Food storage tips to avoid waste

Maybe if there weren’t millions of people going to bed hungry every night – not to mention those dying from starvation – it wouldn’t bother me so much.

Then again, maybe it would. I’m talking about food waste.

According to an article in the New York Times, approximately $160 billion of food is wasted every year in the United States. The biggest culprit? Dairy products, at $91 billion.

One of the reasons so much food is wasted is because people prepare more food than they and their families can eat. The remainder often gets tossed out right away.

Another reason is that even if leftovers are placed in the refrigerator, they either are forgotten about or they go bad quickly because they were not stored properly.

So, what can each of us do to avoid wasting $2,200 in food each year, which is the national average per household?

The enemies of food

The key is to know what the enemies of food are and to make sure those food foes do not spoil our leftovers.

The dastardly enemies of food are… drum roll, please… AIR, MOISTURE, LIGHT, TEMPERATURE and MICROBIAL GROWTH. (I put them in caps to make them appear more ominous. Did it work?)

Actually, they are all very harmful when it comes to preserving food. But not every food item is equally affected by each enemy. Here are a couple of examples:

A leftover piece of meat or fish can be wrapped up tightly in tinfoil or plastic wrap and stay good for a few days in the refrigerator and much longer in the freezer.

But we should use a porous material such as parchment paper to wrap cheese. Why? Because cheese needs oxygen to stay “healthy” and taste its best.

Whole-wheat flour should not remain in a pantry for too long. That’s because oils in the wheat germ can go bad if they’re not kept cool. It will last for a number of months if stored in an airtight container within a refrigerator.

Unopened butter will last longer in a freezer (12 months) than it will in a refrigerator (4 months). But mayonnaise will stay fresher in the “warmer” part of a refrigerator (the door) than it will in the colder, inner part of the fridge.

Long-term food storage tips

OK, so much for leftovers, which even when saved have a very short shelf life. What about the food we are stockpiling for an emergency?

Well, the same rules about the enemies of food apply. But there are more considerations if you want your non-perishable food to last a long time. Here are seven of them:

  • Don’t be so concerned about the volume of your long-term stockpile that you neglect nutrition. You’ll need healthy, nutritious food even more in a crisis than you do now.
  • Don’t store too many items that require refrigeration. A lengthy blackout will wipe out that supply unless you run your fridge pretty much non-stop with a generator.
  • Don’t forget about variety. Yeah, you can live off the same food every day, but you’ll get bored quickly. And eating the same thing every day will ruin your taste for that item.
  • Don’t forget about balance. Your various food items should provide you with a variety of vitamins and minerals.
  • Don’t forget about “comfort” foods. Not everything you eat during a crisis needs to be “healthy.” The occasional snack and dessert will be a big psychological lift.
  • Don’t forget about expiration dates. Put labels on your containers and eat the oldest items first. If possible, replace the food you consume with new food.
  • Don’t forget to store some food in a secondary location that only you and your family know about. A disaster that destroys your home will also wipe out your food stockpile.

By fighting the enemies of food, we can avoid wasting food, save money and prepare for the future.


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