You come home with bags of groceries. Soon the pantry shelves are stocked, the fridge is packed with fresh fruits and vegetables, and dinner is underway. There's no feeling more satisfying than a well-stocked kitchen, right?
Well, until you notice that bag of arugula tucked away in the back of the fridge. It's brown and slimy, and needs to be tossed out even though you're sure you bought it just the other day. Sound familiar? How can you organize your food storage and make sure nothing gets overlooked and wasted? These tips will set you straight.
Mistake #1: You keep food in the store-bought packaging.
Those grocery store trays sealed in plastic wrap might look secure, but that doesn't mean they are. Ditto for those plastic bags of salad greens. That arugula, for instance, would last longer in your crisper by being washed and spin-dried, then wrapped in a paper towel and stored in an airtight container. Unwrap all meat and produce and store in resealable containers. Look for a strong set of containers with seal-tight lids that lock in freshness.
Mistake #2: You're working with the wrong temperature.
This is vital; different foods require different temperatures -- and not everything needs to go in the refrigerator. Tomatoes, bananas, and avocados will ripen best on the counter; chocolate will keep from blooming in a cool space out of direct sunlight; and oils should be kept away from heat (don't store the olive oil next to the stove), though delicate oils like sesame and walnut do need to be refrigerated.
Mistake #3: The refrigerator needs a reorganizing.
Yes, it's great to open the doors and see a fully-stocked fridge, but be careful of how and where food is stored inside it. An overcrowded fridge creates warm pockets and allows drawers to become humid, leading to spoilage. Keep the refrigerator temperature at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius), and keep the freezer temperature at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius).
Placement is important, too: Raw meat and seafood should be stored on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator to prevent dripping, which can contaminate the food below. Glass storage containers are impermeable, making them great for securely storing food that emits an odor or tends to leak (think leftover curry or fish fillets) -- you won't smell it, and the smell won't permeate other foods nearby.
Mistake #4: Your containers don't match your needs.
Not all containers are the same! They come in different shapes, sizes, and materials to suit different needs. What works best for counter storage might not be what you should use in the refrigerator, and not what you need to pack your lunch in. Plastic containers are light and really useful for on-the-go eaters. A two-section lunch cube is great for a weekend traveler or a desk lunch, and a breakfast-to-go container with a snap-in spoon is perfect for the early bird commuter. If you're a keen cook, a sturdy set of clear containers is great for storing prepped ingredients for your mise en place -- or holding leftovers.
Mistake #5: You're not rotating your groceries.
That can of soup sitting at the back of your pantry? Sure, it has a long shelf life -- but if you stock more recent purchases in front of it, you'll never find it and it will eventually expire because you've forgetten it's there. Store groceries so you can keep everything easily in sight. Try to keep soon-to-expire food items in closer reach than newer ones -- when you buy a can of tomatoes, put the older one at the front. This kind of system will remind you to use groceries before they go bad. Also, knowing the typical shelf life of your groceries will help you plan meals to use up what needs to be cooked first.
Clear containers help you see what you have, and they also mean you can see how much you have -- so you'll know you have to buy more light-brown sugar before you make your favorite Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies again.