Extend the Shelf Life of Groceries with These Four Tips

To keep food at its best for as long as possible, take note of these sensible strategies.

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Photo: Courtesy of Whirlpool Corporation

When you buy groceries, you want them to last. Fresh vegetables may stay fresh anywhere from a few days to a week depending on their type, jams and condiments last much longer, and dry packaged goods like pasta or grains and canned goods much longer still. No matter what type of food you have, proper storage-whether in the refrigerator or the pantry-will extend shelf life and preserve quality.

Food science specialist Donald Schaffner, Ph.D., of Rutgers University says the quickest way to shorten the shelf life of quality ingredients is to disregard temperature. Conversely the best way to prolong the shelf life of groceries to store them at the correct temperature for that particular type of food.

Use a Refrigerator Thermometer

"This is the single most important thing that homeowners can do," Schaffner says. "Refrigerators come with a somewhat arbitrary number setting. It's important to set your fridge as cold as you can without items freezing over." Using a refrigerator thermometer allows you to monitor how cold (or not) your refrigerator is.

Proper Storage Matters

To extend the shelf life of most grocery items-even beyond stamped quality dates-store items properly. Canned goods should be stored in cool, dark cabinets in order to preserve quality.

Check Your Shopping

When you get home from the supermarket, inspect the packaging foods before you store them. Foods expire much earlier than their best-by dates if there is a problem with packaging, and this includes anything from a tear in the bag to an improper seal under a cap. Knowing that a food has damaged packaging means you can plan to use it sooner.

First In, First Out

Finally, try practicing a sensible process that Schaffner calls "first in, first out:" place new ingredients in the rear of your fridge or cupboard. Schaffner even takes the time to write purchase dates on canned goods using a sharpie if they do not have a "best by" date listed. It's another easy way to be aware of what groceries you have on hand, and also reduce food waste and save money.

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