Did you know that food keeps for about a week in the refrigerator and just four days in the freezer? If your family’s budget is tight, you may be wondering how to keep food fresher and longer without chemicals to save time and money. The good news is that there are easy ways to do so.
What’s the Problem?
We all know that food doesn’t last as long as it used to. Why are things changing? Some of the reasons include changes in growing and storage methods. There’s also more to the story than meets the eye.
The truth is that many chemicals go into our foods, some intentionally and some not so much. Among them are pesticides and other chemicals used to control insects and weeds, hormones used to promote growth in farm animals, tooth whitening agents in shrimp, and sodium nitrite used as a preservative in cured meats.
How to keep food fresher and longer without chemicals?
Those of us who buy organic don’t necessarily want to be eating pesticide, hormone, and nitrite-saturated foods. So what are we to do? It’s tough to avoid all of these chemicals in our foods. But you can certainly make wise choices. Here are some tips on how not to spend your hard-earned cash.
- Buy produce that’s in season. This will make it last longer.
- When shopping for fresh produce, pick up the fruits and vegetables closest to the outside of the display bins. The ones at the back have more exposure to light and heat and won’t be as tasty or last as long as those nearer to the cooler air of the storeroom.
- Don’t trust food labels that say “sell by” or “use by.” Instead, check for ripeness by smelling it, looking at its color, and gently probing with your thumb or a pen tip to see if it’s softer than expected (as with apples). If it’s still hard, it’ll last longer.
- Peel root vegetables right away before cooking them (soak carrots and potatoes in water to get the dirt off). They’ll last longer and taste better this way.
- Store food carefully in the refrigerator. For example, Cooked meat should be browned and eaten within three days or frozen for later use. Cooked fish should be consumed within two days and never frozen as it can make you sick. Cooked eggs can sit safely at room temperature for one week but should be cooked immediately before eating to avoid Salmonella poisoning (which affects about 40 people each year). Vegetables should be stored between 32º and 40º F.
- Be informed about how much space you use in your refrigerator. The best way to keep food fresh is in airtight containers with tight-fitting lids. Tightly-sealed containers will help prevent spoilage and reduce the amount of oxygen that gets into food, making it last longer. This can be done by storing food in glass jars or plastic containers (but make sure they are BPA-free).
- Fresh fruit often keeps longer if kept at room temperature in a closed container such as a bowl or tray (like a cake pan). There are also delivery companies offering fresh fruits and vegetables that you can order online for a certain time and pick up accordingly. Such a service saves you time and money.
- Use a cooler with ice packs to keep food fresh for picnics or other outings. It’ll also keep food from freezing in cold weather.
- Don’t place hot food directly on the shelf in your refrigerator, as this will speed up spoilage and allow bacteria to grow. Dish out onto a plate or bowl and store it that way for later eating.
- Let your refrigerator run as long as possible at night by adjusting its temperature to the lowest level (36º F to 40º F) when you go to bed so it won’t work so hard while you sleep. This can save energy and make your appliance last longer, too!
Additional tips on keeping food fresher
Use your freezer as much as possible to keep food fresh. You can freeze almost anything you’d ordinarily refrigerate (certain fruits and vegetables don’t freeze well). Keep it frozen for up to six months. Don’t overstuff your freezer; it will shorten its life. The best way to keep food fresh is in airtight containers with tight-fitting lids in your freezer, too.
- If a container of butter or margarine gets hard, put it in a bowl and cover it with a wet towel. It will soften faster that way than if you leave it out on the counter to thaw naturally, which can take several hours or even all day.
- Another way to keep butter or margarine fresh is to cut it into small slices and freeze them in a freezer bag (they won’t stick together). Then the frozen slices can be just thawed out and used as needed.
- If you’re planning a picnic, remember that it will be easier to keep food fresh if you place it in a cooler with ice packs in warm weather or a vented basket with ice packs in cold weather.
- If freezing food, place it in freezer bags; they’ll hold more than regular freezer containers do and will take up less space in your freezer.
- Never refreeze food thawed and then refrozen because it can become freezer burn.
- Make large batches of bread, cookies, or cake batter, then freeze the extra in containers for future use. It will keep longer than small amounts of food in individual containers are likely to do.
- When you’re preparing something that is going to be left out at room temperature—such as mashed potatoes—spray them with vegetable oil spray before you leave them out to make sure they don’t get hard from exposure to air (or from contamination by flies). This won’t affect the taste or quality of the food.
- If you’re storing jars of food, leave about an inch of headspace (the space between the top of the food and the pot) for liquids to expand and avoid cracking the jar.
Storing food safely without using chemicals is easier than you might think. Your family will enjoy the taste of healthier, fresher food, and you’ll spend less money over time. And if you’re planning a picnic, remember that it will be easier to keep food fresh if you place it in a cooler with ice packs in warm weather or a vented basket with ice packs in cold weather.