Make Your Food Last Longer By Storing It Properly

Spoiled food wastes money and sacrifices the quality of meals or snacks. If you’ve ever had produce go bad a few days after taking it home, you’re not alone. By storing your food correctly, you’ll delay mold and ripening for weeks or even months.

Some foods may seem like they belong in the refrigerator, but they actually don’t. Others can ripen quickly, depending on how you wash them. When you know how to store food properly, it won’t go bad before you can eat it. Read on for ways to save your food and money.

Onions: Not In The Fridge

A carton full of onions is seen.

How can you keep your onions fresh after buying them in bulk? Skip the fridge. Store them in a dark, dry place, such as a pantry or garage. Mold can only grow in moist, airtight environments, so keep the onions in a mesh bag. That way, they’ll stay fresh up to four weeks.

But here’s the trick: after you cut onions, store them in the refrigerator. Peeled onions will last up to two weeks, while diced onions will remain edible for one week. Store these in an airtight container (unlike whole onions).

Separate Fruits And Vegetables

Vegetables are stored in the compartments in a refrigerator.
Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images
Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images

When produce ripens, it produces a gas called ethylene. This barely-detectable gas affects every other fresh food around it, and the more food ripens, the more gas it emits. Vegetables and potatoes are more sensitive to ethylene, so try to keep these foods apart.

Even ethylene-sensitive fruits–such as bananas and watermelon–should stay separate from apples and peaches. Garlic, mushrooms, bell peppers, and berries can go anywhere since they don’t ripen quickly. The rest should follow this rule of thumb: no fruit with veggies!

Stand Up, Asparagus

Asparagus is stored standing up at a farmer's market.

If you store your asparagus lying down, it’ll dry out quickly. Stand it up, and it’ll retain its water. Tie your asparagus together, and cut an inch off the bottom. Place the bundle in a cup with around two inches of water. Then, loosely cover it in a plastic bag or wrap.

Place the entire bundle in the fridge. With this method, asparagus will remain fresh for a week as opposed to a couple of days. When the water becomes cloudy, replace it. This technique works on herb sprigs as well.

Don’t Wash Produce Before Sticking It In The Fridge

A woman washes blueberries.
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Mohssen Assanimoghaddam/picture alliance via Getty Images

Although you should wash your produce before eating, don’t rinse it before putting it in the fridge. The dampness will release more ethylene gas and cause the fruits and vegetables to spoil more quickly. Wash them right before eating or cooking.

You can also prevent the produce from becoming too wet. If you store produce in a bag, add a paper towel inside too. Every couple of days, replace the paper towel. It’ll soak up the extra water that will otherwise make the fruits and vegetables go bad.

Never Refrigerate Bread

Different varieties of bread are in the fridge.
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Although the refrigerator keeps many foods edible, it doesn’t work for bread. The cold air moves water within the dough, degrading it quickly and destroying its texture. The same goes for hotter surfaces, although you can freeze bread without ruining the texture or taste.

Although every bread has a different shelf life, you can extend your loaf’s freshness. Store it in an airtight container, such as a bread box if you have one. Place the loaf in a dark area free from moisture, such as a cabinet or even a microwave.

Stop Berries From Molding

A woman holds up an airtight container of sliced strawberries.
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To prevent berries from molding quickly, you’ll have to kill the bacteria. Mix three cups of water with one cup of vinegar. Place the berries in a colander, and rinse them with the mixture. The vinegar will remove all dirt and microbes that speed ripening.

Make sure your fruit is completely dry before sticking it in the fridge. If you can, line a salad mixer with paper towels, and spin the berries. Store them in an airtight, paper towel-lined container. The fruit should last longer that way.

Cheese Shouldn’t Be Wrapped Tightly

Cheese sits in wax parchment paper.
Colette Eberhart/Pinterest
Colette Eberhart/Pinterest

Although many people cover cheese in plastic wrap, this shortens the cheese’s shelf life. The tight plastic wrapping locks in moisture and gas, which promotes bacteria growth. Plus, since cheese is all oils and fats, it will absorb the taste and chemicals from plastic.

Instead, loosely wrap your cheese in cheese paper, wax paper, or parchment. These papers will allow the cheese to breathe without drying it out. Also, keep cheese away from aromatic foods, or else it’ll absorb the other flavors.

Put Milk In The Back Of The Fridge

A person opens the fridge to reveal a carton of milk.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Believe it or not, there are ways to extend milk’s shelf life. Meredith Carothers, the technical information specialist at the USDA, recommends placing milk in the back of the fridge. The back is colder than the front, which will keep the milk fresh.

Ensure that it’s not too chilly, or else your milk will freeze! Of course, you can freeze milk if you want to drink it later. Otherwise, try to limit the amount of warm air that milk is exposed to. Keeping it near the front of the fridge will spoil it faster.

Seal Grains In Airtight Containers

A person's cabinet contains pasta, rice, seeds, and lentils in old pasta sauce jars.

At the store, grains usually come in cardboard boxes. But keeping them in the container will make them go stale. Instead, lock pasta, rice, and lentils in airtight containers. A mason jar or sealed glass container can keep them fresh for up to six months.

If you want to keep the original container, cut off one corner of the box. After pouring out some of the grains, seal the opening with tape or a bandaid. Then, stick the box into a ziplock bag. Since heat and moisture harm dried grains, store them in the pantry.

Cover Banana Stems

The stem of a bundle of bananas is covered in plastic wrap.

When you buy bananas, you may notice a plastic cover on the stem. Keep it on. Most ethylene gas is released from the stem, says registered dietitian and nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner. After removing a banana, re-cover the stem in plastic wrap.

For the longest-lasting bananas, hang them away from other fruits since they’re sensitive to ethylene. After they ripen, stick them in the fridge. Before eating, you can also rinse bananas in the same water-vinegar bath that keeps berries ripe. Remember to keep your bananas dry!

Don’t Keep Potatoes With Apples

A bag of potatoes includes an apple.
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One old trick recommends storing apples with potatoes since the apples will prevent potatoes from sprouting. However, this is not true; the idea comes from a 1930s experiment that has yet to be replicated. Apples release gas that makes potatoes spoil faster.

So how do you store potatoes? Never refrigerate them, since it’ll turn the starch into sugar and make them go bad. Keep your potatoes in a cool, dark area, such as a cabinet or a basement. Try to keep them around 40°F if possible.

Cut The Tops Off Carrots

Sliced carrot tops are seen.
marc falardeau/Flickr
marc falardeau/Flickr

If you know how to store carrots properly, they can last up to a month in the fridge. To start, chop off the green tops. The stems remove moisture from the carrot, which rots it faster. Next, trap the moisture. Store the uncut, unpeeled carrots in an open container with some water.

You can also store carrots in an open plastic bag. You need to have an opening so the ripening gas can release. Also, keep carrots away from fruits and vegetables that rot quickly, such as pears, avocados, and apples.

Lemons Belong In The Fridge, Not On The Counter

A bowl holds lemons, limes, and a grapefruit.
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If you store lemons correctly, they’ll last anywhere from one month to three. Here’s how: avoid the counter. Unlike other fruits, lemons go bad quickly if they’re left at room temperature. Seal your lemons fully in a plastic bag with a bit of water.

America’s Test Kitchen discovered that refrigerating lemons keeps them juicier. If you put them in a fruit bowl, the lemons will harden and lose their moisture. Maintain their moisture with a sealed bag, preferably with a zipper instead of a zip tie.

Don’t Throw Out The Egg Carton

An employee stacks egg cartons at a grocery store.
Donat SorokinTASS via Getty Images
Donat SorokinTASS via Getty Images

After buying a carton of eggs, don’t transfer the eggs to another container. The original package is designed to prevent moisture from leaving. Plus, the “best by” date is the most accurate expiration date to follow. And don’t cut off the upper lid.

But the eggs’ position in the fridge is also essential. Don’t store the egg carton in the fridge door. Because the door frequently opens and closes, it’s the warmest part of the refrigerator. Keep the carton in the back at 40°F or less.

Keep Celery Crisp

Celery stalks are wrapped in aluminum foil.
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Celery wilts when it loses water. To keep water inside the vegetable, you can wrap each stalk in aluminum foil. Wrap the aluminum tightly, but don’t seal it, advises Cook’s Illustrated. You want enough room so that ethylene gas, the ripening hormone, can escape.

Another method is to cut the celery stalk into small pieces and store them in water. Seal the pieces in an airtight container with a bit of water, and they’ll wilt far more slowly. As long as the celery has access to moisture, it won’t dry out.

Give Mushrooms Some Air Flow

Mushrooms are stored in a paper bag.

If mushrooms become too moist, they’ll get slimy. Because they’re 80% water, mushrooms should remain moist but not too moist. Wrap mushrooms in a bag that will let them breathe. A paper bag with the top open or a plastic bag with holes will do the trick.

Don’t shove mushrooms into the crisp drawer; the environment is too moist. If possible, keep the mushroom heads on the stem. If you drop them in an airtight container, they’ll grow mold much more quickly.

Soggy Tomatoes? No Way!

Tomatoes without stems are stacked in a container.

Like other fruits (yes, tomatoes are fruits), tomatoes wilt when they remove too much moisture. Most water goes into the stem instead of the fruit. So, remove the green stems from the tomatoes and store them stem-side down in a container.

Also, avoid the fridge unless your tomatoes have become ripe. Cold temperatures mess up the texture and taste of fresh tomatoes. Store them at room temperature, preferably cool, if possible. Keep them away from other fruits that spoil quickly.

Prevent Avocado From Browning

A person holds half of an avocado.
Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images
Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images

Avocados quickly go bad after ripening, but there are ways to lengthen their lifespan. First, keep them away from apples and bananas. These fruits release ethylene gas, which makes avocados brown faster. Store avocados in their own container without a lid. After they’re ripe, keep them in the fridge.

If you want to keep an avocado half from browning, use this trick. Squirt some lemon juice or olive oil on the flesh; the citric acid will prevent the avocado from browning. Olive oil cooking spray does not work as well.

Cucumbers Shouldn’t Be Cool

A photo shows translucent cucumber slices.

Contrary to popular belief, cucumbers last longer at room temperature. According to the University of California, Davis, these vegetables are sensitive to temperatures lower than 50°F. If you store them in a fridge door, they’ll go limp in no time.

If you want to keep cucumbers in the fridge, store them correctly. Wash them and dry them thoroughly to remove all moisture. Store them in a plastic bag with a paper towel to soak up any excess water. They should remain fresh for up to 10 days in the crisp drawer.

Add A Bread Slice To Your Cookies

Sugar cookies are stored with a slice of bread.
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Although cookies should be stored at room temperature, they can dry out quickly. To prevent this, add a slice of bread to your cookie jar–about one per dozen. Cookies are hygroscopic, meaning that they draw moisture out of the air. Bread is hygroscopic; it releases water that the cookies can soak up.

This technique works best on soft cookies that you want to keep chewy. If you have crisp cookies, place them in an airtight container with a small opening, such as a plastic bag with a hole in it. This will prevent most moisture from getting into the cookies.