There’s nothing worse than being forced to toss (previously) perfectly good produce, dairy, or meat just because it was stored in an improper way. Here’s exactly how to organize foods inside your fridge so they’ll live their longest and best-tasting life—your wallet and the world as we know it will thank you, too. Once you read these storage tips, be sure to read our comprehensive guide to how long you can store your groceries.
Storing food correctly not only stretches your monthly grocery budget – it also improves the taste and decreases waste. The following tips will show you, how to store your groceries, vegetables, fruit and leftovers and avoid common mistakes.
Marie-Louise Farag, Group Head Nutritionist at Cellnutrition, added: ‘Low risk foods are foods that tend to have a longer shelf life and if they are stored incorrectly or over the use by date will not cause great side effects for the consumer. These foods are ambient stable such as bread, biscuits, cereals, and crisps’.
You’ve met your fridge before, no doubt. It’s a high tech device that helps you store your groceries, your favorite snacks, condiments, and meal-fixins in optimal conditions.
Luckily, there are plenty of tricks to keep lettuce crisp, carrots crunchy, berries un-mushed, potatoes unsprouted, herbs perky…and that’s only the beginning. From the best places in the kitchen to store the produce to how to store your groceries, there are plenty of dos and don’ts. So you never have to wonder—or bite into a limp radish—ever again, here’s our ultimate guide to the best ways to store fruits and vegetables.
How To Store Your Groceries
Here are some general tips:
- Examine your fresh produce often and discard any bits that are turning mushy or showing signs of mold. If there’s a rubber band or twist-tie around your produce, remove it as soon as possible—those parts start going bad first.
- Store your fruits separately from your veggies. Ripe fruits release ethylene gas, which encourages everything nearby to ripen or spoil.
- Store fresh fruit (avocado, pineapple, mango, peaches & all relatives) and avocados that are not yet ripe at room temperature. Once ripe, move them to the fruit drawer to slow their spoilage.
- Pretty much all sturdy fruits and vegetables will keep for at least a few days at room temperature, if need be.
- Square containers are ideal, since they occupy about 25 percent less space than round ones.
- Now might be a fun time to make quick pickles. You can make pickle onions, radishes, carrots, cauliflower, peppers and more!
First In, First Out
If you find that you throw out food more often than you’d like, your storage practices might be to blame. Chefs are taught to memorize the mantra “first in, first out,” when stocking refrigerator shelves because it helps cut down on food waste. When putting away multiple units of the same food, always put the older unit towards the front, that way you’re more likely to use it first. If you bought a pint of berries on Tuesday and another on Saturday, place the new set at the back when putting them away. That way, the Saturday berries won’t get touched until you’ve eaten the Tuesday berries.
To make sure you’re using food efficiently, keep a permanent marker and some labels handy. Taking the time to label foods makes it easier to remember when you bought them, but also helps keep purchase dates top-of-mind.
Keep it Contained
The first thing that restaurants do when they receive a food delivery is transfer any loose goods into durable containers. Designate different containers for different items, and utilize heavy-duty containers to store everything from raw meat to loose citrus. That way, messes are easily contained and any germs won’t spread. To cut down on time spent digging into the back of my fridge for one rogue lemon, I like to store all of my raw meat in one container and my fruit, veggies, and dairy in various others. That way, I can just grab my designated citrus bin and carry on.
It’s also a good idea to transfer delicate items (like eggs) out of their cardboard containers and into more sturdy plastic egg dividers. In fact, cardboard is known to attract bugs, so it’s best to steer clear of storing any cardboard or paper products in the refrigerator.
Though these organization tips might seem time-consuming, they’ll become a habit before you know it. Keeping an organized food storage system is an easy way to cut down on waste at home, and will ensure that you keep your family safe from foodborne illnesses and toxins. To get started, we’ve rounded up our favorite food storage containers for the refrigerator.
Meat, Fish, and Poultry
- You want these in the coldest spot in your fridge, often but not always at the bottom, ideally stored in their own drawer. If your fridge allows you to adjust the temperature of the meat drawer, set it to 29° F.
- Keep all fresh meat, fish, and poultry in its store wrapping, as re-wrapping increases the risk of exposing the food to harmful bacteria. If the item didn’t come in a Styrofoam tray, slide a plate underneath it to catch any drippings.
Greens & Herbs
To keep your store-bought cilantro, parsley and green onion fresh for up to three weeks, remove the rubber band around the base ASAP. Store them in mason jars filled with a few inches of water.
Treat them like a bouquet of flowers—occasionally trim the ends of the herbs (not green onions), replace the water, and remove any decaying pieces as you see them. The herbs will keep best in the door of the refrigerator with a produce bag over the top, but they also keep pretty well at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.
Out of fresh herbs? For recipes that call for a small amount of fresh herbs as an accent or garnish (say, less than 1/2 cup), you have a few options. You can simply omit them, or substitute dried herbs, or sometimes, you can substitute one herb for another (cilantro and parsley are occasionally interchangeable, but cilantro would likely taste out of place in an Italian dish).
When substituting dried herbs for fresh, use one-third of the amount specified (so if a recipe calls for one tablespoon—which is three teaspoons—fresh dill, use one teaspoon dried dill). You can always add more if desired.
- When you buy something new, like a fresh gallon of milk, rotate the older items to the front so that they can be used before the expiration date.
- Leave cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs, sour cream, milk, and cream in the containers they came in. However, if you transfer milk to a pitcher or sour cream to a serving bowl, don’t return them to the original containers. Instead, tightly cover the pitcher or bowl with plastic wrap.
- Store hard cheeses in the store wrapping until you use them, then wrap them in wax paper, foil, or loose plastic.
- Plastic milk bottles make more sense than cardboard cartons, since bacteria can grow near the cardboard spout and enter a glass of milk every time you pour. Nevertheless, as long as you use the milk within its shelf life, it should be safe to drink.
- Whatever you do, don’t store your milk in the door—it’s the warmest spot in the fridge. The door should be used for nonperishable drinks and condiments only.
Fruits and Vegetables
After cooking veg, it’s key to cool it to room temperature before sealing and storing in the fridge. Refrigerated leftover vegetables should be eaten within two days.
For freezing veg, boil it and then run it under its cold water to halt the cooking process. Then drain and place in a freezer bag.
- Keep fruits and vegetables separate and store like with like: Apples with apples, carrots with carrots, bananas with bananas. Fruits and vegetables give off different gases that can cause others to deteriorate.
- Leave refrigerated produce unwashed in its original packaging or wrapped loosely in a plastic bag. (There are exceptions, such as mushrooms and herbs.)
- If your greens seem sandy or dirty—think lettuce from the farmers’ market—rinse and dry them well, then wrap them in a paper towel before placing in a plastic bag. Otherwise, avoid washing your produce before refrigerating it. The dampness can make it mold and rot more quickly.
- Fruits and vegetables stored at room temperature should be removed from any packaging and left loose.
- Store cut fruits and vegetables in the fridge in perforated or unsealed plastic bags to maintain a moist environment yet still allow air to circulate.
- Keep citrus at room temperature. However, once your lemons, limes, or oranges are past peak ripeness, storing them in the fridge will help them last longer (same goes for tomatoes and avocados). If your citrus starts to turn, you can slice the fruit up and freeze it: frozen citrus is great as ice cubes for drinks.
- Onions, potatoes, and shallots should be stored in a cool dark place to keep them fresh, like a basket in a cupboard or a cellar. Avoid storing these products in plastic bags as this encourages spoilage. Once cut, onions should be stored in a resealable bag in the fridge where they will last for around a week, or stored in a container and kept in the freezer.
- If you won’t be eating them immediately, buy bananas when they’re still slightly green and store them away from other fruits in the fruit bowl (they release high amounts of ethylene gas, which as mentioned can cause other fruits to go off more quickly). Consider using a banana tree to keep them separated and minimize bruising.
- Keep apples in an uncovered fruit bowl on the countertop and make sure to store them out of direct sunlight.
Yogurt, Sour Cream, Cream Cheese and Soft Cheeses
Store in the refrigerator. I try to keep my cheese and small containers of dairy products in the cheese drawer, so I can find them more easily. Wrap partially used logs of goat cheese securely in plastic wrap.
Use your eyes and nose to determine if they are still fresh. I often see pink mold as the first sign of decay on these products, or smell something funny. Toss these items—the mold is likely growing under the surface, and they are not safe to eat
Bread & Baked Goods
Store your bread products (including tortillas and pita breads) in the refrigerator or better yet, the freezer, to prevent the growth of mold. While it’s true that bread goes stale in the fridge, it’s fine once you toast or warm it (by “stale” I mean that the bread has stiffened up/dried out).
If you see any mold (fuzzy bits), the whole loaf/bag is likely contaminated. Do not eat it.
Nuts, Seeds, Whole Grains & Flours
Nuts and Seeds
First, I always recommend buying raw (not toasted) nuts. They last a lot longer, and freshly toasted nuts taste amazing. Store them in air-tight bags or containers in a cool, dark place (the refrigerator or freezer is even better if you have the space). While nuts sure look nice in mason jars and sturdy containers, those containers take up more space than bags with the air squeezed out of them.
Taste test your nuts and seeds before using. If they taste bitter, they have gone bad (rancid).
Nut Butters and Tahini
Once opened, these are best stored in the refrigerator. If they taste bitter or show signs of mold, they have gone bad and are not safe to eat.
Whole Grains and Whole Grain Flours
Store these in a cool, dark place in air-tight, sealed bags or containers. They will last even longer in the refrigerator or freezer, if you have the space. Whole grains/flours do not last as long as more refined options, since they still contain some good-for-you oils.
Give your whole grains and whole grain flours a whiff before using. If they smell rancid, they’re spoiled.