You aren't alone if you’re feeling the pinch at the grocery store lately. Maintaining a high-quality, nutrient-packed meal plan is more expensive, but you don’t want to compromise your health goals. What’s the solution?
“Proper food storage is essential in many ways,” answers Allegra Picano, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Henry Ford Health. “Not only does it minimize our risk of foodborne illnesses, but correct food storage also helps our food last longer and reduces food waste. It’s a win for our food safety, budgets and the environment.”
Following a few simple rules for how to shop, where to store your food correctly and how to consume it safely will help stretch your money and keep your family safe.
Planning Ahead For Efficient Food Storage
“When our food lasts longer, we can spend less,” says Picano. She offers several tips to consider before you head to the store:
- Think about how many people you’re feeding.
- Meal plan for the week.
- Go to the store with a complete list.
- Don’t buy anything in excess.
You will also want options on hand to store your food correctly, including:
- Reusable products, such as sandwich bags or beeswax wraps
- Salad crisper
- Sealable airtight containers in various sizes
Foods That Need A Fridge
“My general rule is if you bought it at the grocery store in the fridge, it goes in the fridge at home. If items were unrefrigerated at the store, it will likely live on your counter,” explains Picano.
Your refrigerator is the perfect place for:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Herbs like cilantro, parsley and rosemary (which stay crisp in a jar of water)
- Prepared foods
How and where you store things in your fridge matters too, says Picano. “Think of it as a hierarchy. You should organize it to maximize safety and decrease your chances for dangerous foodborne illnesses, especially if you’re pregnant, immunocompromised or at high risk."
- Put higher-risk foods (especially meat) on the bottom shelf. If anything spoils or leaks, it won’t drip down to the other foods.
- Place low-risk foods, such as eggs and dairy, on the middle shelf.
- Set everyday items such as prepared foods on the top shelf.
Your fridge is also a great place to extend the shelf life of some items. “If you have a small household, you won’t go through food as quickly. There are some surprising things you can put in the fridge to keep food fresher, longer,” says Picano.
Many staple items (nuts, seeds, flour and tortillas) can last months in the fridge. You can also get a week or more out of your bread and resealed wine when you refrigerate it.
Put These Foods On The Counter
Many food items can go on your counter or in your kitchen cupboards or pantry, allowing you to free up fridge space. Items that are safe without refrigeration include:
- Basil, which will absorb the smell of your fridge
- Dry goods, including crackers, chips and granola bars
- Fruits and vegetables such as potatoes and bananas
Items with high water content, such as lettuce and berries, will last longer if you get the moisture out of them. Wash and dry these foods thoroughly, whether you keep them in the fridge or on the counter.
Any store-bought freezer items should go right into your freezer at home. Preparing freezer meals and freezing leftovers are also great ways to stretch a food budget, says Picano.
If you’re using plastic containers, refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations to make sure the container is safe for hot food before you use it. As a final step, check containers for drips or leaks, and label and date each item before popping it into the freezer.
When you want to cook something that’s been stored in the freezer, be sure to:
- Check the date. While frozen food is typically safe for a while, refer to the USDA quality recommendations.
- Toss any food that is discolored, freezer burnt or looks off.
- Thaw home-cooked frozen food in the fridge a full day before you need it. This keeps food at a safe, constant temperature of 40°F or below to prevent bacteria growth.
Food Storage Rules To Live By
“Proper food storage goes hand-in-hand with food safety,” says Picano. She offers four tips that everyone should follow:
- If you’re questioning the food, toss it.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Cook all foods (especially meats) to proper temperatures.
- Educate yourself more about food safety.
“The USDA is a fantastic resource people should use,” says Picano. “When you understand how to buy, store and prepare food safely, you can better protect your health and your wallet.”
Reviewed by Allegra Picano, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Henry Ford Health.