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7 Secret Tricks for Extending Food Expiration Dates

Here are several ways you can make fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains last longer.

Right now, buying foods in semi-larger quantities and learning how to extend food expiration dates may help you to decrease your chances of exposure to the coronavirus.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, going into the store with a grocery list in hand is helpful for several reasons. The most important? You're less likely to forget something on that first trip, which will then prevent you from having to revisit the grocery store later that same week. However, if you're stocking up on perishables, making fewer trips can complicate your healthy meal prep.

Well, not unless you know how to manipulate when fresh food will expire, that is. Below, you'll see seven hacks for extending the expiration dates of food so you can make the most out of each and every grocery trip.

Freeze any ingredients that are about to expire

crock pot freezer meals in bags
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

When in doubt, freeze it. Food will typically last indefinitely in the freezer, and the only thing that you'll want to watch out for is freezer burn. Freezer burn won't make your food unsafe to eat, however, it can alter its taste to the point where it becomes inedible. To avoid this from happening, you'll want to make sure you choose the correct packaging for meat, vegetables, and fruit.

For example, if you're trying to freeze raw chicken, consider using a vacuum seal if you have one on hand. If not, just make sure to squeeze all of the air out of the bag before sealing it. Trapped air in a container or plastic bag is what causes discoloration, dehydration, and ice crystals to form while in the freezer.

Also—whether or not the ingredients are on the brink of expiring or not—you can always freeze ingredients ahead of time so you prevent spoilage and have plenty of fresh produce to work with the following week. Check out 8 Extremely Easy Crock-Pot Freezer Meals: Just Dump-and-Go! for inspiration.

Keep fresh produce on the top shelf in the fridge, or, in the crisper drawer

fridge drawers

Food waste is a huge issue in this country and among the top foods to be dumped in the garbage are fresh fruits and vegetables, as they perish the fastest. In a former Eat This, Not That! article, Chef Joel Gamoran, host of A&E's hit series Scraps, said that placement in the fridge is important when it comes to preventing fresh produce from spoiling.

"The general rule of thumb, the closer any food item is to the door, the less time it will stay fresh," he said.

Consider keeping your fresh produce on the top shelf and closer to the front of the fridge so you won't forget to use it since it has a short shelf life. Another idea is to put your fruits and veggies in the crisper drawer, which is designed to store fresh produce. Principal Chef at HelloFresh, Claudia Sidoti has told ETNT before that there are usually two types of crisper drawers in each fridge, each one serving a different purpose.

"There is usually a high-humidity and low-humidity drawer. Vegetables require higher humidity, while fruits require lower humidity, which is why many refrigerators have two separate drawers for each," she said.

Pickle some of your fresh veggies

pickled foods

If you're looking for a new project to tackle during the quarantine, why not try pickling some of your fresh fruits and veggies? It's actually a lot simpler to pickle onion slices, for example, than you might think. All you need is white or red wine vinegar, sugar, salt, some herbs and spices and that's about it. If stored properly in a mason jar, pickled produce may last as long as two months in the fridge. Aside from being an easy way to preserve your fresh produce, it also gives your food that unrivaled sour yet sweet flavor.

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Cook your veggies & raw meat, then refrigerate them

sauteed spinach

Worried that your spinach or kale will perish before their suggested expiration or sell-by date? Bring a pot of water and salt to a boil, put your leafy greens in until they become tender, and then transfer them to a sauté pan with garlic and onions. Sautée the greens for a few minutes and add in some sherry vinegar for extra flavor. Bonus: Eating cooked vegetables over raw ones are often thought to be easier on the digestive system.

Additionally, raw chicken, sausage, hamburger, and other ground meats should only be left in the fridge for one or two days before cooking. After the meat has been cooked, your leftovers can last for up to three to four days. Again, when in doubt, freeze them!

Store loaves of bread in a bread box and in the freezer

sliced sandwich bread on a cutting board
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

Believe it or not, storing your bread in the fridge actually might be making it become staler, faster. The cooler temperatures of the fridge will actually speed up the process in which it dries out and hardens. The best way to store bread is actually in a bread box or, alternatively, somewhere out of the light and tightly wrapped in plastic. Warning, the loaf of bread will only last about five days at room temperature, so if you and your family cannot eat all of it by the end of the week, tightly wrap the bread in plastic and store in the freezer.

Store potatoes in a cool, dark place

different types of potatoes in a basket
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

Potatoes are one of the few produce items that won't perish within a few days. However, there is a way to maximize its shelf life and it all has to do with where you store them in your home. Potatoes should not be stored in a humid fridge but rather in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated space where they will be able to survive for up to about four months. A pantry, cupboard, basement, or garage are all ideal places to store raw potatoes, just make sure not to wet or wash them until you're ready to cook them, otherwise, they will become moldy. Uncut onions should also be stored in a similar environment.

Expiration dates aren't the end all be all

woman reading ingredients

In a former ETNT article, Nasser Yazdani, DVM, MPH, and assistant teaching professor in the Department of Public Health at the University of Missouri, said that expiration dates on food items "are voluntarily added by manufacturers and represent their best guess about the product at peak quality. They do not determine when a product becomes potentially hazardous to human health."

In short, the expiration date isn't always indicative of when food could cause you to become sick. Be sure to check out 13 Foods That Are Still Safe to Eat After the Expiration Date for more insight.

Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the former news editor of Eat This, Not That! Read more about Cheyenne
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