Written by Scott Huntington
We all need food to survive. Unfortunately, eating all your groceries before they expire can be a difficult task, especially with perishables like fruits and vegetables. Estimates suggest we waste 30 to 40% of our food supply, with food the most significant contributor to municipal landfills.
That puts the onus on consumers to shop responsibly and take steps to preserve food for as long as possible. Fortunately, some foods can last years — decades even — if stored properly. When archaeologists opened an ancient Egyptian tomb, they discovered 4,000-year-old wheat inside that was still edible. The best type of packaging is airtight and opaque, able to keep out oxygen, pests and light.
Non-perishable foods that can last up to 30 years include:
- Dry pasta
- Potato flakes
Perishable foods are those that, even when stored properly, have a definite expiration date, often only days or weeks away. However, there are specific ways you can use prepped food before it expires to minimize waste.
1. Freshen Stale Food
Just because your food has gone stale doesn’t mean it’s bad. You can pop plenty of foods like crackers, chips, popcorn, cereal, bread and more in the oven for a short amount of time to freshen up. Some methods require dampening the food with a cloth before baking, while others advise placing an oven-safe glass of water underneath the pan while baking. The result is food so fresh you won’t believe it’s weeks old.
2. Use Sour Milk
You may not want to drink a glass of spoiled milk straight, but it can be a great addition to many baked goods. People commonly used sour milk to preserve resources back when refrigeration was less prolific. Use it in recipes like cake and bread, or as a marinade for chicken before roasting or frying. If you see a recipe that calls for buttermilk, which you can make by combining fresh milk with an acid like lemon juice or vinegar, sour milk is a viable substitute.
3. Slice Bread
You can only freshen stale bread in the oven so many times. Once you have bread that is past the point of return — but still lacking signs of mold — slice it into cubes, sprinkle it with your favorite seasonings and bake it until it’s crunchy for perfect croutons. Another idea is to slice stale bread into small chunks and throw it in the blender. Only fill the pitcher about one-third of the way and blend until you get fine crumbs. Use breadcrumbs to make delicious fried chicken and store leftovers in the freezer.
4. Make Fresh Jams
Fresh fruit is delicious, but it ripens quickly. Luckily, you can turn any overripe fruit into a delicious jam that is perfect for spreading on bagels and scones — or for giving away on holidays. The main ingredient can be whatever you have lying around at home, such as strawberries, blueberries or raspberries. Use a mixture to create a unique combination. Then, heat your fruit in a saucepan with sugar, lemon juice and salt to create a thickened jam, which you can eat immediately or seal into Mason jars.
5. Save Wilted Veggies
As fresh herbs and vegetables sit in your fridge, they begin to wilt and look less appealing. But that doesn’t mean it’s time for the trash. Instead, keep a sealed plastic bag in your freezer with all the castaways you don’t plan to use, including scraps like celery cores, carrot ends and leek greens. Later, use these leftovers to make a delicious stock, ideal for making soups, sauces and braising liquids.
6. Can Extra Goods
If you plant a garden, it’s not uncommon to have more fruits and vegetables than you can eat. But with canning, you can seal up garden leftovers and keep them fresh for years. Canning is straightforward and only requires one piece of equipment — a canner. This canner, whether dial-gauge or weight pressure, uses boiling water to seal jars airtight and preserve food. It’s possible to can almost anything you grow in your garden, including carrots, lima beans, corn, zucchini, crushed tomatoes and more.
7. Freeze Flavored Yogurt
Yogurt is a tasty and healthy snack, but it only stays fresh for so long. Instead of relegating your favorite berry-flavored snack to the trash bin, freeze it for a cool, refreshing treat. Scoop out bite-sized dollops of yogurt onto a lined sheet pan. Place the pan in the freezer until the bites become solid. Once they’ve completely frozen, seal the yogurt bites in an airtight container to save space and protect from freezer burn.
How to Use Food Before It Expires
Food that’s about to expire doesn’t have to go to waste. Freshen stale foods like chips, cereal and popcorn in the oven. Or make something new, like turning spoiled milk into a delicious cake or baking stale bread into crunchy croutons. When you have too much produce to possibly eat, turn to methods like canning, which can preserve fruits and veggies for years.
Remember, food past its expiration date isn’t necessarily bad. It may only mean the quality or taste has diminished. And experts say canned food that is 10 years old is still safe to eat. Consider how you can make the most of your food to avoid waste and save money.
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