Simple Tips For Extending Food Shelf Life

As I’ve mentioned many times over the years, food waste is a major environmental issue as so many resources go into growing food and then getting it from field to fork and paddock to plate.

The figures vary somewhat depending on where you source them, but one estimate I’ve seen is that 40 percent of all the food produced in the US is thrown out – and that isn’t even at the high end of the scale.

Aside from the wasted resources, there’s also a substantial financial cost. An average American family dumps an equivalent of up to $2,275 worth of food in the bin annually. Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. landfills.

Since I started worm farming, I’ve had a good way deal with veggie waste – but I still don’t like the concept of giving what was edible to the worms to eat (but they certainly aren’t complaining) or just composting the waste.

I also started raising mealworms recently and as a source of moisture for little guys (and a bit of added variety to their diet); I provide them with chunks of fresh carrot. The last time I purchased carrots, I couldn’t buy them loose, only in a bag. I’m not a big carrot eater and wasn’t looking forward to boosting my carrot intake so as to not waste them.

Remembering an old trick I’d heard; I put the (perforated) bag of carrots on a couple of layers of paper towel in the fridge.

carrots-paper-towel
Photo is a little misleading – there’s no visible condensation in the bag

It’s now been 4 weeks and the remaining carrots haven’t lost any of their crispness. It seems the paper towel idea not only extends the shelf life of carrots, but lettuce too.

There are many simple ways to extend the life of fresh produce; some don’t involve any additional products at all – not even paper towel.

Some of the strategies involve not storing some foods like we usually do these days or avoiding storing one type of food next to another.

For example, onions should not be stored close to potatoes. It seems gases one gives off affects the other.

Our refrigerators tend to become dumping grounds for all sorts of foods, some that don’t require and shouldn’t be refrigerated. Wiser refrigerator use might also mean a smaller appliance is needed – and that means additional environmental and financial savings.

Some fruits produce ethylene gas that can cause vegetables in close proximity to spoil more rapidly; so these should be stored if possible at room temperature rather than in the fridge. (You may have smelled ethylene gas in your fridge – it has a sweet, musky odor.)

Fruits that should not be stored in the fridge include:

  • avocados
  • apricots
  • bananas
  • oranges
  • kiwi fruit
  • melons
  • nectarines
  • pears
  • peaches
  • plums
  • pineapple
  • tomatoes

There are so many simple tips – another example – to increase the shelf life of green peppers, broccoli and celery; I’m told wrapping these foods in foil works a treat.

Something I’ve also found to help is to wipe out the veggie crisper bin in the refrigerator each week and without fail. I’m assuming that this is because it helps to reduce the amount of bacteria present that contribute to spoilage.

It’s not just fruit and veg you can easily extend the life of. In the case of cheese; instead of wrapping in plastic, use cheese paper or wax paper. Mushrooms should be stored in a paper bag, not plastic.

For more tips on  extending the shelf life of various items; check out the food storage guide on RealSimple.