Last spring, my mother sold her house and moved into a retirement home. I helped with a number of tasks, among them cleaning out the refrigerator and chest freezer. As I cleaned out both appliances, I discovered that very few items needed to be thrown out. In fact, our friends and neighbors benefited as I distributed many carefully wrapped and well-preserved food items. My mother's meticulous attention to details had definitely paid off. Here are some of her food storage tips:
Carefully position all food items in the fridge. Eggs, dairy products, sandwich meats, leftovers, and cakes should be stored on the middle and top shelves. The compartments on the inside of the door are the warmest part of the fridge and are intended for drinks, mustard, relish and other products that require light refrigeration. The coldest point is the bottom shelf and the drawers used for vegetables. Place your fresh meat and fish here; this will prevent them from dripping onto other foods.
Map out where you want to store certain groups of food in the chest freezer. Tape this map to the side of the freezer and refer to it often. This will save you time and frustration as you hunt for specific food items. Keep frequently used frozen items like breakfast foods and juices in the freezer's door.
Place recently purchased items behind items that are already there. This will ensure that you are consuming foods prior to their expiration dates and help reduce the amount of food that has to be discarded. Clearly label all freezer packages. Include the name of the items and the date you are placing it in the freezer. Use a pencil or crayon; ink and felt-tip pen marks can easily fade and smudge. Place your older frozen goods toward the top of your freezer. Check freezing guidelines and try to use up the food items within three to six months.
Wrap and store your food carefully. Rewrap any meat, fish, poultry, and cold cuts that come in flimsy wrapping, especially if you will be storing them for a few days.
If you are using plastic bags, squeeze out as much air as possible and ensure that the bags are properly sealed. With plastic containers, match the size of the container as close as possible to the contents. If there is too much space at the top of the container, spoilage and freezer burn can result. If you do not leave sufficient head room, the lid could pop off the container or the container could split open.
Prevent foul odors from forming and spreading. Clean the fridge and chest freezer regularly. While the fridge could easily be done in less than an hour, you may need a few hours or an entire afternoon to properly clean out the chest freezer. Start by removing all food items, discarding any questionable items. Add two tablespoons of baking soda to one quart of warm water. Carefully scrub the interior, including the shelves, doors and the gasket lining the door. Create another mixture using one tablespoon of unscented liquid bleach and a gallon of warm water. Scrub, using this mixture, to disinfect all surfaces. Leave the freezer open for 15 minutes. Open the windows in the room and point a fan toward the freezer. Check for any lingering odors.
These simple changes in food storage practices can significantly help in reducing food waste in our homes and communities. In 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology reported that a family of four wastes an average of $590 per year on thrown out food. This adds up to approximately $43 billion of waste each year. The same year, another study conducted by the University of Arizona reported that American households waste fourteen percent of the food they purchase each year. Fifteen percent of this waste includes unopened products that are within their expiration dates. This is definitely food for thought.
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