How To Make Your Fresh Food Last Longer

Save some money and avoid food waste with these simple tips.

Moldy strawberries, clumpy yogurt, rotten carrots and hardened bread have all probably made an appearance in your fridge — that area at the back that we don’t talk about — at some point.

Food waste is a major problem for households, and especially during the Covid-19 pandemic as we continue to buy more than we need. But, if we learn proper and safe food storage for the fridge, we can make our food last longer, which will help prevent food waste, save us some money, and prevent food poisoning.

Fridge and freezer basics

It’s very important your fridge and freezer are cold enough to keep foods chilled at the right temperature. USDA guidelines say fridges should be set for 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and freezers to 0 or lower to prevent bacteria growth. If your fridge doesn’t come with a thermometer, now is a good idea to invest in one if you can.

Raw meat, poultry, fish, and seafood should never be left outside the fridge or freezer unless you’re preparing them to eat. Refrigerate or freeze them right when you get home from the grocery store, or when they’re dropped off at your home.

A well-stocked fridge shouldn't be an overcrowded fridge.
AndreyPopov via Getty Images
A well-stocked fridge shouldn't be an overcrowded fridge.

Do not crowd together foods in your fridge, and keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and seafood separate from other foods. Overcrowding can lead to spoiled food quicker, and keeping meat close together with other foods can potentially lead to food poisoning.

To help prevent the spread of bacteria and food-borne illness, store meat, poultry, fish, and seafood in sealed containers or plastic bags on the bottom of your fridge’s shelf (if you’re eating it within the next couple of days — if not, place in your freezer in airtight containers or bags) so raw juices don’t drop onto other foods.

Here’s a breakdown by food type for fridge and freezer storage times for food safety and quality.

Fruits, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms and leafy greens

1. Line your crisper with paper or cloth towel

Remember when you were going to make a salad and you opened your fridge only to find wilted, black lettuce? Never again, honey. Lining your crisper (this is where you store your produce to keep it fresh for as long as possible) with a couple of paper-towel sheets or a cloth towel can help absorb the condensation that veggies and fruits generate as they chill. Moist produce wilts and decays a lot faster, which can lead to unnecessary food waste.

2. Brush avocado halves with lemon juice or olive oil

Ask your avocado-loving friends how they’re doing because they’re probably all frustrated with one common complaint: Avocados are only good to eat for a day or two before they brown.

The solution? Brush the halves with lemon juice or olive oil, according to our friends at Yahoo. The citric acid in lemons, and the components of the oil protects the avocado from oxidation from the air.

3. Store fresh herbs in damp paper towel

To help keep them fresher for longer, loosely wrap cilantro, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, or parsley in a slightly damp paper towel, per Food52, and then place in a resealable plastic bag.

4. Wash your berries with vinegar and water

It seems like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries start growing mould just days after we put them in the fridge. Here’s how to slow that down: Before you refrigerate them, toss or eat the soft berries. Then, wash them in a solution of three cups water and one cup vinegar, per Food52. Rinse and dry them thoroughly, and store in an airtight container with paper towel underneath and on top to capture any excess moisture.

5. Keep apples away from other from other fruits and veggies and keep bananas together

Apples produce ethylene gas, which makes other fruits ripen faster, so keep them away from other fruits, and store in a plastic bag in the fridge.

To keep bananas from browning too quickly, keep them together in a fruit bowl (away from the apples!) and wrap the stems in plastic wrap (or beeswax sheets), snapping them off when you’re ready to eat them. This will delay them from going ripe too fast.

6. Store an apple in your bag of potatoes

Although we just said to keep apples away from fruits, one apple stored inside a bag of potatoes will actually prevent the starchy vegetable from sprouting and keep them firm for months, according to LifeHacker.

7. Don’t keep tomatoes in the fridge

Keep them on the counter instead. Tomatoes should be kept at room temperature; if you refrigerate them, they’ll lose their flavour.

8. Cut off the tops of carrots

Before you put them in the fridge, chop off the tops of your carrots. According to Gardenista, the leafy stems steal their nutrients. Same goes for beets, too.

9. Keep fresh mushrooms in brown paper bags

And oldie but a goodie: the paper will absorb the moisture from the mushrooms, so they won’t get soggy.

10. Keep peppers away from moisture

Store them on the counter or in the crisper, away from fruits and veggies, according to Gardenista.

Dairy and eggs

1. Keep milk on the middle or bottom shelf of the fridge, not in the door

Most of us (hello!) keep milk and creamers in the door of our fridge, but that’s actually the worst place to keep them. People are opening and closing our fridges many times a day, the temperature of the door is always changing, which means milk and milk products can spoil a lot faster when kept in the door.

Do NOT keep your dairy products in the fridge door.
LightFieldStudios via Getty Images
Do NOT keep your dairy products in the fridge door.

The best place to store milk according to Real Simple is on the middle and bottom shelves, ideally near the back where the temperature is most cool and consistent.

2. Wrap cheese in cheese paper, wax paper, or parchment paper

A common mistake is to tightly wrap cheese in plastic wrap or tinfoil. Instead, wrap the cheese up in cheese, wax, or parchment paper, and then put it into an unsealed plastic bag. “The paper creates a barrier between the cheese and the plastic, while the plastic keeps it from getting dry,” Ken Monteleone, the owner of Fromagination Cheese Shop, in Madison, Wisc., told Insider.

3. Store eggs at the back of the fridge

As with milk, eggs shouldn’t be stored in the door of the fridge, but at the back, where the temperature is most consistent.

To keep them fresher for longer than the usual three to five weeks, hard boil the eggs and they’ll stay fresh for one more week.

4. Keep butter wrapped in its original wrapper when storing in the fridge

If you’re not using the butter in the next few days after purchase, put it in the fridge immediately and store in its original wrapper after each use. According to B.C. Dairy, “the [wrapper] foil prevents spoilage that may result from exposure to light and air, as well as offering protection from the aromas and flavours of other foods in the refrigerator.”

Keep your butter wrapped in its original packaging.
Ruta Lipskija via Getty Images
Keep your butter wrapped in its original packaging.

Butter that’s been left unwrapped will last in the fridge for at least eight weeks, but after you’ve opened the wrapper, the butter should be used within three weeks.

As with other dairy products, store the butter at the back of the fridge and not the compartment in the door of the fridge.

Meat, poultry, fish and seafood

1. Keep all meat in the freezer if you’re not planning on eating it within a few days of buying it

This way, it will keep fresh for months (see Health Canada’s guidelines for how long red meat, poultry, fish, and seafood can stay fresh in the freezer).

2. Seafood should be kept at the back of the fridge while thawing

The back of the fridge is where it’s coldest, so your fish will be perfectly fresh when you’re ready to prepare it. Quick tip: keep all seafood and meat that’s in the fridge in a large bowl or tray, even when packaged, to prevent juices from flowing on to other foods.

3. Once meat and seafood packages have been opened, re-seal in an airtight container

Do not put unused meat or seafood back in its original plastic, or it will quickly get freezer burn. An airtight plastic container will keep leftover meat fresher for longer.

Onions, garlic, shallots, ginger

1. Store onions, garlic, and shallots in a dark, cool place

Don’t keep them in the fridge. A dry, well-ventilated space, like a pantry, will help keep them fresher, longer. And keep them in their original packaging (especially if the packaging has holes), says The Daily Meal.

2. Store ginger in a resealable plastic bag

Make sure all the air in the bag is pushed out, and then store in the crisper.

Fresh bread

Cover the bread with a dry kitchen towel and keep in a paper bag. This lets the bread breathe but doesn’t dry it out.