Food Storage Tips


Jars make good food storage containers.
Jars make good food storage containers.
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Foods with proper storage keep longer and taste better, whether on a shelf, in a cupboard, or inside a refrigerator. With a few helpful tips, your foods can last longer, too.

Check out these useful tips about food storage to help preserve the items in your kitchen.

Storage and Expiration Dates

You want your food to stay fresh and delicious as long as possible. Find handy tips for buying and storing meat, milk, cheese, and other perishables.

How to Store Brown Sugar

Read some sweet advice about keeping your brown sugar soft and usable.

How to Store Vinegar

No need to get sour! Learn more about vinegar and the best way to store it.

Storage Containers: Jars

Jars are great for storage, but sometimes the lids just won't cooperate. Learn how to get out of a sticky situation and open jar lids with ease.

How to Store Berries

Handle with care! Berries need extra attention when they're purchased and stored.

How to Ship Edible Gifts

Make sure your sweet treats arrive in one piece with this list of handy tips.

To learn more about food storage, continue on to the next page.

For more information about food preservation, see:

Food Storage and Expiration Dates

Store eggs inside the refrigerator, and use them within three weeks of purchasing.
Store eggs inside the refrigerator, and use them within three weeks of purchasing.
Photodisc

Q. How can I be sure that I'm using fresh ingredients? How long will meat, milk, and cheese last?

A. Fresh ingredients and how long they last depend on the type of food you're dealing with.

  • Fruit and Vegetables: To ensure that your ingredients are fresh, it's a good idea when possible to buy fruits and vegetables when they're in season. They will have the best flavor that way. Fruits like apricots, peaches, plums, pears, and cantaloupes will ripen as they sit, but be sure to buy grapes, berries, cherries, and watermelons at their peak as they won't ripen no matter how long they sit on your kitchen table.
  • Chicken: Check chicken to see that the skin does not have an "off" color and is not slimy or oily. These are characteristics that indicate the chicken is past its prime.
  • Beef and Lamb: When buying beef and lamb, check to see that the beef has a bright cherry red color and the lamb is slightly paler. A brownish color is a good indication that the meat may have been around longer than it should. Use or freeze ground beef within a day of purchase; whole muscle meats like chicken, steak and chops can keep in the refrigerator about 3 days.
  • Milk: Be sure to buy milk with a sell by date at least four days away. Once you get the milk home, it should last up to a week in the refrigerator.
  • Eggs: Keep eggs longer by storing them in their carton in the refrigerator and not in the door. For the freshest eggs, use them within 3 weeks of purchase.
  • Cheese: Hard cheeses like Cheddar and Swiss can keep up to two months in the refrigerator; soft cheeses like Brie and Muenster should be used within five to seven days of purchase.

Don't let the date on the package be your only guide. If something doesn't look fresh or smells sour, trust your instincts and don't use it.

To learn more about storing food, specifically brown sugar, continue to the next page.

For more information about food preservation, see:

How to Store Brown Sugar

Even if brown sugar turns hard, there are easy ways to soften it up.
Even if brown sugar turns hard, there are easy ways to soften it up.
Matteo Pescarin

Q. How can I keep my brown sugar from hardening after the bag or box is opened?

A. To avoid dried-out and hardened brown sugar, store it in a cool area in a covered and airtight container once the box or bag has been opened.

One way to soften hard sugar is to place a fresh apple slice, the peel of half a lemon, or a slice of bread in the sugar overnight. The sugar will absorb the moisture from the apple, lemon, or bread and rehydrate, making it soft again.

For an even quicker fix, remove the hardened brown sugar from the package and place it on a baking pan. Place it in a 225°F oven until soft, about 10 minutes. (Use caution, because the sugar will become very hot.)

To learn more about food storage, specifically on storing vinegar, continue on to the next page.

For more information about food preservation, see:

How to Store Vinegar

Vinegar should be stored in a cool, dark place.
Vinegar should be stored in a cool, dark place.
Abigael Tay

Q. Does vinegar go bad? If so, how can you tell? Isn't vinegar just wine that's gone bad?

A. Vinegar is indeed a product of wine that has gone bad. In fact the word "vinegar" is from the French words vin aigre which translates to "sour wine."

Just as yeast consuming the sugars in grape juice creates alcohol as a by-product, bacteria known as "acetobacteria" consume the alcohol in wine and create acid. This acetic acid is what gives vinegar its characteristic sharp, bright flavors.

Since the acetobacteria live off the alcohol they consume, any number of different alcoholic products can be turned into vinegar. And the type of alcoholic liquid used as the initial ingredient of an alcohol has a pronounced effect on the flavor of the vinegar. That's why red wine vinegar tastes different from champagne vinegar.

Vinegars are often further flavored with additional ingredients such as herbs, or -- like balsamic vinegar -- through aging in wooden barrels.

When purchasing vinegar, keep in mind that you often get what you pay for. Some "cider flavored" vinegars are really just cheap distilled white vinegar to which coloring and additional flavors have been added.

Much of what is sold as balsamic vinegar here is simply red wine vinegar with caramel or caramel coloring added to make it syrupy and sweet like true balsamic.

The surprising news is that vinegar does indeed go bad. Since it is created from alcohol, many of the essential elements that give vinegar its flavor are prone to evaporation.

A significant amount of these components typically are gone by about six months after a bottle of vinegar is opened, and most vinegars are tasteless after a year of sitting opened. Vinegar's flavor can be preserved if it is stored in a cool dark place or in a refrigerator.

Some vinegars, if stored improperly or too long, will develop a cloudy look. This cloudy substance (called "mother of vinegar" since it can be used to make more vinegar) can be filtered out with a paper coffee filter in order to salvage the vinegar. However, if either the mother or the vinegar smells bad or rotten, discard both immediately.

To learn more about food storage, continue on to the next page.

For more information about food preservation, see:

Food Storage Containers: Jars

Sticky lids on honey jars can be difficult to open, but that's nothing a little non-stick spray can't help.
Sticky lids on honey jars can be difficult to open, but that's nothing a little non-stick spray can't help.
Mateusz Atroszko

Q. Is there anything I can do to make opening a jar of honey or jam easier?

A. To make sure bottles or jars open easily, clean the top and cap, then spray a little nonstick cooking spray onto the top, and into the threads of the cap. The top should come right off.

It also helps to give the jar lid a little tap along the sides against a counter-top or on the floor. (Be careful not to tap too hard though -- you don't want to crack the jar or scratch your mother's counter!) 

A rubber grip is also be a handy and thrifty solution for opening jars. They usually come in a small circle or square that you place on top of the jar to help you grip the lid while you twist. You can find them in the kitchen section of a grocery store, drug store or in a kitchen supplies store.

For more information about food storage, including how to store berries, continue on to the next page.

For more information about food preservation, see:

How to Store Berries

Berries should be carefully handled and stored.
Berries should be carefully handled and stored.
Photodisc

Q. I love to buy fresh berries in the summer. How can I make them last?

A. Berries are more perishable than many other kinds of fruit, so take extra care when handling them. Choose berries that are plump and richly colored (they won't ripen further after they've been picked); avoid packages with crushed or moldy berries.

Store berries uncovered in the refrigerator, and don't rinse them until just before you're ready to use them -- they spoil quickly when damp.

To enjoy the flavors of summer all year long, freeze fresh berries immediately after purchasing. Wash and dry the berries, then arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet (if using strawberries, hull them first). Freeze the berries until frozen solid and transfer them to plastic freezer bags for storage.

To learn more about storing and transporting food, continue on to the next page.

For more information about food preservation, see:

How to Ship Edible Gifts

Holiday cookies and other baked goods can be safely shipped for gift giving.
Holiday cookies and other baked goods can be safely shipped for gift giving.
Michele L

Q. How can I make sure that my edible holiday gifts will arrive safely if I ship them?

A. To ensure that your holiday goodies make it through the shipping process intact, follow these tips for packing baked goods for shipping:

Prepare foods immediately before packing and mailing, and allow foods to cool completely before boxing up and shipping. Choose a speedy method of shipping.

Moist quick breads, brownies, bars, and sturdy cookies (soft cookies rather than crisp varieties) are ideal choices for shipping, as are many non-fragile confections such as fudge and caramels.

Avoid moist fillings and frostings since they become sticky or soft at room temperature.

Packaging soft cookies with a slice of apple or bread helps them to retain moisture. And don't package crisp cookies in the same container with soft cookies; moisture from the soft ones will soften the crisp ones.

Store cookies with sticky glazes, icings, and fragile decorations in single layers between sheets of waxed paper.

With careful planning, baked goods such as brownies can be safely shipped. With careful planning, baked goods such as brownies can be safely shipped.
With careful planning, baked goods such as brownies can be safely shipped.
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Wrap each type of cookie separately to retain flavors and textures. Pack wrapped cookies in rows as tightly as possible to prevent shifting and breakage.

When shipping quick breads, brownies, and bars, buy a new, decorative baking dish or pan and make it part of the gift. Place the baked good in the container to provide added protection during shipping.

Wrap all breakable containers in bubble wrap, and fill boxes with packing peanuts or popped popcorn for added protection.

Protect a gift bow by covering it with an inverted berry basket.

For more information about food preservation, see: