Most of us give little, if any, thought to how we treat our food when returning from the grocery store. You may be used to putting all of your produce into the fridge and meats in the freezer, but did you know that you could be destroying your fresh groceries by storing them the wrong ways? You might think it’s best to prep and wash your veggies in advance so they’re ready for the week, but this could cut the life of your produce in half if you aren’t careful. Talk about a waste of money. Here are the top five mistakes you’re making when you come home from the market that can destroy your groceries.
1. Prepping your veggies in advance
If you love the idea of prepping your meals in advance to save yourself the time and trouble later on, then you probably think peeling and chopping all of your veggies days before using them is a good idea. Sadly, this isn’t a good idea. The World’s Healthiest Foods explains cutting, slicing, and chopping your veggies triggers a response in the cells that leads to degradation. This means you’re compromising flavor, texture, moisture, and nutritional value.
If you love to wash your fresh fruits and veggies right when you get home from the store, then you should stop this habit, too. Modern Farmer explains washing your produce days before using it can make it spoil faster, and bacteria can still grow after you’ve washed and stored it.
2. Storing your groceries at the wrong temperatures
There’s a reason for the multiple drawers in your fridge. The Washington Post explains certain root veggies like garlic, onions, and potatoes should be stored at room temperature and not in your fridge, as this can cause them to taste off and have a softer texture than desired.
Asparagus, carrots, and Brussels sprouts are best stored in water. Brussels sprouts stay freshest on the stem, which should be in water as well. Baby carrots are best kept in a tightly sealed container filled with water, and all of these options like to stay cool in the fridge. Bananas can go in the fridge once they’ve hit peak ripeness, too. The cold will halt the ripening process and make them last longer. As for veggies that hate the cold of the fridge, cucumbers and tomatoes do best out on the counter.
3. Storing food in the wrong containers
Your go-to storage tool might be plastic sandwich bags or aluminum foil, but by storing all of your produce this way, you could be unknowingly killing your groceries quickly. Certain fruits and veggies need airtight containers to survive, and others need to be able to breathe. Washington’s Green Grocer explains certain items like artichokes, basil and other herbs, beet greens, okra, and lettuce last the longest when kept in airtight containers. On the flip side, arugula, beets, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, corn, radishes, and snap peas can be kept freshest when left in an open container.
Fruits also vary, with citrus, figs, melons, peaches, and pears staying freshest when kept in open containers. Berries should be dried before storage, as they are likely to mold quickly if kept in containers with moisture. Apples, apricots, and pomegranates are completely fine sitting on your countertop until they’re ready to be eaten. There are few fruits that are kept their freshest when put in airtight containers or plastic, so keep this in mind when storing your produce.
4. Not rotating your canned goods
Just because your food is prepackaged doesn’t mean it’s going to last forever, and in the case of canned goods, it’s particularly important that you bring the old cans forward in your shelf to use first, The Prepper Project says. While most canned goods can remain good to eat past their expiration date, it’s still important that you use up what you have before adding more. This can save you tons of money in the long run.
Be particularly careful with canned tomato products — this is a canned item you don’t want to stock up on if you’re not planning on using it immediately. Because the tomatoes are highly acidic, they can react with the container and corrode, making them unsafe to eat. Prevention says tomatoes are also exposed to the BPA lining in the can, which is an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics.
5. Depending too heavily on your freezer
If you walk around the grocery store thinking you should buy a ton of chicken or produce in bulk just so you can throw it in the freezer, chances are, that chicken or produce might still be there when you do your yearly cleaning. Unless you’re planning on having a huge cookout, many of your freezer items won’t get eaten, and instead, they’ll develop freezer burn and lose their flavor and appeal over time. It’s the same story with leftovers.
Real Simple suggests ways to make sure you actually use what you freeze, such as slicing bread and bagels before you freeze them. Also, excess air in your freezer containers is what can cause freezer burn, so squeeze out the excess air completely. In the case of freezing sauces or soup, you can leave a little bit of room at the top so that the liquid has space to expand when it freezes.