Safe storage tips to prevent food waste

Food is perishable. To enjoy the best flavour, texture and appearance fresh foods need to be handled and stored properly. Even processed, canned, and packaged foods need to be stored with care and used within a reasonable time.

Foods that are allowed to deteriorate and spoil become wasted food and a food safety hazard. When foods that could have been eaten are thrown out, it is like throwing money in the trash bin.

Depending on the item and intended use, foods should be stored either in the refrigerator, freezer, or a cool dark cupboard.

Many food items have “best-before” dates. These dates identify the “key freshness” of a product, not its safety, and the dates are often very conservative.

Only five foods expire and should not be eaten after a best-before date, including meal replacements, such as Boost, baby formula, protein bars and a couple of prescriptions. Otherwise, confidently use dated items up as soon as possible after the date.

For safe refrigerator storage keep foods at 4C (40F) or colder. Use a refrigerator thermometer to check the temperature.

Not all shelves in the refrigerator are equal. Heat naturally rises so the upper shelves will be warmer than the lowest shelf and the back of the shelves will be colder than the front. The inside of the refrigerator door is the warmest area of the refrigerator.

Refrigerator storage

For safe food storage, the following are suggested storage locations for various perishable food items:

The door is not a good place to store perishable items such as milk, rather store condiments in the door shelves.

The upper shelves are the warmest section of the refrigerator, store least perishable items like can drinks, yogurt, jams and pickles there.

The middle shelves are cooler than the top shelf. Store more perishable items that have a longer storage life like eggs, milk, deli meats, cheese and leftovers.

The back of the bottom shelf is the coldest section of the refrigerator. This is where the most perishable foods should be stored, such as meats, poultry and fish. Place all of these items on a plate or tray to catch any drips that could leak into the crisper drawers. Clean the meat storage area at least weekly or as needed, with a hot soapy cloth to wipe up any meat juice spills.

The crisper drawers often have a humidity control vent. When the vent is closed there is less air coming into the drawer so more water vapour is held in the drawer creating a high humidity space. Opening the vent slightly reduces the humidity and opening it completely creates a low humidity space.

A high humidity crisper drawer is a good location for vegetables that might wilt such as carrots, leafy greens, spinach, green onions, fresh herbs, lettuce, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Store non-ethylene gas emitters here.

A medium humidity crisper drawer has the vent half open and is a good location for melons, lemons, limes, sweet potatoes, oranges and tomatoes that are very ripe. These foods emit ethylene gas, a plant hormone that regulates ripening. To slow over ripening and spoilage there needs to be some air circulation.

To speed ripening of fruits or vegetables, place them inside a paper bag. This will concentrate the ethylene gas inside the bag, allowing the fruit to ripen more quickly. Do not use a plastic bag, which will trap moisture and may cause the fruit to rot.

A low humidity crisper drawer has the vent completely opened to allow more air to circulate. This is a good location for high ethylene gas emitters or fruits and vegetables that ripen and deteriorate quickly such as apples, grapes, pears, avocados, peppers and summer squash.

If the refrigerator has no humidity controls, you can achieve the same results as low and medium humidity by leaving the drawer slightly ajar, or by placing fruits and vegetables on the fridge’s middle shelf.

Adapted from

Freezer storage

For safe freezer storage, keep the temperature at -18C (0F) or lower.

Freezing food keeps it safe for as long as it is frozen.

If food is wrapped tightly or put in sealed containers to prevent freezer burn, the quality of the frozen food may be maintained for a longer time.

Freeze it or lose it. When fresh items are ripe but not yet needed peel, chop and freeze them for smoothies, sauces, baking or in the case of vegetables for soups, stews or steaming.

The freezer is a great way to keep foods fresher longer. Whole grain flours, nuts and flax seed, all contain oils that can go rancid which will spoil the flavour of the food. To preserve the fresh flavour freeze in sealed plastic bags or plastic containers.

Label and date everything that is put in the freezer. Rotate older items closer to the top to be used first and keep a running list of items in the freezer to control the inventory.

Dry goods storage

In general, high-acid canned food such as tomatoes, grapefruit, and pineapple can be stored in a cupboard for 12 to 18 months.

Low-acid canned food such as meat, poultry, fish, and most vegetables can be stored for two to five years. But the can must be in good condition and stored in a cool, clean, dry place.

Do not keep canned food if the cans are dented, leaking, bulging, or rusting.

If the food label has a “best before” date, try to eat the food by then. If that date has passed, it doesn’t mean the food is no longer safe. But check before eating it for signs it has spoiled. If the food smells or looks strange, throw it away.

Organize dry good storage by grouping like items together with the newest items to the back of the shelf. Label the containers with a purchase date. For items that need to be used up, have a “use first” shelf.

Bananas are a fruit that can quickly soften and spoil. At the grocery store they may be purchased inexpensively off the quick sale shelf.

Preserve bananas for later use by freezing them either unpeeled or peel in a re-sealable plastic bag. Use them in smoothies or baking.

Banana bread or muffins</h2

This is a delicious way to use soft or frozen bananas.

  • 2 c. whole wheat flour 500 mL
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar,firmly packed 125 mL
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder 15 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda 2 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 2 mL
  • 1/2 c. nuts, finely chopped (optional)125 mL
  • 1/2 c. chocolate chips (optional)125 mL
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 c. milk 375 mL
  • 1/4 c. canola oil 60 mL
  • 1 1/2 c. ripe banana, mashed 375 mL

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Oil a loaf pan or a 12 cup muffin pan.

Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add nuts or chocolate chips if using.

In another bowl beat together the egg, milk, oil and banana.

Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix for about 30 seconds. The batter should still be lumpy.

Fill loaf pan or muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake loaf 65 to 70 minutes and muffins 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Adapted from “Purity Cookbook, The Complete guide to Canadian Cooking.”

Banana bread french toast

This recipe takes humble banana bread and gives it a new delicious taste as a breakfast or brunch meal.

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. milk 60 mL
  • 2 1.5 cm-thick slices banana bread
  • 1 tbsp. butter 15 mL
  • maple syrup

Whisk egg and milk together in a wide, shallow bowl.

Soak bread slices in egg mixture until soggy. Move to a plate.

In a pan melt butter over medium heat. When butter is bubbling, add soaked bread. Cover pan. Cook until golden brown on both sides and cooked throughout (approximately 4 minutes on the first side and 3 minutes on the second side).

If you have extra bananas, add a few slices to the pan and brown as French toast cooks. Serve topped with maple syrup and fried bananas. Yield: 2 servings. Adapted from

Betty Ann Deobald is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact:

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