13 Tips to Make Your Groceries Last Longer

by | February 20, 2013 at 11:17 AM | Food

(iStockphoto)

Follow these tips and your produce and pantry staples will last days, weeks, or even months longer.

By Angela Colley, MoneyTalksNews.com

If going through the fridge and tossing rotten fruit, old leftovers, and stale bread is part of your weekly ritual, you’re not alone. Here are some scary statistics from the National Resource Defense Council:

- About 40 percent of all food in the U.S. goes to waste.

- The average American wastes about $28 to $43 in food each month, roughly 20 pounds of food.

- Broken down, about 17 percent of dairy, 20 percent of vegetables, 15 percent of fruit, 18 percent of the grains, 25 percent of seafood, and 33 percent of the meat you buy goes to waste.

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Do the math and according to the NRDC you’re throwing as much as $516 in your kitchen trashcan every year.

But you don’t have to. A little planning ahead, a few minutes of prep work and storage on shopping days, and a bit of creative thinking is all it takes to make your groceries last days (or even weeks) longer than normal. Here are 13 ways to extend the life of nearly everything in your fridge:

1. Keep fresh herbs in the plastic bag
Normally I toss the thin plastic produce bags I get at the grocery when I get home. But there’s one exception: Fresh herbs last longer when stored in the vegetable crisper section of my fridge inside the plastic bag. When I get home, I wash and dry the herbs, put them back in the plastic bag, and seal the bag closed with a twist tie. They’ll last at least a week.

2. Store onions in pantyhose
I learned this trick from my mother. She would buy a bag of onions, put one onion in the foot of a pair of pantyhose, seal it off with a twist tie, add another onion, and repeat until the hose were full. Then she hung the hose from a nail inside the pantry. Stored this way, the onions have more room to breathe and last a month or more.

3. Add rice to your seasonings
The high humidity where I live – Louisiana – causes my dry seasonings to clump together. Result: I used to toss at least a bottle per month. Then I started using an old trick from my grandmother: I add four to 10 grains of dry rice to the bottle and shake. The dry rice keeps the seasonings from sticking together and they last six months or more.

4. Invest in airtight plastic containers
I store cereal, chips, crackers, and other grains in airtight plastic containers to keep them from going stale. The containers were fairly inexpensive to buy – I bought mine at Walmart for about $6 each – and they keep the contents usable up to a year, sometimes more. On average, dry foods last two weeks longer in the containers.

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5. Store bread in the fridge
A friend once told me that bread lasts longer in the fridge, but I didn’t like the idea of cold bread so I kept mine in the pantry. Then I did the math and realized I waste about half a loaf of bread a week, so I tried it. As long as you store the bread on the top shelf near the door it doesn’t get too cold and tastes fine after being out for a minute or two. Sliced bread lasts up to two weeks if stored in the fridge.

6. Keep an eye out for bad apples
When an apple goes bad, the rot spreads quickly to other apples, or even other fruit. I’ve had this happen in as little as a day, ruining 2 pounds of apples. Now I sort them as soon as I buy them. The ripest apples I keep in a separate bowl and I check the others every other day or so.

7. Store cheese in wax paper
My local cheese shop wraps their hard cheese in wax paper instead of plastic wrap. When I asked them why, they told me that the wax paper allows the cheese to breathe better, keeping it from molding or turning slimy. Now I keep wax paper wrapped tightly around the cheese in my fridge, and it lasts almost twice as long, about two weeks, before it starts going bad.

8. Make buttermilk or cream cubes
Most recipes don’t call for an entire pint of heavy cream or the half a gallon of buttermilk I have to buy to make them, and I used to toss half a container every time I made a recipe. Now I freeze the leftovers in small quantities to use later. Pour the cream or milk into an ice cube tray (each section holds two tablespoons), freeze it, and toss it in a plastic container. When you’re ready to use it, pull out just enough for the recipe and let it thaw.

9. Prep salads in mason jars
I learned this trick from a chef. At home he washes, dries, and chops his lettuce the day he buys it. Once it’s chopped, he stores the lettuce in mason jars. These little readymade salads last up to 10 days stored this way.

10. Give fruits and vegetables a bath
I learned this trick from the same chef. As soon as he gets home from the farmers market, he fills his sink with lukewarm water and ¾ cup of white vinegar. He soaks his freshly bought produce in this bath for 10 minutes before storing it. The vinegar solution removes dirt, wax, and bacteria, helping the produce last longer.

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11. Wrap celery in foil
The plastic bags grocery stores use on celery don’t hold up once they’re open. My celery used to turn soft within two days. Now I wrap opened celery in aluminum foil and the stalks stay crisp for at least a week.

12. Wrap bananas before you store them
Bananas last the longest if they’re stored in a warm, dry place, but they still turn brown more quickly than I can eat them. A friend suggested wrapping the top of the banana bunch tightly with plastic wrap. I tried it and it works. My bananas last another three days or so before they start to brown.

13. Use paper towels to preserve asparagus
Fresh asparagus dries out within a few days if it isn’t properly stored. Wash and dry your fresh asparagus, then wrap the bunch in paper towels. That will keep the asparagus dry without cutting off the oxygen and the bunch will stay crisp longer.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.