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A lot of food goes to waste simply because people don’t know how to handle it properly once they get it home from the store. Even flour and other pantry staples in their own packaging can spoil, get buggy, or absorb odors from other foods.
If you’ve had it throwing away money because stuff turns yucky before you can use it, maybe it’s time to give your food storing methods a makeover. ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, has tips for storing hard-to-keep foods:
It can go stale or get moldy left out on a counter or stored in the fridge. If you’re not going to eat it fast, you can keep bread in the freezer for up to three months. To refresh thawed baguettes, rolls, and other breads, unwrap and heat them in the microwave for a few seconds.
It can get as hard as a rock because of moisture loss during storage. Storing it in an airtight container will help keep moisture in. If you’ve already got hardened sugar, heat it in a 250° F oven until it’s soft and use it right away or it will turn rock-solid again, fast.
All fats are fragile and can go rancid. To preserve freshness, wrap and freeze what you don’t use; unsalted butter will last about four to five months, salted butter, about six to nine.
When it comes to storing cheese, ShopSmart found conflicting advice. Fancy cheese shops advise storing it in a porous wrap like wax paper so the cheese can breathe. The dairy and packaging pros said to take a tip from how supermarket cheeses are packaged and keep cheese as airtight as possible, which will prevent mold. ShopSmart’s advice: Wrap it first in wax paper, then wrap it tightly in plastic.
Buy oil in opaque or dark containers if possible and store it in a cool, dark place to protect it from damaging light. Buy only what you can use within three to six months—or one month for very fragile walnut and other nut oils. Like all fats, oil can go rancid, giving recipes an off flavor. If you’re not using it fast enough, keep the oil in the fridge. Since oil congeals when it gets cold, bring it to room temperature before using.
Crackers and chips can get soggy fast if they’re not sufficiently protected in a humid environment. So be sure to wrap the package in an airtight container or use a plastic clip or Quick Seals.
Unlike white flour, whole-wheat flour (also wheat germ, brown rice, and other whole-grain foods) contains higher levels of fat that gives it a brief one- to three-month shelf life. If you use whole grain ingredients only occasionally, they’ll keep about six months in the fridge and 12 months in the freezer.
It’ll keep one to two days in the fridge. After that, put it in the freezer. For the best flavor and texture, use frozen ground meat within three months.
To prevent ice crystals from forming, keep the surface of ice cream level and cover it with plastic wrap before putting the lid back on.
To protect them from going rancid, store them in the fridge; they’ll last up to six months. In the freezer they’ll last up to 12 months. Keep them in airtight, snack- or recipe-size portions so you can thaw only what you want to use. Toasting refrigerated or thawed nuts in a skillet or the oven for a few minutes will bring out the flavor.
Because it can absorb odors from spices, and any strong flavored foods around it, keep it in an airtight container.
Ground spices typically have a two-to-three-year shelf life, but light, heat, and moisture can cause them to lose their oomph much faster. Keep them airtight in a dark place, away from sunlight, the heat of the stove, and heat generating lighting—and not near the sink. Properly stored, whole spices will last longer than ground.
If stored next to spices and other strong-flavored foods, tea can absorb these flavors, which can affect its taste. So store tea in air-tight containers, away from smelly foods.
Tips courtesy of the July 2008 issue of ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports.
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