Preserving Groceries: Expert Tips for Maximizing Shelf Life and Minimizing Waste

Food occupies the most landfill space in the United States, accounting for 22 percent of municipal solid waste (MSW). Typically, American consumers waste over one-third of all the food purchased in a year. That works out to almost $1,500 worth of groceries per year for a family of four, assuming there are no increases in the cost of food.

Even minor adjustments to your food management and waste prevention practices can yield considerable cost savings and reduction in the high amount of food waste. If you spend $300 a week on groceries and reduce waste by only 25%, you will save about $3,900 over a year. Also, if you regularly waste $25 worth of food each week, minimizing those discards can save you well over $1,000 over a year.

Here are practical ways to preserve your groceries.

Best Ways To Preserve Groceries

Prioritize Perishable Ingredients When Planning Your Menu

Ann Kent is a Registered Dietitian and creator of the Peas and Hoppy Meal Guides. She suggests being strategic about how you plan your weekly recipes and menu. This helps you use up the most perishable ingredients first. For example, she explains that spinach or lettuce will last only a few days in the refrigerator, but carrots and potatoes can last weeks or even months when stored properly.

Store Fruits and Vegetables Properly

According to Kent, produce has different ideal storage methods. Improperly storing fruits and vegetables significantly reduces their shelf-life. For example, asparagus keeps best when stored like fresh flowers: stems cut and placed in water in the refrigerator. On the other hand, vegetables like mushrooms should not be washed before storage and must be stored completely dry.

Opt For Frozen or Canned Vegetables

If you find you often have a lot of food waste from vegetables, Kent advises that you consider using frozen or canned vegetables instead of fresh. Canned and frozen vegetables have a shelf life of several years, so while you’re figuring out your method of meal planning to reduce food waste, you won’t be throwing away fresh vegetables in the meantime.

Determine The Groceries You Need

Make a Realistic Meal Plan

Kent notes that spending 15 or 30 minutes a week making a meal plan for your family is the number one way to reduce food waste at home. Planning ahead helps you decide what items you'll need and how how much food to stock up on. You can avoid buying extraneous goods by creating a grocery list based on the plan for the week.

Make a Grocery List

“From your meal plan, you can create a grocery list so you can buy exactly what you need and nothing more,” Kent says. “Cross off ingredients you already have so you don’t accidentally double up at the grocery store.”

Take the time to thoroughly inventory your fridge and pantry instead of just using a running list when you go shopping. Additionally, ensure you have everything you need for any recipes you want to try throughout the week.

Note how rapidly perishables like meat and vegetables are consumed. Have a plan for freezing unused pieces for longer-term storage if your family isn’t eating them quickly enough to prevent spoilage. Or perhaps you could just cut back on how frequently you buy them.

Go to The Store Once Per Week

Make your meal plan for one week at a time. Explaining further, Kent says that shorter than this, you’ll end up going to the grocery store multiple times. And each time you go to the store, you’re likely to end up with more things than you actually need.

According to the Dietitian, planning longer than a week ahead of time often doesn’t work because your schedule is likely to change between now and then.

Many fruits and vegetables can be stored for more than a week, but after that, their quality will start to deteriorate, so it is best to avoid making bulk purchases.

Differences Between Use-By and Best-Before Dates

You can safely eat food well past its “best-before” date, which is essentially an estimate of when the producer thinks the product will taste best. But, when it comes to expiration dates, more caution is needed.

The use-by date is a preventative warning of when food may become unsafe to eat. It’s preferable to err on the side of caution when it comes to ‘high-risk’ foods such as chicken and throw them out once the expiration date has gone.

Experiencing food poisoning is no fun. Knowing the distinction between these two terms can prevent misinterpretation of expiration labels on perfectly good food.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.