term storage calls for a few special considerations.

Save space. Line up bags of frozen food like books on a shelf (or file folders in a drawer) and pull one out as needed. To freeze fresh berries, corn, and other produce, put it inside a resealable bag and lay it flat. Or freeze it on a cookie sheet then transfer it to a bag.

Store food in small portions. They freeze more quickly and are easier to fit.

Avoid freezer burn. Moisture loss causes ice crystals and freezer burn. To avoid this on meat, wrap it in parchment or freezer paper then in foil. Or instead of disposable wrappings, use glass or metal containers or silicone bags.

Reuse glass containers. Repurpose glass jars from jam and pickles for leftovers. For the freezer, use jars with straight sides (they're less likely to break from food shifting up as it freezes) and fill them only three-quarters full.

More than 30% of the food produced in the U.S. is never eaten.

—SOURCE: U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Condiment Storage

Most off-the-shelf condiments are meant to last many months. Take note of the date included on the packaging and be sure to mark two additional dates on the bottle or jar: when you buy it and when you open it.

For guidelines on how long you can use condiments after purchase and opening, see our Food Freshness: Condiment Storage Guidelines.

Illustration by Sam Kalda

Food Storage for Shelves and Counters

It's easy to forget food in a cabinet and overlook produce that's sitting out. A simple system can help.

Arrange by expiration date. Before a grocery trip, assess the dates on your dry goods. After shopping, add new purchases to the back of the cabinet so the oldest are in front and get used first. Note that "best by" dates on packaged foods generally refer to flavor and quality rather than food safety.

Combine like items. Store special-occasion food together for ease in checking dates. That way, cake mixes, and s'mores supplies won't get lost behind the food you use more frequently.

Separate produce. As in the fridge, separate certain fruits and veggies: Don't keep apples in a bowl with bananas and citrus; store potatoes and onions in a dark, ventilated spot but not together. Pineapples, tomatoes, melons, kiwies, and avocados should sit out while ripening.

Editor-Favorite Food Storage Solutions

For specialized storage needs, these kitchen goods are keepers.

Vejibag Crisper Bag

Greens stay moist and crisp in this produce bag made from organic cotton.

- 21 Available at Amazon

Food Huggers Silicone Caps

Seal the cut side of a piece of produce to save for later with this set of five silicone food savers.

- $17 Available at Amazon

Souper Cube Silicone Freezing Tray

Freeze leftovers in 1-cup servings with this stackable silicone tray that comes with a clear lid.

- $20 Available at Amazon

Prepworks Produce Keeper

This dishwasher-safe produce keeper features dual vents to keep food fresh longer. The lid features produce storage guidelines for easy reference.

- $14 Available at Bed Bath & Beyond

OXO Herb Saver

This container provides the airflow and moisture herbs need to stay fresh longer.

- $15 Available at Amazon

U-Konserve Stainless-Steel Boxes

Available in three sizes, ranging from 15 to 50 ounces, these stainless-steel storage containers are dishwasher-safe and plastic-free.

- $20 Available at Amazon

Better Homes and Gardens Silicone Bag

Good for the pantry, fridge, or freezer, this reusable bag from the Better Homes and Gardens collection at Walmart is safe in the oven and dishwasher.

- $7 Available at Walmart

BluApple Produce Protector

These clever faux apples absorb ethylene gas to help produce stay fresh longer in your fridge.

- $12 for 2 Available at Amazon