11 Mistakes That Make Your Food Go Bad Faster

Spoiled milk
Photo by 1511721308 / Shutterstock.com

Shopping has never been so strange. Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, such staples as toilet paper, rice and flour are nearly impossible to find in many stores.

Meanwhile, demand for grocery delivery and curbside pickup is surging, and checkout lines require shoppers to stand 6 feet apart. Suddenly, it’s a mad, mad world.

On the bright side, nutritious food is still available, and fresh fruits and vegetables are still growing. We will get through this difficult time eventually. But while it persists, avoid these basic mistakes that can cause food to go bad before its time.

1. Not drying salad greens

Salads are a great way to get healthy vegetables. But who hasn’t gone to the fridge and discovered that once-crisp greens have turned sad and slimy?

Don’t let this happen. Self magazine recommends rinsing the greens as soon as you get them, and drying them all the way — perhaps in a salad spinner. If you don’t dry them, they’ll wilt and go bad in half the time, the magazine notes.

Also, wrapping them in a paper towel before putting the greens in a fridge container will give them longer life.

2. Leaving lemons uncovered

A comparison of storage methods by Cook’s Illustrated found that lemons last longest by far — a month — if stored in a resealable plastic bag and refrigerated.

Money Talks News managing editor Karla Bowsher stores her lemons this way and confirms they routinely keep for weeks.

3. Not storing avocados according to ripeness

Correct storage of avocados depends on their ripeness level. So, stay alert because this tasty treat can go from hard as a rock to soft as a marshmallow in what seems like seconds.

The Avocados from Mexico website says you should squeeze your avocado gently before storing. If the skin yields under gentle pressure, the avocado is ripe. Eat it right away, or store it in the fridge for two to three days. But if it doesn’t yield, leave it on your counter for four to five days, checking for ripeness daily.

4. Treating whole-wheat and white flour the same

Flour is a hot commodity these days, as many stuck-at-home citizens are brushing up on their baking skills. But if you’re lucky enough to have both white and whole-wheat flour, treat them differently.

As King Arthur Flour notes, whole-grain flour prefers to be kept in an airtight container, in a cold and dark part of your kitchen. Not going to use it anytime soon? A bag of whole-grain flour can store in the freezer for up to six months. (Fridge storage is OK too, but the freezer will better extend the flour’s life.)

White flour — including all-purpose, bread and self-rising flour — is easier to deal with. You can still freeze or refrigerate it if you need to store it for a time. But if you’re using it regularly, it will do fine in a loose-lidded canister on the kitchen counter.

5. Washing strawberries

Food company Shari’s Berries sells chocolate-dipped strawberries and other treats, and the company’s site offers five common ways to store strawberries for maximum life.

But the top tip for all methods may surprise you: Even in this time of washing everything, strawberries shouldn’t be washed until you’re going to eat them. Otherwise, the site warns, they’ll turn mushy and moldy, and that would be berry disappointing.

6. Allowing ground beef to sit around, even in the fridge

Ground beef is a kitchen staple — for burgers, lasagna, sloppy Joes, you name it. But this flexible food isn’t so flexible when it comes to storage.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that you should refrigerate or freeze the meat as soon as possible after buying. In the fridge, keep it at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and use within one to two days.

If you’re not going to use it that quickly, wrap in heavy-duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or freezer paper or bags before freezing. Use the frozen beef within four months.

7. Storing milk in the fridge door

Many new refrigerators have roomy, enticing doors, with plenty of space to hold salad dressing, jam, even entire gallons of milk. But Real Simple magazine notes that storing your milk in the fridge door is an udderly bad idea.

The door swings into your warm kitchen every time it’s opened, so products there are living in the warmest part of the fridge. Not only will bacteria grow more quickly, but the milk could actually curdle. Shove your milk to the back of the fridge.

8. Freezing or refrigerating coffee beans

The people at Starbucks don’t jive about their java. Starbucks coffee educator Major Cohen tells Parade magazine that refrigerators and freezers are the enemy of coffee, because moisture condenses on the beans or grounds, damaging their flavor.

Instead, store coffee beans in an airtight container kept at room temperature, and grind the beans fresh each time you make coffee for the best flavor.

9. Storing eggs in the refrigerator door

While eggs rarely spoil, the American Egg Board warns that they can dry up if kept too long. Store raw, whole eggs in their carton at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. The carton will protect them from picking up odors or other flavors and from losing moisture.

And as with milk, don’t store eggs in the refrigerator door. Put them on an interior shelf, where the temperature stays constant.

10. Leaving apples out on the counter

Shiny, colorful apples in a bowl make for a beautiful still life painting — or an Instagram photo, in this modern age.

But don’t spoil your fruit just for a snapshot. The New York Apple Association notes that apples should be stored in the refrigerator — ideally, in a ventilated plastic bag — not on the counter. Refrigerated apples last 10 times longer than those left out.

11. Storing bread on top of the fridge

Bread can certainly be frozen, professional baker Madelyn Osten tells Food & Wine magazine. Also, bread boxes do a great job of keeping loaves from getting moldy.

But whatever you do, don’t store bread on top of your refrigerator. It may be convenient, but the heat from the appliance will encourage the bread to dry out (if wrapped in paper) or turn moldy (if wrapped in plastic).

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