Keeping Food Fresh

by Jennifer Knoch

Karma shoppers take so much care in buying their food, but there are great ways to extend that care, and your food’s life, once you get home. Not only does that save money and resources, but cracking down on our food waste is a top climate change intervention according to international scientists at Drawdown. So let’s review a few ways to keep that food fresh longer.

Fruit and veg

  • Don’t wash food until you’re ready to eat it and avoid storing fruit or veg wet.
  • Loosen any produce from elastic bands and twist ties as soon as it gets home. Remove any mushy bits.
  • Some fruits release ethylene gas, which can cause other produce to rot prematurely. So isolate those gassy fruits in their own drawer.
  • Most fruits ripen best at room temperature, but if you want to slow things down, put them in the fridge. (I love doing this with avocados.)
  • Separate green tops from root veg as soon as you get home, and store them separately.
  • Store your onions, garlic, and potatoes in the pantry, but separate the taters from the alliums, which don’t like moisture. (I was doing this wrong my whole life!) Keep potatoes out of the light and they won’t get that greenish tinge, which also makes them less safe to eat.
  • If you buy one of those clamshells of greens, once you’ve opened it put a tea towel or paper towel on top to absorb moisture and store it upside down. This is also useful anytime you’ve washed too many greens.
  • Leafy herbs do well treated like flowers, with the bottoms of their stems in water. Some people put a plastic bag on top to keep in the humidity. More pro tips on storing herbs here.
  • I store lots of my produce in plastic, which can extend the life of veg, but I rarely take a bag from the store: I reuse bags from bread, etc., and they work great. Most vegetables will have the longest life inside the crisper drawer, which prevents them from drying out.
  • If your leafy greens are looking lacklustre, soak them in cold water before using. This works for celery and many other desiccated vegetables too.
  • Lots of fruit and veg freezes very well, and it can be a power move that snatches it from the jaws of the compost. I first freeze berries on cookie sheets so they don’t stick together, then store in a (reused) freezer bag. Some vegetables freeze better if blanched (boiled for 1 min, then dunked in cool water). Keep in mind that anything stored in the freezer door is most likely to suffer freezer burn, so use that space for things you’ll eat quickly (I put bread there) or stuff like freezer packs.

Dairy

  • Keep milk and yogurt in the coldest part of your fridge (the top shelf).
  • Cheese likes to be cold too, so don’t store it in the door. Storing it in its own drawer will help it maintain its humidity. Cheese also doesn’t love being wrapped in plastic, so cheese experts recommend rewrapping in parchment paper, and I use beeswax wraps. Cheese will lose its texture if frozen, but it can be fine if melted (a delicious cheese state!).
  • Don’t put your eggs in the fridge door, even if there’s a tempting little egg holder there. It’s a trick! That’s the warmest part of your fridge, and eggs like a solid chill.

Pantry items

  • Those healthy unsaturated fats in nuts and seeds will go rancid at room temperature in a couple of months. Storing them in airtight containers helps, as does keeping them out of the light, but in the fridge they’ll store up to six months, and in the freezer up to a year.
  • Spices will stay fresh longer (up to two years) if you grind them yourself; otherwise they get a lot less potent after six months. Don’t shake spices directly from the jar to a steaming pot — you’re inviting in moisture, which will speed up their degradation.
  • Most cooking oils will last up to a year in a cool, dry place, though sesame oil is best kept in the fridge.
  • Flours should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place, but can also be frozen: this is especially important for any whole grain flours, which go rancid more quickly. Bonus: if you have problems with pantry moths or other creepy crawlies, four days in the freezer will make sure they’re good and dead.