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Clean Living

8 Food Storage Mistakes That Are Prematurely Spoiling Your Groceries

You could be shortening the lifespan of food items in your fridge, pantry and freezer. We’re explaining why some of the most popular food storage methods aren’t necessarily the best.

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Everyone has their tried-and-true food storage habits that they’ve followed for years. Unfortunately, most of the storage methods you know and love aren’t great – and some are just downright wrong. Odds are you’re making quite a few food storage mistakes as you put away fresh fruits and veggies, leftovers and even the baking supplies in your pantry.

The ways in which you store your food for the short- or long-term can shape how long it lasts and when it spoils. To maximize freshness and get more out of your groceries, it’s important to stop making storage missteps and start trying new tricks. 

Which of the following 8 food storage mistakes are you making? Find out – and learn how to correct your less-than-ideal habits.

1. Washing your produce before refrigerating it

Washing all of your produce is a must – you never know what kinds of dirt and bacteria are hiding in your herbs, leaves of lettuce or on the skin of fruits and veggies. But while you definitely need to continue washing your produce, when you’re washing it might be a problem.

If you’re washing your produce before you put it away in the fridge, you’re actually shortening its lifespan. As Healthline explains, the extra moisture that’s added during washing can speed up decay. It can even bring on mold much faster if you wash your produce and then store it in an airtight container.

Wait to wash your produce until right before you’re ready to eat it or cook with it. 

2. Stashing delicate herbs in plastic bags

If you’ve had trouble getting soft, delicate herbs to last longer than a few days, your storage method is likely the culprit. While hardier herbs are able to survive more varied fridge conditions, softer herbs need more TLC.

Delicate herbs thrive in water, so you’ll want to give them moisture. Trim the herbs’ stems and place them in a small cup, glass or Mason jar filled with water. Cover the tops with a biodegradable compost bag and tie it closed – loosely – right around the mouth of the glass. You can then refrigerate the herbs in their upright position. 

With this storage solution,  your herbs will last as long as one to two weeks in the fridge. To keep them thriving, treat them like a bouquet of flowers. Make sure they have clean water, and top off that water if it starts to run low.

This storage solution also works well for wilted heads of lettuce, and it can help perk up the leaves if they’ve lost their crunch.

3. Storing nuts in your pantry

The pantry seems like the perfect place to store nuts. It’s dry, it’s easily accessible and it isn’t too cold. But here’s something most people don’t realize about nuts: they actually last longer when they’re stored in cold temperatures. 

Nuts are better off in your fridge or freezer than in the pantry. Thanks to their high levels of unsaturated fats, nuts can easily go rancid – and they can go rancid quickly, in a matter of a month or two. If they’re exposed to external changes like heat, light and oxygen, nuts will spoil even faster. Unless you plan to use or consume all of the nuts ASAP, they’ll likely go bad before you can get to them.

If you stash your nuts in the fridge or freezer, however, they’ll last a whole lot longer. In fact, nuts can last up to two full years in either cold storage location. If you’ve already opened the packaging, it’s still perfectly fine to put in the refrigerator or freezer; shelled nuts can last up to a year, while in-shell varieties can last a year and a half once opened.

4. Exposing potatoes to light

Potatoes can be a tricky root vegetable to store. They shouldn’t be refrigerated, but they also shouldn’t be left out on the counter or in a fruit bowl. Keeping potatoes at room temperature can lead to premature sprouting and spoiling. But if they’re too cold, their starch content can turn into sugar, which alters how they cook and taste. And if you’ve been placing your potatoes anywhere they might be exposed to light, you’re also storing them incorrectly.

All varieties of potatoes, from waxy golds to hearty-skinned reds to starchy brown russets, thrive in darkness. Potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place with good air circulation – and if you can achieve a high humidity level, that’s even more ideal. Because potatoes are sensitive to ethylene-producing fruits and veggies, you’ll also want to make sure they’re kept away from other produce.

This rule also goes for sweet potatoes and yams, so keep all of your potatoes in the same dark, slightly cool area where they’re away from all kinds of interference.

5. Storing potatoes and onions together

Like potatoes, onions thrive in cool, dark spaces where there’s plenty of air and ventilation. But just because these two foods prefer the same storage method doesn’t mean they should actually be stored together. 

If you’ve been storing your onions and potatoes together but have noticed that your potatoes tend to go bad faster, it’s the onions’ fault. Onions emit gases that cause potatoes to sprout (and rot) faster than they would otherwise. 

So, to save your potatoes, it’s best to put some space between them and your onions. The two foods should be in separate places, meaning you don’t want to put them together in the same small pantry or cupboard. 

6. Refrigerating your bread

Refrigerating your bread sounds like a simple way to preserve freshness and prevent mold from developing, especially if you aren’t planning to go through a loaf quickly. But there’s a big problem with storing bread in the fridge: the refrigerator is super dehydrating.

According to Chowhound, keeping your bread in the fridge actually causes it to go stale six times faster than a room-temperature loaf. Your fridge, which is typically kept at 40 degrees or colder, causes a process called retrogradation to take place inside bread. When this happens, all of the bread’s starch molecules crystallize, leading to dryness and speedier spoiling. 

It’s best to keep bread out on the counter or in your pantry. However, if you do need to prolong your bread’s lifespan, it’s better to put it in the freezer instead of the fridge. Freezing temperatures prevent retrogradation, so you can actually enjoy your bread months after it’s been frozen. 

7. Putting still-warm foods in your freezer

Are you guilty of putting hot or still-warm foods into storage containers, then popping them right into your freezer? If you aren’t letting those foods cool down completely, you might be ruining all of the other food that’s sitting in the freezer.

Whether you’re batch cooking or divvying up a whole lot of leftovers, it’s critical that you let your food sit out before it gets frozen. When you put hot or even still-warm foods inside among all of your other frozen foods, the warm items can partially thaw out what’s already frozen. The warmth (or heat, depending on how warm the food is) warms up everything else around it. 

Instead, either let food cool completely on its own or cool it down yourself quickly. An easy way to ensure your food is cool enough is to place the food in the fridge first, then move it to the freezer. If you do let your food sit out as it cools, just make sure it goes into the freezer within two hours to prevent any bacteria from developing.

8. Keeping whole grain flours in your pantry

If you’ve been keeping your whole grain flours alongside the rest of your baking supplies inside your pantry, you definitely aren’t alone. It’s the most common place to find any kind of flour. But alternative flours aren’t as hardy as white flour – which means these flours don’t actually belong on your pantry shelves.

Products like whole wheat, buckwheat, oat and rice flours contain bran and germ, two ingredients that include oils. Those oils can spoil, and they can spoil quickly. Gluten-free flours like almond, coconut and gluten-free all-purpose flour have even higher amounts of oil, and they’re more prone to spoilage and mold. As any of these flours get exposed to light, air and moisture, their oils deteriorate, their flavors change and they begin to go bad.

If you keep alternative flours in a room temperature storage spot, they’ll last for a few months. But if you store them in your refrigerator, they can last far longer. Whole wheat flour, for example, can last for up to a year in your fridge or freezer instead of just three to eight months in the pantry.

Discover more smart food storage strategies and tips in these articles: