NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Tired of dealing with stale bread and brown spots on your avocados? We know how you feel. There’s nothing more disappointing to foodies than good food gone bad. But take heart: there are clever ways to keep your favorite foods fresh longer, which can help save you extra trips to the grocery store. Here are a variety of clever food storage tips from culinary pros.
We all know that bread left at room temperature for a few days will get stale and moldy, so if you’re not planning on eating a loaf right away, consider storing it in your freezer. To ensure freshness, first wrap the loaf well in plastic or foil then place it in a freezer bag.
“This is especially helpful if you’re not a big bread eater—you can keep a loaf of sliced bread in the freezer and remove slices to eat as needed,” says Anthony Russo, a chef who is the CEO and founder of Russo’s Restaurants, which includes the chain Italian restaurants Russo’s New York Pizzeria and Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen.
If you don’t plan to use your fresh herbs right after you purchase them or pick them from your garden, you can keep them in the fridge to stay fresh. First, wrap the herbs in a paper towel, then stick them in a plastic bag. “This keeps the moisture away so they don’t rot,” says Cristina Topham, a Sonoma, Calif.-based chef and food preserver.
One exception to this rule is storing basil that still has its roots intact.
“Place the basil in a glass with water covering the root and set it out on the counter,” says Emily Wilson, executive culinary director and chef for the meal-planning website Cooking Planit. “The plant usually extends out of the glass, like a potted plant, so no need to cover it with a lid.”
Another way to store herbs actually requires your freezer.
Russo suggests chopping “hard” herbs—such as rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano—and packing them into an ice cube tray (fill the tray two-thirds full of herbs). Next, pour extra-virgin olive oil over the herbs. Cover the tray with plastic wrap and freeze it overnight. After the herbs are frozen, you can remove the cubes and store them in a freezer-safe container or bag.
“These cubes are perfect for stews, roasts, soups and potato dishes,” says Russo. “Most of these dishes call for butter or oil to begin with, so you can just use a frozen cube as the base of the dish.”
Avocados are beloved for their creamy, buttery taste, but their tendency to turn brown quickly is a common complaint among fans. The good news: after you’ve cut into the fruit, you can easily preserve avocado halves by retaining the pit, sprinkling the avocado with lime juice then covering it with plastic wrap and refrigerating it, says Rene Ficek, a registered dietitian who is the lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, an Illinois-based company offering meal plans.
Mushrooms are another popular food that tends to get soggy and brown far too soon. To keep mushrooms fresher for a longer period of time, try placing them in a paper bag in the fridge. “They won’t mold and if they dry out a little, you can reconstitute them with some liquid when cooking them,” says Topham. Mushrooms stored this way usually last about a week or two, she adds.
Culinary pros agree that it’s best to allow tomatoes to ripen at room temperature rather than in the fridge where they can become mealy. “Store tomatoes stem-side down on the counter,” says Molly Siegler, culinary content editor for Whole Foods Market. Once a tomato is cut into, though, it’s best to store it in the fridge.
If you have extra whole tomatoes that you don’t plan on eating for a while, you can actually stick them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer—just keep in mind that tomatoes that have been frozen are better for cooking rather than eating fresh.
“When you go to use them, just let them defrost and the skins will slip right off,” says Topham. “When they are thawed, they become rather squishy, so they are best used in that state for soups or sauces.”
If you aren’t planning to consume raw chicken within a day or two after purchasing it, wrap it in plastic wrap, put it in a Ziploc bag and freeze it—but do this with care.
“If you purchase a large volume of chicken breasts, don’t just throw the whole package in the freezer because they will freeze into one giant clump and will take a long time to defrost, and you’ll also have to defrost the whole thing even if you only want one piece,” says Topham. “Separate the breasts with some parchment paper or plastic wrap into Ziploc bags—two or four pieces to a bag—then you can just pull out what you need.”
According to foodsafety.gov, fresh chicken pieces can last up to nine months in the freezer, while cooked chicken can last two to six months in the freezer.
They may be delicious, but strawberries have a reputation for spoiling fast—sometimes only a day or two after they’re purchased. To give your strawberries the best shot at staying sweet and juicy for a few days to a week, store them in the refrigerator on a towel-lined baking sheet or in a container that allows plenty of air circulation (such as the packaging they are sold in at the grocery store), says Siegler.
It’s also a good idea not to wash strawberries that are placed in the fridge until you’re ready to eat them, because the water will add moisture and cause the fruit to spoil more quickly, according to the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
But what happens if you buy more strawberries than you can enjoy in just a few days? “If it’s strawberry season and you buy too many because your eyes are too big for your stomach, wash the strawberries, dry them and put them in the freezer,” says Meredith Manee, chef for 1500 OCEAN at Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, Calif. “You can use these later for a delicious smoothie.”
Contrary to popular belief, it’s usually not a good idea to store potatoes in the fridge. That’s because cold temperatures can cause the starches in potatoes to turn into sugar, which can give potatoes a sweeter taste. However, warm temperatures also aren’t suggested, because they can increase the likelihood that potatoes will develop sprouts, which are considered toxic.
What’s a potato lover to do? It’s best to find a cool (but not cold), dark and well-ventilated place to store your potatoes. The University of Idaho recommends placing potatoes in a perforated plastic bag (that’s not tightly sealed) in a room, closet or cabinet in your home or garage that’s 42 to 55 degrees.
--Written by Kristin Colella for MainStreet