Whether it's leftovers, make-ahead dishes, or fresh groceries, the whole point of storing food is so that you can eat it later.
The problem is, storing food the wrong way can cause it to go bad or suffer so much quality loss that you don't want to eat it. Either way, you end up throwing it away instead of eating it, which somehow feels worse than if you had just thrown it away to begin with.
Let's break down the five worst food storage mistakes, so that the next time you wrap something up and stick it in your fridge or freezer, it won't be its last stop before the trash.
Keeping Fresh Foods Too Long
This is one of the most common mistakes: buying too much fresh produce and meats and expecting them to last for weeks in the fridge. In most cases, that just isn't feasible. There are exceptions, like apples and celery, for instance. But in many cases, a week is too long and you should instead aim to eat the most perishable items within two or three days.
When it comes to raw meats, poultry and seafood, you ought to be cooking them or freezing them the day you bring them home. This might mean adjusting your shopping habits if you can, so that you buy less each time, or if you are shopping infrequently, as many of us are, adjusting your eating habits, and being diligent about safe storage.
Refrigerating the Wrong Foods
Another big mistake is assuming everything needs to go in the fridge. Yes, cooked foods, like leftovers, do and obviously anything you bought from the refrigerated section of the store needs to be stored in the refrigerated section of your home.
But plenty of foods not only don't need to go in the fridge, they actually suffer if you do. Examples: tomatoes, citrus, onions, garlic, and cantaloupe. Once these are cut, you should refrigerate them if you won't be using it that day. But when you first get them home, they should live on your counter, not the fridge. Here are more foods you don't need to refrigerate.
Storing Produce in Plastic Produce Bags
You know those flimsy plastic produce bags you get at the store? They're great for holding loose items, so that your apples, peaches, and potatoes don't roll around your shopping cart. But these are not food storage bags! When you get home, you should take everything out of those produce bags and store it properly.
And "properly" means something different for different kinds of produce. But in no case does a plastic produce bag keep any item of produce fresher. Produce needs to breathe and plastic obviously prevents that. Lettuce is a prime example of this.
Misusing Produce Drawers
Chances are, no one ever taught you how to use the crisper drawers in your refrigerator. Most people treat them like the produce equivalent of the sock drawer and just shove everything in, willy-nilly— sometimes still in the dreaded plastic produce bag it came home in. Don't do this!
Instead, think about your produce in terms of high-humidity and low-humidity. There's a setting on each drawer, which might be as simple as a slide that opens or shuts a small opening on the drawer. In this case, closed makes it high-humidity and open makes it low.
The high humidity is great for leafy greens like lettuce and fresh herbs, along with and other veggies that are prone to wilting, like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, eggplant, cucumbers, and so on. In other words, practically every fresh vegetable.
And guess what goes in the low humidity drawer? Practically nothing! Some guides recommend the low-humidity setting for storing apples, pears, stone fruits and bananas. But none of these foods ever belong in the fridge to begin with.
But in theory, if you specifically wanted to store something in a low-humidity section, the entire rest of your fridge is also already low-humidity! So why use up a whole crisper drawer for it?
The answer: Don't. Set both drawers to the high-humidity setting and use them for storing fresh veggies (out of their baggies). And use them within two to three days!
Storing Foods in Warm Places
But as we said, not everything goes in the fridge. Potatoes and onions, for instance, don't go in the fridge. But that doesn't mean you should store them right on the counter. And forget about those hanging baskets, too. Heat rises, and heat is bad for fresh produce. Which means that storing fresh produce in an elevated location will shorten its life significantly. The same is true of sunlight.
In fact, a great many foods benefit from being stored in the dark, in a cool, dry place. And while not every kitchen has a spot that meets all three of these criteria, in general, a low kitchen cupboard, situated away from the oven or range, is ideal.
Examples of foods that like the dark are potatoes (including sweet potatoes) and other root vegetables (rutabagas, turnips, parsnips), as well as onions and garlic. Grains like oatmeal or rice also like the dark, as they can turn rancid, as is also the case for all cooking oils. All these items should be kept someplace cool, dark and dry.