In light of COVID-19, going to the grocery store can seem like a daunting (but necessary) task. Many have opted to order groceries online in order to avoid crowds. But even so, you’re likely making fewer trips (or online orders) than before.
So how can you make your groceries last between trips? And how do you increase the shelf life of your groceries while still maintaining their nutrients? Consider some of the following ways to preserve and extend your food:
Preserving foods through canning is a time-proven method. From vegetables to pie filling, canning allows you to fill your cupboards with food that will last.
Fresh food contains a large percentage of water, causing it to spoil after some time due to bacteria, yeast and mold. Canning nullifies these reactions, making it an efficient method of food preservation. So whether it’s fruit, salsa, nuts, vegetables or even meat, canning can increase the longevity of every grocery store trip.
There are two main types of canning:
- Water bath canning is done at a lower temperature, destroying spoilage inducing enzymes while creating a vacuum seal. This process is recommended for acidic foods and fresh produce such as fruits, salsa, pickles, etc.
- Pressure canning is done at a higher temperature, and is ideal for foods low in acid. Similar to the water bath method, the combination between temperature and time creates a vacuum seal that prevents bacteria and other enzymes from causing spoilage. Pressure canning is recommended for foods like meat, vegetables, seafood, etc.
The process of canning can be time consuming, but with modern technology like pressure cookers and multi-cookers, the process becomes quicker and easier. If this process seems like too much, try buying pre-canned goods during your next visit to the grocery store. Canned goods are great for emergency kits and food storage, but have also been staples in casseroles and home-cooked meals for years.
Freezing foods that you won’t eat right away may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be tricky if you’re not sure which foods freeze well. For example, vegetables that you might use in a salad (lettuce, cucumbers, cabbage, etc.) don’t keep well coming out of the freezer. Things like cream, cheese and cooked pasta don’t thaw well either. But while some foods won’t fare well in a frozen environment, items such as meat, fruit, soups and chili can be stored if they are packed and sealed appropriately.
To best preserve food in the freezer, pack the items in freezer-friendly bags or containers. Make sure that there’s enough space between each item and that your freezer is set at 0℉ or lower. To ensure the highest quality, keep track of storage time frames — you might consider making a note on the bag or container of when each item was frozen. Fruits and vegetables can last the longest, at approximately 8-12 months. Poultry follows at 6-9 months. Fish, ground meat and cured meat should be consumed within 2-3 months. Soups, stews and chili should be consumed within 3-4 months.
Once you get your groceries home, your first priority might be to refrigerate all perishables, but it’s important to consider how to best utilize the fridge in order to get the most out of your produce’s lifespan.
Fridge temperatures should be set below 5℃. It’s also recommended to keep non-perishables, such as condiments, in the door of the fridge since they do well with fluctuations in temperature. It’s also important to not overstock your fridge, since piled items can disrupt the airflow.
Dairy products, produce, raw meat and fish should always be kept at the bottom of the fridge, since this is where the temperature is lowest. Produce should also be kept separate from other food in the fridge, whether it’s wrapped or in containers.
Ideally, you should clean your fridge every three to four months. Doing a deep clean of your fridge at the beginning of each season is an easy way to remember! Not only does this give you a chance to clean and sanitize the surfaces of your fridge, but it also gives you the chance to check expiration dates and clear out any expired foods. Not sure how long a refrigerated item can last before spoiling? Check out this helpful cold food storage chart.
Drying simply means to extract the moisture from the food you’re trying to preserve, and is a popular method for preserving herbs, fruit and even some meats. You can easily dry and preserve herbs by packaging them in an air-tight bag or container (so no moisture can get in), using a dehydrator or simply letting air do the trick. Note that we don’t recommend sun drying herbs, since it can cause a loss of flavor and color.
Herbs such as sage, rosemary, parsley and thyme can be tied into small bundles and hung to air dry — we recommend hanging them inside for best results. Herbs such as oregano, basil and tarragon can mold easily due to their high moisture content, so we recommend using a dehydrator or placing them in a paper bag to dry. You can even use a microwave oven! Click here to learn more about preserving herbs.
Preserving food by fermentation is an ancient practice, and is commonly used for foods like kimchi, miso, pickles or sauerkraut. This method relies on fresh produce and added acidity — whether that be vinegar or something like lemon juice. Recipes in pickling and fermentation should be followed strictly, since precise measurements are important for fermentation to occur.
Fermentation may sound unordinary, but kimchi, for example, is a South Korean fermented dish that dates back thousands of years. It continues to be a food staple not just in South Korea, but around the world. It’s made with marinated cucumber, cabbage, or even radish and is an excellent source of nutrients. Although fermented dishes may sound different, they can serve as an excellent source of nutrition while also extending the shelf life of ingredients. There are several ways to make your food go the extra mile. In times like these, it’s important to prepare, stock up and eat well. Not only can these methods help preserve the lifespan of your groceries, but they can also contribute to recipes that the whole family will enjoy.
Looking for some new healthy recipes to try this year? Click here to view more healthy recipes.
This article first appeared in the October 2020 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.