Feb. 25, 2009 -- We've all been there. After a big trip to the grocery store, you've got all kinds of great meals planned out in your mind.
Then you get busy, a few days go by, and some of the unused food sitting in your refrigerator starts to go bad. More time goes by, and you don't know what food is safe to eat or not.
The average U.S. household throws out nearly a quarter of the fruits and vegetables it buys. For a family of four, that adds up to about $500 each year, according to a study by the University of Arizona.
"Good Morning America" food editor Sara Moulton has the lowdown on how store your perishables to give them the longest life and save you money.
Store eggs in their cartons in the back of the fridge, not on the door. The door is the warmest part of the fridge, so if you take the eggs out of the carton and put them into the egg holder, the eggs become more perishable because they absorb air through their porous shell. It is OK to keep things like condiments on the door because they are high in sugar, salt or acid.
Transfer milk to glass bottles. It will last twice as long. Glass gets and stays much colder than cardboard. Also, glass bottles are better sealed than cardboard containers, so they don't let as much air in. Any glass jar with a good lid is fine.
More people are making their own bread, so keep cornmeal, flour and grains tightly wrapped -- bugs love them -- and in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity and keep the bugs at bay.
Meat, Poultry and Fish
When you get home from the supermarket tightly wrap meat, poultry and fish and put them in a resealable bag with the air squeezed out. With our busy schedules, this might not be possible, so keep in mind that all fresh animal protein should be kept in the meat drawer, which is one of the coldest parts of the fridge.
Fresh fish is very perishable and should preferably be kept in a bag on top of a bowl of ice and eaten as soon as possible. If you aren't going to be able to cook the meat, chicken or fish immediately, freeze it or broil it, so you can keep it in the fridge and use the next day for a meal.
Visit the Food and Drug Administration's Web site for information on how long to safely keep food in fridge and freezer.
Fruits and Vegetables
Store fruits and vegetables separately. Some fruits such as apples and pears give off ethylene gas, which can make the vegetables go bad faster.
Water is the enemy. Don't put any fruit or veggies in the fridge if wet. Check for damp produce when you get home from the grocery store, since many stores mist produce shelves.
Dry your fruits and vegetables first or put them in a resealable plastic bag with some paper towels.
Don't wash any fruit or vegetables until right before you are going to cook and eat it.
If you are not going to get to a fruit or veggie before it goes bad, freeze it. Most veggies should be blanched first (cooked briefly in boiling water).
Know which fruits and veggies should be stored in the fridge and which should not.
Potatoes. Their starch turns to sugar, they should be kept separately in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.
Tomatoes but they should also be kept out of direct sunlight.
Refrigerate only briefly (try to eat within a few days):
Refrigerate only after fully ripened:
Refrigerate all other fruits and vegetables not listed above. Almost all fruits and veggies should be wrapped in plastic and kept in the crisper drawers.
Store soft herbs such as parsley, basil, dill and cilantrolike flowers -- put them stem sides down in a glass filled with water and put a plastic bag loosely over the top. Store woody herbs such as rosemary and thyme in plastic bags, loosely wrapped with paper towels.
Wrap harder, drier cheeses such as parmesan in foil or wax paper. Store softer, wetter cheeses such as brie or mozzarella in plastic and change the plastic wrap often.
Overripe bananas freeze beautifully in their skins and frozen grapes are delicious. Rinse and dry the grapes well, then freeze them individually. Once they are frozen transfer them to a resealable plastic bag and squeeze out the air. Freeze berries the same way.
Sara Moulton also recommends these books about keeping foods fresh:
"One Dish Dinners," by Jean Anderson
"How to Pick a Peach," by Russ Parsons