bright dining room table with lots of fruits and veggies on it

Tips to extend the shelf life of groceries

LIVE greener | 6 MIN READ | 2020-05-08

With the current state of the world, it’s really important that we make as few trips to essential businesses as possible, including grocery stores. Just because we can’t go as often as we used to, doesn’t mean we need to compromise the types of food we usually buy. We just need to be smarter about it.

There are more ways than you may think to extend the shelf life of our favourite foods – and it can be fun for everyone to create new habits even when we’re not in quarantine anymore. Here are 6 tips to extend the shelf life of your groceries.

Tip 1: Temperature matters

white fridge with fun stickers all over it

Ideally to keep food as fresh as can be, your fridge should be as cold as possible without having food freeze (that’s around 37° F or 3° C). Although most fridges come with a temperature setting feature, they don’t always indicate the exact temperature of the fridge, which can make things tricky. 

Consider investing in a fridge thermometer to monitor your fridge’s coolness and for added peace of mind that your food is staying as fresh as possible.

Tip 2: “First in, first out” should be your new mantra

person holding reusable bag with veggies in it

Have you heard the saying “first in, first out”? Simply put, it means what you buy first should be consumed first. When you go for grocery runs, you may find yourself picking up items that you already have but are running low on. Just be sure you’re finishing up the “old” before you open or use the “new” to avoid being wasteful. 

To prevent wasting food, place your newly purchased items closer to the back of the fridge or cupboard to ensure you use the items that will expire sooner, first. 

This way, less food will go to waste by making the most of what you currently have. You may even notice that you spend less at the grocery store! 

Tip 3: Proper storage is a must

half an avocado on a pink background

Did you know that in North America, almost 40% of fresh food purchased goes to waste because it goes bad before it can be consumed? 

A lot of this waste is due to improper storage. Next time you’re buying fresh food, consider the following storage techniques to increase the shelf life: 

To slow the browning of bananas – consider wrapping the top of the stems in beeswax paper or plastic wrap. This will slow down the browning process and keep your bananas fresher longer before you freeze them for your next batch of banana bread. 

Cut fridge veggies up right when you get home and put them in containers – this way, they’re easy to snack on and add to your recipes, and they won’t sink to the bottom of your crisper and go bad. This is a great trick to help you eat healthy and avoid food waste!

Avoid chopping fruits and non-fridge veggies until you’re ready to use them – this will prevent them from drying out. If you do use them (like half an onion, for instance) try to use the other half within the next day or two.

o If you do cut up a tomato, apple, avocado or banana and don’t finish the whole thing, squeeze some lemon on it and wrap it up to keep it from browning or drying out.

If you only eat half the avocado – leave the pit in the half that’s going back in your fridge, too. The oils contained in the pit help to slow the browning process. Don’t forget to wrap it up to prevent it from drying out! 

Keep tomatoes out of the fridge – did you know that refrigeration actually makes tomatoes go bad faster? They should be stored at room temperature, away from direct sunlight in a bowl or on a plate. Storing them in plastic makes them spoil faster (another reason we shouldn’t use plastic bags when we shop!).

For more helpful tips like these, check out this handy site that outlines how to keep your fresh produce, dairy and meat good for as long as possible. 

One more thing! A clean fridge that isn’t overstocked will help with air circulation, allowing foods to stay crisp longer. 

Tip 4: Understand the good and bad relationships of food

fruit and vegetables in baskets on kitchen counter

Believe it or not, some fruits and vegetables have symbiotic relationships with each other that can extend or shorten shelf lives. It’s not magic, but it is science. Here are some food relationships that should be known to keep food fresher longer: 

Unripe avocados can be the worst (we want guacamole now!), but sometimes they’re all that’s available at the local grocery store. Luckily, when paired with a bundle of ripe bananas in a paper bag, they’ll ripen in no time.

o Why? Bananas release ethylene, which is the hormone that triggers ripening in mature fruit. So buy unripe avocados, ripen a couple quickly with some bananas, and store the rest in your cold fridge for later consumption! This pretty much holds true for most fruit you’d like to ripen faster.

o Remember that as ethylene is a ripening agent, it could have the same effect on your other fruits that you don’t wish to be ripened quickly. Store bananas away from fruits that you want to keep for a longer period of time. Check out this link to see what foods are high in ethylene which may result in your foods spoiling quicker. 

When it comes to dry, dark and cool stored vegetables: Potatoes and onions combine harmoniously in dishes, but are harmful to one another when stored together. Similar to ethylene released from bananas, there are gases and moisture that are released from both potatoes and onions that can result in shorter shelf lives. Store these cooking mates separately to get the most out of them. 

Tip 5: Free food, anyone?

sprouts growing from dirt

Something we tend to forget when it comes to our groceries? Fresh produce grows from the earth, and all you need is a little bit of it, some sunshine and water to grow food in your apartment.

Even better? You can repurpose seeds and kitchen scraps (like the ends of celery and green onions) to give veggies a second life. 

While staying home, consider testing out your green thumb and attempting to grow produce from store-bought produce. It’s much easier than you think!

In addition to greening up and freshening the air in your apartment with your new plants, you’ll also be growing a source of food. Who doesn’t like fresh salsa from tomatoes they’ve grown themselves? 

Check out this site to learn how easy it is to grow your own produce using kitchen scraps that would otherwise be thrown out. 

And because we don’t all have a ton of space, this blog post takes you through all the steps required to grow a garden inside your apartment.

Tip 6: Try your hand at pickling

person pouring water into jars with cucumbers in them

So you’ve grown your own produce and you’re all stocked up. Now what? Your next task is to test out your pickling skills. 

There are many different ways to pickle vegetables and fruits. Pickled items can be stored in your cupboard or fridge because they have a very long shelf life. Take a look at these tips on how to pickle produce yourself. Yum!

Want to share the love? Send or drop off what you’ve made to friends and family – you could even have a Zoom charcuterie dinner party! 

There are many ways to extend the life of your groceries – and it’s simply a great habit to get into. In addition to being kinder to our planet and not letting food go to waste, it’s about keeping each other safe by leaving our apartments as little as possible, social distancing when we do, and doing what we can to make the most of this new reality. 

Try these tips to increase the shelf life of the foods you love and let us know how it goes!