General tips for extending shelf life of food
April 7, 2020 6:50 AM   Subscribe

Apropos the Virus and avoiding public places to limit exposure, the Today show just ran a 3 minute segment on making perishable items last longer. The advice was very good, but limited given the short length of the segment. This question is a request for the same. Fellow learned, epicurious Mefites--what do you know about making food last longer?
posted by BadgerDoctor to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
I just put most of a delivery of fresh bread into the freezer. When I thaw it, it will be like freshly baked.

Other things I freeze: flour; spices; milk powder (and milk); butter; nuts; peanuts. This keeps them all from going ever-so-slightly off if they sit at room temperature. The flour seems to bake better, and whole wheat flour doesn't go rancid at all.

Mushrooms do best if they're stored so that they get air.

I just learned this: remove carrot tops from carrots -- those wick out the moisture from their carrots so they lose crispness.
posted by amtho at 6:56 AM on April 7, 2020 [11 favorites]

I don't watch the Today show but I regularly place scallions in a glass with an inch or less of water and cover with a flimsy plastic bag. Fresh ginger I chop finely, spread on a baking sheet and lay in freezer (the frost-free kind) for several hours before transferring to a zip-lock baggie and rolled up so most of the air is squeezed out. I do that with the scallions as well if it looks like I won't be using them for a long while.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:01 AM on April 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Asparagus lasts for ages if you store it standing up in the fridge with the bottoms of the stems in an inch or so of water.
posted by slenderloris at 7:01 AM on April 7, 2020

Turn the fridge to a colder setting, just a notch, you don't want stuff in the fridge to freeze. It takes a day for the temp to fully adjust. Heat rises, cold falls, put meat on the lowest shelf. A full freezer is more efficient; I keep bottles of water in empty spaces, which are handy for coolers in case I ever leave the house again.
posted by theora55 at 7:08 AM on April 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

The "standing things in an inch of water in the fridge" trick works for basically anything with a stem - herbs like parsley and coriander (cilantro), vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, spring onions...
posted by parm at 7:09 AM on April 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

I tuck a paper towel in with my salad greens to soak up any excess moisture. Helps it keep a couple days longer in my experience.
posted by scrubjay at 7:10 AM on April 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

Vacuum sealing food, fresh and cooked, will keep it good longer.
posted by Candleman at 7:24 AM on April 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

I read a long time ago that you should put flour in the freezer for 24 hours to kill off any bugs, and I've done that ever since. A friend told me that he does that now and no longer gets bugs.

I freeze tomato paste in tablespoon-size dollops wrapped in cling film and keep them in a jar in the freezer. This is useful because recipes don't tend to call for a whole can and I don't like the tube stuff, which is also expensive.

Back when I ate bacon, I froze it as individual slices wrapped in waxed paper. I think I got that from the New York Times.

This is a great idea for a thread. Thanks.
posted by FencingGal at 7:28 AM on April 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Not sure if this counts but almost all fruits and vegetables can be cut up and frozen when near the end of their lifespan in the fridge or counter. They won't be the same texture when thawed but I can't tell the difference once they're cooked (fruits can be made into smoothies or baked goods).

We do this with peppers, celery, apples, carrots, mushrooms, bananas, onions, etc etc. Pretty much all of our produce except lettuce.
posted by randomnity at 7:32 AM on April 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

To follow on from parm's earlier comment, this article from Serious Eats completely changed my life with regard to how I store cilantro. Following their instructions, cilantro now lasts over a week in the fridge where before it only lasted a day or two. Absolutely mindblowing to me.
posted by branca at 8:05 AM on April 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am fairly impressed with these. Blueberries were still going strong after more than a week, not only no spoilage but also still firm with very few mushy ones.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:10 AM on April 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

You can freeze a huge range vegetables & fruit. Like pretty much anything, without blanching, the texture changes so maybe you don't want to use them in salads, but throw them in a stew or a soup or even a stirfry no worries.

Leftover spinach, freeze to use in smoothies or throw in a stir fry. Freeze tomatoes whole. When you want to use them run them under hot water to slip the skin off then throw in your pasta dish to slowly defrost & make a tasty tomato sauce, Cherry tomatoes are great for this. Peppers freeze great. I prechop them & just pull out what I need. Too many potatoes, make mash with lots of butter & freeze. Blueberries & grapes throw them in & freeze 'em for a tasty cold snack or throw on some cereal or in a pancake. If something is getting near to the end of it's life, freeze it.

Rubbermaid make great food storage containers for fresh fruit & veg too work a treat I can keep greens 2 weeks in them.

You can freeze flour it will last longer & you can use it straight from the freezer. I actually prefer to use the frozen when making pastry as coldness is everything.

My main advice would be whatever you are storing check regularly. Use up what is getting borderline in that nights dinner so it's not wasted & also it really does only take one bad apple to spoil the bunch, so go through your stores every few days to remove anything that's a dud, or freeze stuff before it goes off or just to remind yourself what you have so you use what you've stored.
posted by wwax at 8:17 AM on April 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

All the old time of methods of preservation with salt still work, e.g. pickling.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:24 AM on April 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

throw fruits and veggies that are prone to mold into a sink filled with cool water and a splash of white vinegar. Especially berries, but also works great with broccoli and things!

most limp veggies can be reinvigorated by soaking them in cold water in the fridge for a couple hours before using. Store potatoes in a paper bag in a bottom drawer or shelf where it's a little bit cooler. Store onions in a separate paper bag.

Freeze fresh herbs by either chopping and flash freezing on a cookie sheet, or in icecube trays with olive oil.

never put spoons or knives back into condiments or butter after they touch other food, only clean ones.

wipe the rim of the container of yogurt/sour cream/cottage cheese with clean cloth before replacing the lid.
posted by euphoria066 at 8:30 AM on April 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

There was a segment on the past weekend's episode of The Splendid Table on this issue. The main point I took away from it was that the best use of your freezer space, if it is limited, is to cook food and portion it into home-made freezer food that you can thaw when you need an easy meal.
Here is Kenji on the fridge and freezer at Serious Eats.
posted by mumimor at 8:34 AM on April 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Don’t store apples with bananas (or most fruits). The gases from them ripen other fruits more quickly.

Someone else on the green recently mentioned that storing potatoes in the dark (even more so than in a cool place) was crucial for them lasting a long time.

Don’t store onions and potatoes together.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:38 AM on April 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Fluff your salad greens!
posted by stellaluna at 8:39 AM on April 7, 2020

Always use a clean spoon when dishing out items. If you are scrupulous about this, things like yogurt and hummus will last significantly longer.
posted by veery at 8:43 AM on April 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I use fruits that are getting mushy to make a fruit crisp. I was fortunate to find a container of crisp topping (oats, butter, sugar + cinnamon) in the back of the freezer that I made in the fall. Back when butter and sugar were plentiful, I'd make a big batch of crisp topping all at once and freeze it in portions.

You could also stew/cook the fruit with some sugar or maple syrup to make a compote, which would be good over ice cream or pancakes.
posted by sarajane at 8:45 AM on April 7, 2020

rot it
posted by aniola at 8:56 AM on April 7, 2020

dry it
posted by aniola at 8:57 AM on April 7, 2020

Celery stored in aluminum foil stays crisp forever. Why, I have no idea.
posted by HotToddy at 9:14 AM on April 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

My favorite tip, which I think I learned here, is for storing sliced/cut up cucumbers. Lay them out in a container, put a paper towel or kitchen towel on top, seal the container, and then *store it upside down* in the fridge. Pre-cut cukes that last for over a week without going slimy.
posted by okayokayigive at 9:58 AM on April 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Store sour cream and cottage cheese upside down. It creates a vacuum seal in the container that slows spoilage.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:35 AM on April 7, 2020 [7 favorites]

Save your bread heels and stale bread slices in a plastic bag in the freezer. When you've accumulated enough, use them to make french toast or bread pudding.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:37 AM on April 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I buy cheese in big blocks but I don't use cheese very often. To prevent it drying out and hardening I cut the big (2-pound) block into smaller blocks which I wrap in wax paper and store in the freezer.

But the most important tip I have for making foods last longer is this: Don't live with anybody who thinks "Best By ..." is an expiration date.
posted by Rash at 11:06 AM on April 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Chop a big handful of peeled garlic in a food processor to a fine mince (not a paste) and add olive oil enough to saturate everything. Put in a jar in the fridge and it will last 6 months at least!

Use an ethylene absorber in your veg drawer. Dont store onions and potatoes near each other or expose them to sunlight. Apples and oranges also need stored separately.

Wilt (steam or saute) and refrigerate or freeze all cooking greens (spinach, kale, etc)
posted by ananci at 11:28 AM on April 7, 2020

Once bananas have ripened to your liking, peel each one and wrap in cling wrap and put all in a gallon-sized ziplock bag and put in the freezer. Thaw slightly to use in smoothies or chop for cereal, oatmeal, or just to eat. Haven't tried it but I am told one can make ice-cream-like desserts by running through a food processor or blender.
posted by Gino on the Meta at 12:18 PM on April 7, 2020

When bread has been around for a while, and I think it might go bad soon, or maybe it's just gotten a bit stale, I'll put what remains in the freezer. Once I have a collection of older bread, I can combine it with herbs and eggs and make some baked bread stuffing -- which is delicious.

I also save odd pieces of tomato, or tomato that's sat in the refrigerator for a day, to turn into sauce.
posted by amtho at 12:41 PM on April 7, 2020

Frozen ginger peels and grates easy. Add to smoothies, salads, soups, waffle and pancake mix, and hot beverages.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 12:51 PM on April 7, 2020

SemiSalt (eponysterically) mentioned it above, but I'm going to repeat it: if you have a vegetable or fruit and you don't think you can eat it before it is too late, pickle it. You can take half and half white vinegar and water, and simmer for a while it with salt, sugar, bayleaf, whole peppercorns, and whatever else your heart desires. The idea is to reduce the water-vinegar mix and infuse the herbs and spices. Then pour it over your veg: cucumber, onion, tomato, plum, bell pepper, whatever. Put it in a clean jar and keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge. Or you can simmer your fruit or veg gently in olive oil with some dried herbs and salt and then preserve the result in a clean jar. No fridge required. It's the same principle as for confit de canard. Or you can make Tsukemono. A bit more complicated but delicious. I haven't tried making my own kimchi yet, but it's all about the preservation and making that into something good.
posted by mumimor at 2:11 PM on April 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

To keep your celery lasting longer, remove any of the green leafy stalks, as they keep pulling energy from the celery bunch and will make it wilt faster. Trim a thin slice off the bottom so it's a fresh cut end. Then wrap it entirely in aluminum foil. This can make it last incredibly longer -- like weeks!

The same principle can be applied towards Romaine lettuce; trim the thick bottom about 1/2 to 1 inch back. Then wrap it entirely in aluminum foil. I've had Romaine last in my fridge a good 3-4 weeks this way!!

Instead of regular tomatoes which tend to go bad faster; try to choose Italian style tomatoes or grape/cherry tomatoes -- with more meat and less liquid, they tend to last much longer and being smaller, you don't tend to have any go to waste as much. Also, baby tomatoes will just tend to dry out slightly rather than go bad, at which point you can marinate them, or just slice them up and toss them into your pasta dish.
posted by Jade Dragon at 2:25 PM on April 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is less about making food last longer temporally and more about getting more from it by using parts you might otherwise throw away, but consider freezing things like carrot peels and onion peels and root-ends in a bag in the freezer (if you have space). When you've got enough, you can use them to make broth (here's an example from the YouTuber formerly known as Alex French Guy Cooking: I Make Ramen From Scratch Using TRASH).
posted by Lexica at 2:44 PM on April 7, 2020

Problem with too much reliance on the freezer and fridge: what if the power goes out for more than a couple of hours?

Consider sun-curing or dehydrating vegetables, fruit, meats, fish. Pickling veg and fruit is another method that doesn't require refrigeration.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 3:06 PM on April 7, 2020

Store a partially used avocado in a sealed container with some onion.

For food that can stand freezing, vacuum-seal and freeze it to extend its life and maintain its quality more or less indefinitely. Obviously requires a vacuum sealer, but they're good to have.
posted by adamrice at 3:51 PM on April 7, 2020

I refrigerate strawberries in glass jars and they last at least twice as long. We also bought banana bag things like this off Amazon and they probably keep bananas fresh twice as long (which still isn't very long.) The peel gets nasty fast but even when it's black the banana inside can still be fresh!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:04 PM on April 7, 2020

Someone bought me a huge bag (2 pounds huge) of dried baking yeast from Costco, and realising I'd have a problem using it I stuck it in the freezer. This, it seems, is the right answer. Yeast sachets in the cupboard are usually dead after six months: this has been going for six years and counting.

And yes, I probably still have most of two pounds of yeast...
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 4:13 PM on April 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Don’t store potatoes and onions (and onion families) together, they’ll stay fresh longer if separated.
posted by Hypatia at 5:56 PM on April 7, 2020

A slightly left-field suggestion: if you have pots and soil (or a garden), plant stuff.

I plant store-bought spring onions and scallions. You can also do it with leeks and normal onions and garlic. I can't keep them alive forever, but I haven't tried very hard, and it keeps the scallions alive much longer than the refrigerator. You have to check that the roots haven't been chopped off. You can get a regular supply of garlic and onion scapes.

I also plant ginger (and turmeric; if I could get fresh galangal here I'd plant that too). That stays alive pretty much forever. You can dig up the rhizomes and eat them as normal, but they also sprout scapes which you can eat.

Oh, and peppers. I plant a lot of random chilli seeds. But this is more of a long-term harvest.

You can also plant lettuce roots -- I've seen lots of quarantine lettuces on Twitter recently! You can also try to root certain woody herb stems.
posted by confluency at 2:53 PM on April 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Hard boiled eggs and pickle them. I know, it sounds gross, it did to me too, but I raise chickens and desperately needed ways to preserve eggs longer, so I tried it. I am a convert. Pickled eggs are ammazeballs! I like my brine made with beet juice as it turns the eggs pink but does not pass on the beet flavor. This is one of my favorite recipes.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:34 PM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Fermenting and pickling are the two I know. Best for fruits and vegetables!
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:41 PM on April 13, 2020

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