The Tip Jar: How to make your groceries last as long as possible

A bit of forward planning and knowing how long food lasts will help cut your waste and save you money.

Americans waste around 70 billion pounds of food each year, with Feeding America estimating 25-40 percent of food grown, processed and transported in the U.S. will never be eaten.

It's this kind of waste that has prompted changes to "use by" labels on food products. And as well as being wasteful from an environmental perspective, it's also wasteful from a financial one.

A bit of forward planning, plus knowing how long food lasts, will go a long way to cutting out your waste and saving you money. The Tip Jar has picked out some useful tips to help you out.

Plan ahead

I'm a stickler for organization and yet even I am sometimes guilty of going to a grocery store without a list – which leads to impulse buys (damn you, Veggie Straws!) and over-consumption.

Figure out what you're going to cook for the week ahead and buy accordingly. It keeps your overall cost limited and should reduce the chances of food spoiling.

At the same time, make sure you put a few easy meals on the list – there will be days when you get home from work and you just can't be bothered cooking, and having a quick option will prevent you reaching for a takeout menu (damn you, Papa John's!)

Know what to freeze, and what not to freeze

The freezer is your friend when it comes to making your groceries last, but there are some rules to follow.

The Huffington Post has put together a list of how long food items are good for in the freezer (butter is 6-9 months, chicken 3-4 months, bread 2-3 months).

It also lists what foods you should NOT put in the freezer, which includes apples, melons, hard-boiled eggs, potatoes (other than mashed), deli products and cream cheese.

PennyHoarder advises using freezer bags to put non-vacuum sealed foods in the freezer, as these let you remove the air from the container before storing, unlike Tupperware and other plastic containers.

Know your refrigerator

The first thing you should do is place items in a way that maximizes their freshness. Food Republic has put together an image showing how to do this (juice/milk at the top, meat in the middle, fruit and veg in the drawers).

FoodSafety.gov has guidelines on how long you should keep meats and leftovers in the fridge, and a similar guide for eggs right here.

Fruit and vegetables are a bit more complex, as there are various optimal ways to store them depending on the type. Tomatoes, for example, should be stored on the countertop until they ripen, after which their life can be extended by refrigerating them.

Real Simple has a good guide here on the best ways to store fruit and vegetables, while OhMyVeggies has compiled the below table on the general shelf life of fresh produce, which you can print here.

A few hacks to make fresh food last longer

There are plenty of tips out there that help you keep food from rotting quickly, so I've picked out a few of the ones that are most likely to be helpful in the kitchen.

– When storing vegetables in plastic bags, poke some holes in them to allow for proper air circulation, Weightwatchers says.

– Store non-refrigerator vegetables like potatoes and onions away from sources of heat and sunlight. However, don't store potatoes and onions near to each other, as StillTasty notes they release moisture and gases that cause the other to spoil faster.

– After cutting/mashing avocado, sprinkle it with lemon or lime juice and place in an air-tight container or cover it tightly with plastic wrap. It'll last a little longer before it oxidizes, AvocadoCentral says.

– Prevent greens from wilting by washing them, drying them and then wrapping them in paper towels. These absorb the moisture that causes wilting, Today.com says.

– Keep fresh herbs in a glass or small vase with water to make them last longer. Today says you should treat them like flowers.

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