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Food Storage

How to Maximise Shelf Life

Everyone loves food, but if you’re like the average Australian (and as per the statistics below), you waste more than $1,036.00 of food every year. This is a significant amount wasted, simply because it’s not stored properly or has turned bad before its eaten.

The following data was used by “Do Something!” to calculate the national food waste figure, which arrived at $8 billion per year (2.675 million tonnes of household food waste). The ABS 2011 Census stats says there were 7,760,320 populated households. Therefore, we calculate 7,760,320 multiplied by $1,036 which equates to $8.04 billion, and doesn’t include commercial waste from restaurants and supermarkets, which would far exceed this figure.

More Statistics from OzHarvest In Australia:

  • The Government estimates food waste costs the Australian economy $20 billion each year.
  • Over 5 million tonnes of food ends up as landfill, enough to fill 9,000 Olympic sized swimming pools.
  • One in five shopping bags end up in the bin = $3,800 worth of groceries per household each year.
  • 35% of the average household bin is food waste.
  • Nearly four million people experience food insecurity each year, one quarter are children.
  • Over 710,000 people rely on food relief each month, one quarter are children.

Of course, nobody deliberately sets out to waste food, but if you buy your produce in bulk – which most households do, as they don’t have time to shop every day – it can be tricky to use up all your perishables before they turn. These foods are the most likely to be wasted.

However, there is good news! We've sourced some useful tips and tricks to expand the shelf life of all foods without having to purchase frozen or canned alternatives loaded with preservatives. Correct food storage practice will prevent spoiling and also make sure all of your quality pantry foods remain fresh.

Vegetables 

Onions - will keep for 1-2 months in summer and up to 3 months in winter. They should be stored in a cool, dark, dry area in old pantyhose (or new), which should keep them fresh for up to double their standard shelf life. Just make sure you tie a knot in between each onion to keep them separate. You can also put them in a loosely covered paper, mesh bag or basket to allow for circulation. Do not store in the refrigerator for an extended period of time as the cold will soften their texture. Do not store in plastic bags as it will accelerate sprouting and spoiling due to lack of air circulation. Do not store onions near potatoes, as the chemical reaction between the two will create spoilage. Chopped onions will last 7-10 days in the fridge in airtight containers. Cooked onions 3-5 days in the fridge and 6-8 months in the freezer placed in airtight containers, heavy-duty freezer bags or wrap tightly in heavy-duty aluminium foil.

Potatoes - properly stored will last 1-2 weeks or 2-3 months in ideal conditions that best mimic underground conditions (temps between 7-13 degrees) with high humidity and ventilation. Refrigeration is not an option for longevity with potatoes. Temps below 4 degrees trigger the conversion of starches to sugars in the stored spuds, which makes them darken when cooked at high temps and release carcinogenic compounds. So best to keep them in a cool, dark, well-ventilated and safe place away from insects. Potatoes must also be kept well away from onions as the chemical reaction will make them turn faster. Cover cut, raw, potatoes completely with cold water and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Cooked and stored will last in the freezer for 10-12 months.

Asparagus - properly stored will usually keep for 3-4 days in the fridge. To maximise shelf-life, wrap bottom of asparagus stalks in a damp paper towel then refrigerate in an unsealed glass jar or plastic container. Cooked it will stay good for 3-5 days in the fridge and 10-12 months in the freezer. When placing in the freezer, wash thoroughly and trim stalks be removing scales with a sharp knife, cut into even sized pieces, plunge into boiling water for three minutes and chill quickly in ice cold water, drain off excess moisture and package in airtight containers to freeze immediately.

Broccoli – to maximise shelf life refrigerate in an unsealed bag, do not wash until ready to consume, will keep about 3-5 days. Chopped raw broccoli will last approx. 1-2 days in the fridge; cooked it will last 3-5 days and 10-12 months in the freezer. When placing in the freezer, wash thoroughly cut off leaves and woody stems with a sharp knife, split flowerets and stalks into 1-1.5 inch pieces, plunge into boiling water for three minutes and chill quickly in ice cold water, drain off excess moisture and package in airtight containers and freeze immediately.

Mushrooms – best stored refrigerated in a paper bag; do not wrap in plastic or restrict air in anyway as this will lead to spoilage. Properly stored raw mushies will last for 4-7 days and should be washed thoroughly in running water before consuming. Chopped raw mushrooms will last for 1-2 days in the fridge whereas cooked mushrooms will last 3-5 days or 10-12 months in the freezer. When placing in the freezer, wash thoroughly and slice, steam mushrooms for 3 minutes or sauté in butter until almost done, let them cool then package in airtight containers and freeze immediately

Fruits

Avocados – avocados will ripen in 4-7 days kept at normal room temperature. To expedite this process, put them in a brown paper bag, add an apple to the bag and seal. Do not put them in the fridge until they're ripe, as they can lose their flavour. To extend the shelf-life once ripe, place in an airtight bag and refrigerate bringing them back to room temp before using. Ripe avocados will last 3-5 days in the fridge. To freeze, peel and puree avocados, add to the puree ½ tablespoons of lemon juice for every avocado (used to prevent browning), place in covered airtight containers. In this state they will last approx. 3-6 months in the freezer.

Tomatoes – properly stored tomatoes will take about 1-5 days to ripen at normal room temp. To expedite this process put the tomatoes in a brown paper bag, closed and leave on the counter. Do not put the tomatoes in the fridge until they are ripe which will result in more flavour. To extend shelf life, once ripe, place in airtight bag and refrigerate. Fully ripe tomatoes last 5-7 days in the fridge. Move them 30 minutes out of the fridge prior to serving for best flavour. To freeze wash tomatoes and pat dry, leave skins on or of peel them by dipping into boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen the skin, leave tomatoes whole or cut into pieces, place tomatoes in a single layer on cookie tray in freezer, once frozen, transfer to airtight containers and freeze.

Apples – will keep well in room temp for 5-7 days. To extend their shelf life refrigerate in airtight bags and then they will keep for 1-2 months. To freeze wash, peel, core and slice apples, coat apples with solution made of 1 teaspoon of ascorbic acid for each 6 tablespoons of cold water to prevent darkening, place in covered airtight containers and freeze. This will keep for approx. 10-12 months at zero degrees.

Bananas – fully ripe they will last 2-5 days at normal room temperature. To expedite ripening, put bananas in brown paper bag on the bench and add an apple to the bag before closing. Once fully ripe then refrigerate to extend shelf-life where they will last 5-7 days. This may turn the banana skins black, but will not harm the fruit. To freeze peel and mash, add one tablespoon of lemon juice or ½ teaspoon of ascorbic acid for each cup of mashed banana to prevent from browning, place in airtight container and freeze. Here the will last 2-3 months at zero degrees.

Pears – pears will become fully ripe in 1-4 days at normal room temperature. To expedite the process, put pears in brown paper bag, close and leave on counter. Do not refrigerate until ripe. Place in airtight bag in the fridge once ripe and bring back to room temp before using. Ripe pears will last 5-7 days in the fridge. To freeze wash, core and slice pears, put in saucepan, combine 2 ¾ cups raw sugar or honey and 4 cups of water, mix until the solution is clear and bring to the boil, heat pears in boiling syrup for 1-2 minutes, depending on the size of slices, drain and cool, place pears and syrup in covered airtight containers where they will last 10-12 months at zero degrees.

Fresh Herbs

Parsley – keep in the fridge at all times, trim the ends and place in a glass containing about one inch of water, cover with a loose-fitting bag and place in the fridge, replace water when it gets cloudy and it should last about 7-10 days. To freeze, wash, trim and chop the parsley, allow to dry thoroughly, once dry, place in freezer bag or ice cube trays with a small amount of water, then transfer to freezer bags, where it will last about 4-6 months at zero degrees.

Basil – refrigerating basil is not recommended as it can cause the leaves to turn black very quickly. To maximise shelf-life trim the ends and place basil in a glass containing about one inch of water, cover with loose-fitting plastic bag and leave at room temperature, replace water when it becomes cloudy. To freeze, wash, trim and chop the basil, allow to dry thoroughly, once dry, place in freezer bag or ice cube trays with a small amount of water, then transfer to freezer bags, where it will last about 4-6 months at zero degrees.

Coriander - keep in the fridge at all times, trim the ends and place in a glass containing about one inch of water, cover with a loose-fitting bag and place in the fridge, replace water when it gets cloudy and it should last about 7-10 days. To freeze, wash, trim and chop the coriander, allow to dry thoroughly, once dry, place in freezer bag or ice cube trays with a small amount of water, then transfer to freezer bags, where it will last about 4-6 months at zero degrees.

Chives – keep in the fridge at all times, wrap the chives in a damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag in the fridge where they will keep for about 10-14 days. To freeze, wash, trim and chop the chives, allow to dry thoroughly, once dry, place in freezer bag or ice cube trays with a small amount of water, then transfer to freezer bags, where it will last about 4-6 months at zero degrees.

Thyme - keep in the fridge at all times, wrap the thyme in damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag in the fridge where they will keep for about 10-14 days. To freeze, wash, trim and chop the thyme, allow to dry thoroughly, once dry, place in freezer bag or ice cube trays with a small amount of water, then transfer to freezer bags, where it will last about 4-6 months at zero degrees.

Mixed Dried Fruit

Dried Fruit – once opened move to airtight container, keep in a cool, dry area at normal room temperature out of direct sunlight and they will last for about 6-12 months. In hot or humid conditions, they should be stored in the fridge in airtight containers. To freeze, also place in airtight containers and will last for about 12-18 months at zero degrees.

Nuts, Seeds & Trail Mixes

Raw, Unshelled Nuts - once opened move to airtight container, keep in a cool, dry area at normal room temperature, out of direct sunlight and they will last for about 2-3 months (after opening). Due to their high fat content, nuts can become rancid fairly quickly if exposed to heat, light or humidity. To extend the shelf life keep them in airtight containers in the fridge where they should last up to 6 months after opening. To freeze, also place in an airtight container where they will last up to 12 months at zero degrees.

Roasting Nuts - If your nuts or seeds have lost their freshness, they can be rescued by lightly toasting in the oven and stored for three or four months in airtight containers at room temperature. 

Almond Meal & LSA Mix – Again, given their high fat and oily content due to being ground, they will start releasing oil especially in hot or humid conditions, so move them into a dry, airtight container and store in the fridge to maintain optimum freshness.

Sauces & Vinegar's

Canned or glass sauces and vinegars should be stored in a cool, dry place and out of direct sunlight. To extend shelf life, store in the fridge to reduce the risk of spoilage and further fermentation.

Vacuum Packaging Using Food Saver Jar Sealers

One of the best tricks to seal and protect your perishables from oxygen and airborne microbes that accelerate decay (without using plastic) is food jar sealers. The FoodSaver brand has a wide-mouth jar sealer attachment (dishwasher safe and BPA-free), which can easily be used for storing leftovers, juices, sauces, dry goods and fermented veggies, keeping it’s freshness up to five times longer.

Recommendations

We always recommend buying your food locally, preferably from farmers markets where you can purchase affordable organic produce and avoid early spoiling from produce that has already been in deep freeze for months (i.e from your local supermarkets) and therefore only lasts 2-3 days in your fridge before turning brown.

With regard to dry foods, they are sometimes still good to consume beyond their expiration date if kept in the right storage conditions, as many, "best by" dates are a measure of peak quality, not necessarily an indication of food safety. What they mean is that it’s safe to eat said product before the "best before" date (the exception is where it says "use by" dates).

 

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