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13 tips to keep food from going bad

The average American throws away about 20 pounds of food a month. You can cut waste by keeping foods fresh longer.

By Stacy Johnson Feb 21, 2013 11:46AM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News logoIf going through the fridge and tossing rotten fruit, old leftovers and stale bread is part of your weekly ritual, you're not alone.


Image: Groceries (© Tetra Images/Corbis)Some sobering stats from the National Resource Defense Council (.pdf file):

  • About 40% of food in the U.S. goes to waste.
  • The average American wastes between $28 and $43 in food each month, or about 20 pounds of food.
  • Broken down, about 17% of dairy, 20% of vegetables, 15% of fruit, 18% of grains, 25% of seafood, and 33% of the meat we buy goes to waste.

All told, you're likely throwing as much as $516 worth of food in your kitchen trashcan every year.


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 throw away the thin plastic produce bags I get at the grocery store. 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 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 stockings were full. Then she hung the pantyhose on 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, in Louisiana, causes my dry seasonings to clump together. 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 I don't have to throw them out. 


4. Invest in airtight plastic containers.

I store cereal, chips, crackers and other grain-based foods in airtight plastic containers to keep them from going stale. The containers were fairly inexpensive. I bought mine for about $6 each.


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 was wasting 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 to 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. I keep the ripest apples in a separate bowl and check the others every other day or so.


7. Store cheese in wax paper.

My local cheese shop wraps hard cheese in wax paper instead of plastic wrap. When I asked why, they told me the wax paper allows the cheese to breathe better, keeping it from growing mold 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 a half gallon of buttermilk, 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. Then he stores the lettuce in Mason jars. These ready-made salads last up to 10 days.


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 three-quarters of a 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.


11. Wrap celery in foil.

The celery I bought in plastic bags at the grocery store would turn soft within two days. Now I wrap celery in aluminum foil and the stalks stay crisp for at least a week.


12. Wrap bananas before you store them

Bananas are best stored in a warm, dry place, but they still often 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.


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