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Protecting Perishable Foods: Making the Most of Your Groceries

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Protecting Perishable Foods: Making the Most of Your Groceries

Most people don’t plan on wasting food. But we’ve all been in that situation where we open the fridge and realize that vegetables, fruit, and other foods have become soggy, mushy, or moldy. Thanks to inflation and supply chain issues, the cost of food is higher than it’s been in a very long time, so having to toss food that has “turned” is expensive and frustrating. Learn some tips on how you can protect your “investment” so that you reap the benefits of good nutrition, avoid foodborne illnesses, and save money at the same time.

Fruits and vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables are delicious and nutritious, but they can, unfortunately, go bad quickly. Here’s how to make the most of your fresh produce:

  • Choose produce that’s in season. It’s usually fresher than out-of-season produce and it will last longer, as well.
  • Weigh produce before you bag it, and choose the heaviest produce to get the most for your money.
  • Produce from the refrigerated section, such as lettuce, is often wet, due to the periodic water spraying to keep them fresh. Before weighing, shake off as much water as possible.
  • Look for produce that is free from cuts and bruises.
  • Produce that ripens quickly, such as peaches, plums, pears, and avocados, can be stored at room temperature initially to help with the ripening. But once they’re ripe, move them into your fridge.
  • Store berries, cherries, grapes, cauliflower, and broccoli in plastic bags or sealed containers. Celery can be cut into sticks and stored in water in a sealed container.
  • Citrus fruits and apples can be stored in the fridge if you won’t be eating them for a while.
  • If your leafy greens are wet from the grocery store, dry them with a paper towel before storing them in a sealed container.
  • If you still struggle with fresh produce going bad before you can eat it, consider switching to frozen produce and even canned produce (look for no-salt-added vegetables and canned fruit packed in juice or water).

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Dairy foods

Dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs) have a short shelf-life and if you don’t store them properly, their shelf-life will be even shorter. Keeping these foods cold, paying attention to any use-by dates, and checking for mold or a bad smell are especially important to avoid illness.

  • If possible, plan your grocery store route so that you pick up milk and other dairy products toward the end of your shopping trip so that they spend less time at room temperature, suggests the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  •  Consume milk by the packed use-by date on the container; buttermilk should be used within one to two weeks from the date of purchase.
  • Don’t store milk, cream, or half and half on shelf of the fridge door, since the constant opening and shutting of the door can make it spoil faster.
  • Soft cheeses will spoil more quickly than hard cheeses. If you aren’t going to eat your cheese right away, wrap it in wax paper followed by foil. Store it in a cold spot in the back of the fridge. Throw it out if you see green spots or blue mold.
  • Yogurt should ideally be eaten within five to seven days of purchase, although you might be able to stretch it out for two weeks. Discard yogurt if you see mold or pink streaks.
  • Store sour cream and cottage cheese upside down! This helps to form a seal and slow the growth of bacteria, says Food & Wine’s website.
  • If you use butter, it can stay covered on your counter for up to a month. But keep your butter in the fridge on hot days.
  • You can also freeze most dairy foods, but realize that the texture — especially  that of cheese and yogurt — may be different.
  • As with milk, avoid storing eggs inside the refrigerator door. Instead, keep them in their carton and store in the coldest part of the fridge. Eat raw eggs within three to five weeks of purchase. Hard-boiled eggs will last about a week in the fridge.

Poultry, meat, and seafood

  • Place raw poultry in a bowl or on a platter in the bottom of the refrigerator for no more than one to two days. Make sure the fridge temperature is no higher than 40°F.
  • Eat cooked poultry that has been refrigerated within three to four days.
  • If your fresh meat is wrapped in butcher paper, keep it in the paper (just make sure it’s wrapped tightly). Meat packed in Styrofoam and plastic wrap is fine in the fridge, but if you’re going to freeze it, open it and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then seal it in a Ziploc bag.
  • Keep meat in the lower compartment of the refrigerator where it’s coldest. Fresh meat should be used within three to five days. Cooked meat can last three to four days in the fridge.
  • Bacon can last seven days in the fridge and fresh sausage, one to two days.
  • Fresh seafood should be kept no higher than 40°F. Finfish should be stored on ice in the fridge and used within one to two days after purchase. Otherwise, wrap it tightly in a moisture-proof bag and store it in the freezer.
  • Store shellfish in a shallow pan covered with moistened paper towels in the fridge. Use mussels and clams within two to three days and oysters within seven to 10 days. Live lobsters and crabs should be cooked the day of purchase.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the above information, don’t worry — you don’t have to remember all of this! A quick and easy guide is within reach — and it’s free of charge. The FoodKeeper App can help you learn how to properly store all of your food, allowing you to keep it fresher, longer. Use the app online or download it to your Apple or Android device. Check it out here.

Want to learn more about reducing food waste? Read “How You Can Reduce Food Waste” and “Is This Food Safe to Eat?”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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