26 Storage Tricks to Make Your Foods Last Longer
Don't just save your food—save money with these insider tricks to making kitchen staples last a bit longer.
Stick to small bottles unless you’re heavy-handed. Once opened, olive oil can go rancid in as little as three months (even though the bottle might say it will last longer). Fresh olive oil smells like green, ripe olives and has a bright, peppery taste with a kick; be wary of a crayon- or putty-like odor, which indicates spoilage. Here are some more foods that might expire sooner than you think.
Flip natural varieties upside down to allow the pool of oil near the lid to move through the rest of the jar and make the peanut butter creamier (and to skip messy stirring). Just make sure the cap is screwed on tight to avoid a greasy pantry shelf. Here are some other foods you’ve been storing all wrong.
Let it breathe. Wrap cheese in a porous material. If you don’t have cheese paper, parchment will also work. Avoid tinfoil and tight plastic wrap. Failing to expose cheese to enough oxygen will cause it to dry out quickly.
You can freeze bars you don’t plan to use quickly. This will prevent spoilage and the scent absorption of, say, Chinese leftovers. In the fridge, unopened butter should last about four months. It can stay in the freezer for about a year. Leave wrapped sticks in the original carton, then enclose in double plastic freezer bags. One sign you need to freeze butter: inconsistent color, which means you’re not using yours fast enough. Butter that is lighter on the inside than on the outside is no longer fresh, thanks to oxidation — color should be consistent. Here are some more foods you had no idea you could freeze.
Store the sweet crystals with “friends” to prevent hardening. Transfer to an airtight plastic container and include moist items like marshmallows, a slice of bread, or apple slices; the sugar will soak up the moisture and stay soft. On the other hand, these are some foods you should never store together.
Store in the fridge door. In the inner part of the fridge, mayo may get too cold, which will cause it to separate and leave oil at the top of the jar. If kept in the refrigerator door, your tasty sandwich dressing will last two to three months past the purchase date.
Keep whole wheat flour chilled. High oil levels in the wheat germ can make this baking staple go rancid if kept in the pantry too long. If you use it infrequently, store in an airtight container in the fridge, where it can last two to six months. Sniff to check freshness—it should be almost completely odorless. Toss it if it smells sharp or bitter. (Regular white flour can last about a year in the pantry in an airtight container.)
Watch the color. Common varieties are reddish brown when fresh. If it’s darkened, this go-to Asian-food ingredient has likely fallen victim to oxidation. Soy sauce doesn’t need to be kept chilled, but refrigeration will help the flavor remain at peak quality longer. It should last up to two years this way. Here are some foods you’re actually throwing out too soon.
Spices (red ones)
Stash red spices in the fridge. Paprika, cayenne powder, and chili powder will stay fresher and keep their bright color—which can be dulled by light and heat—longer.
The best option: Eat fresh-baked bread as fast as you can—you can tell yourself you’re just trying to keep it from going stale. If that’s not feasible, Epicurious suggests storing the loaf in a breadbox, which allows air to circulate around the bread (maintaining a crunchy crust) while maintaining some humidity so the inside stays soft. If you’re keeping it around for more than a couple of days, though, you should slip bread into a sealing bag and squeeze out as much air as possible, and then freeze it. If you slice it first, you can pull out single portions to revive in your toaster.
Revive crystallized honey by placing the jar in a frying pan on the stove with simmering water; stir the honey until the crystals have dissolved. Don’t keep honey in the fridge, which can make it crystallize. Honey can last forever even once opened (pots of it have been excavated from ancient Egyptian tombs, still preserved) because enzymes in bees’ stomachs create by-products that fight bacteria.
If you don’t finish off a bottle before your dinner party ends, the best and easiest way to make sure it will still taste good the next night is to cork it and put it in the refrigerator, according to Food & Wine. Cold temperatures slow down the process of oxidation, in which oxygen reacts with compounds in the wine in the same way it turns a sliced apple brown on your counter. Oxidized red wine can turn bitter and taste like vinegar, and white wine takes on a dull apple-cider flavor, so close them up and keep them cold if you plan to drink them again within a few days. Check out these 11 foods you might have been storing wrong.
According to the University of Idaho Extension System, the best place to keep potatoes is cool, humid, ventilated, and dark. The ideal temperatures are between 42 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, so if you have a pantry or garage that’s unheated but doesn’t freeze, keep them there—if you store potatoes in the refrigerator, they could get discolored, and if you keep them in a warmer spot they’re more likely to sprout and grow mold. Make sure they’re not exposed to light, which can make them turn green. Although the chlorophyll that causes that discoloration isn’t bad in and of itself, greening means compounds called glycoalkaloids are also forming—they taste bitter and can make you sick in large amounts. Read more about why you shouldn’t store potatoes in the fridge.
Consumer Reports says to store onions in a basket or other well-ventilated spot on the countertop, and cautions against keeping them close to your potatoes—they give off gases that can make the spuds sprout faster. But what about the inevitable half onions left over when you’re cooking? Cook’s Illustrated experimented with a variety of storage techniques and determined that just wrapping half an onion in plastic wrap would let it stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to two weeks—you’ll probably want to cut a layer off the exposed surface before you use it, but the magazine said when the old leftover onion was cooked into a rice pilaf, none of its testers noticed a difference.
Like their onion cousins, store garlic cloves in a basket or bowl where there’s good air circulation, according to Consumer Reports. If you have more than you can use in a reasonable amount of time, you can also freeze it: Cook’s Illustrated recommends chopping it up, adding a little neutral-flavored oil, and freezing dollops on a baking sheet. Once it’s hardened, just pop the frozen garlic into a baggy and pull one out whenever you need some. If that seems like too much work, you can also just toss whole cloves into a freezer bag, according to the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources network. Take a look at these 16 foods you should never store in the freezer.
Before they ripen, you’ll want to keep avocados on the counter at room temperature. If you want to hurry them along to ripeness a little faster, you can put them in a paper bag with an apple or banana, which release ethylene gas, according to Epicurious. Once your avocados are ripe, you should eat them right away, because they can progress to overripe quickly. If they’re not on your menu immediately, put them in the refrigerator—the cold temperatures will slow down the process enough to let you save them for a few more days, or even up to a week. Learn the trick guaranteed to ripen an avocado in under 10 minutes.
It’s convenient to keep apples in your countertop fruit bowl, but the Kitchn says that they’ll stay delicious much longer at cooler temperatures. If you have an unheated pantry or garage space (that won’t freeze—you don’t want your apples in temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit), you can keep them there, or you can put them in the crisper drawer of your fridge with a damp paper towel over them to help maintain a higher humidity level. One bad apple really does spoil the bunch—bruised or rotting fruit releases extra ethylene gas that will affect everything in the bowl.
Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits also last longer in the refrigerator (a high-humidity crisper drawer is best), according to the Seattle Times. Look through the drawer regularly though, so you can remove any fruit that’s getting soft. If you’re going to juice a citrus fruit, let it reach room temperature first—and if you do make juice, you can freeze that until you need it. Lemon juice frozen in ice cube trays can be whipped out as you need it for recipes, and the Kitchn suggests tossing the zest into freezer bags so you have that when you’re ready to bake or need it in a marinade. Check out this produce-storage hack.
Have you always heard that you should never refrigerate a tomato? This advice might not be completely correct, no matter how emphatically it’s delivered. Daniel Gritzer conducted and wrote about an extensive series of taste tests for Serious Eats in 2014 that showed that tomatoes that had already ripened on the counter did not always taste significantly worse if they were then refrigerated and brought back to room temperature. And they definitely tasted better than tomatoes that had been allowed to get overripe and start rotting on the counter. Gritzner suggests keeping them at the top and front of the refrigerator if possible, where temperatures are a little warmer. Serious Eats also suggests storing tomatoes upside down, which keeps moisture from escaping through the small opening where the stems were attached.
Some people (like the author of this Instructables article) recommend separating bananas as soon as you bring them home and wrapping each stem in plastic wrap to prevent the ethylene gas produced there from reaching the rest of the fruit and ripening it too quickly. But when the Kitchn tried it as an experiment, the separated-and-wrapped bananas ripened slightly faster than the ones left as a bunch. Here are 15 surprising food storage guidelines.
Under the right conditions, a piece of ginger root can last for weeks, so you’ll always have it available when you decide to make a quick stir-fry, curry, or cocktail. Fine Cooking recently tested several storage methods ranging from high-maintenance (peeling it and submerging it in liquor, vinegar, or lime juice) to low, and found that simply tucking an unpeeled segment of ginger into a zip-top bag and keeping it in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer kept it fresh and unwrinkled for eight weeks.
If you don’t use all the tofu in a package, you can just toss the leftover back into your refrigerator, according to the Kitchn. Put it into a sealed container covered with water, and change the water daily. If you want to save tofu for more than a few days, cut it into blocks, freeze them on a parchment-covered baking sheet, and then keep them in a sealed bag for as long as three months. Defrost it in the refrigerator when you’re ready to use it, and squeeze out extra moisture before cooking it.
One of the most disappointing dinnertime experiences is opening up your lettuce container and finding slimy, unappetizing leaves. Christine Gallary at the Kitchn tested three different salad storage methods and found that all worked well to preserve mesclun for a week: keeping them in a bag with a paper towel, keeping them in a plastic box lined with paper towels, and keeping them in a plastic bag that she’d blown a puff of air into. In the end, the salad greens kept in the box lined with paper towels stayed fresh and appealing longer than the other two methods. Here are 9 kitchen hacks for keeping produce fresh.
J. Kenji López-Alt at Serious Eats managed to keep cilantro fresh for more than seven weeks in his refrigerator by washing the herbs (he used a salad spinner and blotted them with a paper towel), snipping off the base of the stems, and storing them upright in an inch of water in a sealed jar—the lid if it fits, or if it doesn’t, cover the leaves with a plastic bag held on with a rubber band. That’s the best method for tender herbs such as cilantro, parsley, dill, and mint. For hardier herbs, including rosemary and thyme, you can lay clean herbs out on a damp paper towel and roll them up, put the package into a sealed zip-top bag, and store it in the fridge. López-Alt stores basil, which shouldn’t be refrigerated, in an inch or so of water on the counter, like a bouquet of flowers.
If you need to hold on to fragile berries for a few days before you use them, Better Homes & Gardens suggests storing them unwashed on top of a paper towel in a shallow dish that lets them lay in a single layer, to keep them from crushing one another. And if you want to clean them and then leave them in the refrigerator for your family to snack on, rinse them by swishing them around in a bowl full of three cups of water and one cup of apple cider vinegar, which will kill mold spores. Dry in the towel-lined salad spinner and store them in a container lined with paper towels, and leave the lid cracked so the gases that speed up decay can escape. Now, check out these 20 foods you should never store in the fridge.