How to make your food last longer and better in the fridge

Put asparagus in water, keep strawberries away from apples, and more handy tips for making food last.

Put asparagus in water, keep strawberries away from apples, and more handy tips for making food last

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

This article was originally published November 7, 2018.

Do you find your vegetables quickly wilt, or that fancy cheese you spent a fortune on is drying out where you cut it? It's easy to think that because a food is refrigerated, that it'll "keep", but that isn't always the case. Everything reacts differently to time spent in a large ice box, losing moisture and nutrients and absorbing the smells around it.

Knowing how your food items will best thrive is an important part of excelling in the kitchen. You'll save money (less food waste) and time (shopping once and making it last until next week = more time for Netflix!). Not to mention your food will be healthier — when produce wilts, vitamins dissipate too (with water loss), and then there's BACTERIA baby, resulting in unwanted foodborne illness that's in your interest to avoid.

Making your fridge storage systems as effective as possible means examining and possibly revising the way you're storing food right now. Let's look at what you should be doing with produce, meat, dairy, and even birthday cakes!

First: Fridge rules to get familiar with

1. Make sure your fridge is keeping things cold enough. Health Canada recommends setting your fridge to 4 degrees C or lower. If in doubt, invest in a fridge thermometer to ensure everything is working properly.

2. Avoid overcrowding your fridge. This will create warmth pockets that could potentially spoil food quicker.

3. Take advantage of the extra humidity in those crisper drawers. Keep leafy greens and other produce that'll benefit from the extra moisture that builds up with in the enclosure. If there's a dial on the drawer, set it to the high-humidity setting and watch your veggies thrive.

4. Do not reuse food packaging. Once open, transfer to a clean and dry airtight container or other method of storage which we'll outline below.

5. Familiarize yourself with the recommended time for how long food, including condiments, can be kept safely in your fridge. Health Canada outlines a whole list here — the lifetime of some foods will probably be shorter than you think! Tip: Date open jars using a roll of tape and a permanent marker to keep track of when you opened them. This will help remind you to use them so they're not left sitting past their prime.

Keeping these rules in mind, here are ways to store specific food items in your fridge to help them last better and longer.

Fruits, vegetables, and herbs

Trim beets and carrot tops, cutting the greens off to about a ½ inch from the top. Yes, this may seem contradictory to what you've been taught, but those leaves can be moisture hogs. Your goal is to keep the moisture in the root, so the carrots stay plump and juicy.

Want carrots to last a month? Make this happen, give or take, by immersing them fully in water in an air-tight container, changing the water every 3-4 days. Now of course it's best to start this with super-fresh carrots (aka straight from your garden), but it's good to know you may be able to stretch your September harvest until Thanksgiving if you want to show them off.

Immerse the bottoms of asparagus in water like a bouquet! A mason jar or 2-cup liquid measurer works well. Invert a plastic bag loosely over the "bouquet".

Wash whole lettuce leaves and spin them dry in a lettuce spinner. Store them in an air-tight container between layers of paper towel. They'll keep for about a week like that if they started in good condition. Cut or tear them just before using in a salad.

Loosely wrap heartier herbs like thyme or rosemary in a slightly damp paper towel and store inside a resealable bag.

Make a bouquet with softer herbs like cilantro or parsley as described above for asparagus (stand them in a little water in a vessel), removing any rubber band and making sure the vessel you choose is sturdy enough to not tip over if you accidently nudge it with the milk jug.

Dispose of (or eat) soft and mushy berries and store the rest in an airtight container with paper towel underneath and on top.

Put apples and pears in a place with more airflow like a basket drawer, if your fridge has one. They, along with many other things (apricots and avocados just to name a few) produce ethylene gas which accelerates rotting. This can cause other produce sensitive to the gas (like strawberries) to go bad quicker if the gas is trapped.

Meat and seafood

Take meat out of its original packaging once it's been opened and move it to an airtight container.

Store meat on the bottom shelf and on a baking tray if it looks like it may leak so it won't contaminate other other things. Throw everything out that touches raw meat juice... but you knew this already, right?!

Place seafood at the back of the fridge where it's the coldest, and preferably on the bottom shelf too. Again, avoid seeping fish juices by letting frozen seafood thaw in a large bowl or on a tray, even if packaged.

Dairy, nuts and eggs

Transfer butter to an air-tight container and store it in the back of your fridge, rather than in the butter container in the door that your fridge manufacturer intended. The temperature fluctuates in the door and your butter could spoil quicker.

Ignore that egg container in the door too. Move it to a shelf in the fridge where the temperature is less likely to fluctuate when the door is opened.

Avoid storing hard cheeses tightly in plastic. They need to breathe. Instead, wrap them in wax or parchment paper sealed with a piece of tape, and pop them into a resealable plastic bag.

Transfer softer cheeses like mozzarella into an air-tight container.

Store cheese that comes in water (like fresh mozzarella) in the water it came with at first, but change that water after two days. And keep in mind that it's fresh and needs to be eaten soon.

Oil in nuts go rancid over time, so they're best stored in the fridge! (Whole grain flour too!)

Got cake leftovers? (Wha?!)

Wrap an unfrosted cake in plastic wrap, bound up tight to seal the moisture in and keep unwanted odours out.

Let the icing on a frosted cake harden, if possible. Icings with a high ratio of butter will most definitely firm up. Wrap them the same way as unfrosted cake. Make a lot of cakes? You may want to consider a cake keeper.

And before you toss those kitchen scraps, check out these cool ways to use them up instead!

Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.


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