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7 Ways to Keep Your Food Fresh Longer

With food prices soaring, extending shelf life can save you money 

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Spoiler alert: Americans toss away between 30 percent and 40 percent of the food we purchase, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Whether it's because the expiration date has passed or you lost track of a container in the fridge, all that waste is hurting the environment — and our bottom lines. Food prices are up 11.2 percent year-over-year, helping drive inflation to a near 40-year high.

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The good news is there are ways to extend the life of your food, reduce waste and save money. Here are seven ways to do it.

1. Be more lenient about expiration dates.

Putting “Best Used By” dates on meat, poultry and other food is not an exact science. It's designed to inform consumers and retailers about how long they can expect the food to maintain its quality and flavor. That doesn’t mean you have to throw something out when it reaches that date. 

Instead, use your senses to determine if it's still OK to eat. If a product has changed color or texture or smells strange, those are signs you should toss it. If none of the above applies, it's probably safe to eat. 

Hot tip: If it's poultry, use or freeze it in one or two days after buying it, recommends Meredith Carothers of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Beef, pork and veal can stay in the fridge for four to five days after purchase. You can freeze poultry and beef for up to a year, according to the USDA. ​

2. Store at the right temperature.

Nothing can spoil food quicker than storing it improperly, so the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer matters — a lot. The USDA says your refrigerator should be set at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and your freezer should be at 0 degrees. If the temperature is too warm, foodborne bacteria will multiply. 

Refrigerators are notorious for not showing the correct temperature, according to the USDA. A freestanding, low-cost appliance thermometer will help you get the right reading. Pop one in the fridge and one in the freezer and check them regularly.

Hot tip: The colder the temperature of the fridge, the longer your food will go without spoiling. Carothers says to set it in the range of 36 to 38 degrees to extend the freshness of your food a little longer.

3. Use see-through, airtight containers and bags.

To keep opened food fresh, store it in plastic bags and plastic or glass containers that are reusable and airtight. That will prevent air moisture from getting in and contaminating food or speeding up the decaying process. 

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Hot tip: Don’t wash fresh fruits and vegetables before storing them in the fridge. Water adds moisture and lowers lifespan. Wash them only when you are about to eat them. 

4. Buy frozen fruits and veggies.

Anyone who has tossed out produce that went unused can benefit from buying frozen fruits and vegetables instead. Not only do they have about the same nutritional value as their fresh counterparts, they can be stored for as long as a year before going bad. 

Prices for fresh fruit and vegetables rose 8.2 percent and 9.2 percent, respectively, from September 2021 to September 2022. The cost of processed fruits and vegetables went up 16 percent.

Hot tip: Divvy up large bags of frozen fruit and veggies into smaller portions. That limits the number of times you open the bag. 

5. Keep bread covered.

Damp and warm spaces where mold thrives are the worst places to store bread. It will last longer in a bread box, plastic wrap or a reusable, airtight plastic bag.

Cereal and bakery product prices are 16.2 percent higher compared to a year ago. 

Hot tip: If you don’t plan on eating bread within three days, freeze it. Breads and rolls can be stored for up to three months in a freezer but only seven to 14 days in the fridge.  

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6. Be mindful of how much you buy.

Take steps to avoid buying food you won’t use. For example, take stock of what you have before heading to the grocery store. Plan your meals in advance to reduce impulse buys. Avoid buying things in bulk just because they are on sale, unless you’re sure you’ll use them.  

“Buying perishable food in bulk is a bad idea unless you’re certain you’ll finish it before it goes bad. If you live alone or with one other person, that’s not a great bet,” says Andrew Schrage, CEO of the personal finance site Money Crashers. “Even with a lower total cost per unit for a bulk-bought item, your net cost per unit will be higher because you’ll throw away some (maybe most) of what’s in the package. Better to buy a smaller amount that you know you can get through before it’s too late.”

There are exceptions to the rule. If it's an item that freezes well, like meat, or if you are using a new credit card with a generous sign-up bonus that requires big spending in the first few months, you may come out ahead buying in bulk even if you lose a few dollars' worth of food, Schrage says.

Hot tip: Don’t go to the supermarket hungry or stressed out. You may purchase more than you’ll actually consume when you're in those states of mind. 

7. Become an expert.

Having a general idea of how long food can be stored in the fridge and freezer can go a long way toward preventing waste. The USDA's FoodKeeper website and app provide consumers with food safety information. Users can look up refrigeration and storage times for meat, poultry and fish, and learn about safe ways to store food.

The agency also operates a free online information service, Ask USDA, and a meat and poultry hotline, 888-674-6854, where consumers can ask food-safety experts about storage guidelines and other questions. 

Hot tip: Not sure if you are cooking your turkey long enough or at the right temperature? Don’t panic this Thanksgiving — the USDA can help. The meat and poultry hotline will be open Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET, staffed with experts ready to take your calls, says Carothers.


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