The Ultimate Guide to Properly Storing Food

Happy National Nutrition Month! Make sure to wish any dietitians in your life a happy Registered Dietitian Day on March 13th. Each March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics creates a theme for National Nutrition Month. This year the theme is “Beyond the Table”. This theme is meant to bring awareness to the work that goes into producing, distributing, and creating food as well as important topics such as food safety and food waste.

I know that I am often guilty of forgetting about leftovers or buying produce just to discover it rotten in the fridge weeks later and having to toss it out. It’s estimated that ~40% of all food in the United States is wasted every year. While some of this is due to our own forgetfulness and crops left unharvested, a large percentage of wasted food is still safe to eat and is tossed prior to ever entering the store. Many grocers use criteria based on the appearance of the food to determine if it will be sold. If the fruit vegetable is off-color or misshapen it is either thrown away, rejected, and sent back, or sometimes is put out for sale at a reduced price. One way to help reduce food waste is to ask your local grocery store what they do with their “ugly” produce and if it is possible to buy it at a reduced price. There are also several companies, like Misfit Market, Imperfect Foods, and Hungryroot, that have emerged over recent years to help combat exactly this problem.

Aside from purchasing these imperfect food items, there are many things that we can do at home to reduce food waste. While it might seem obvious, only buy what you need. Planning out meals for the week and making a grocery list (and sticking to it) can help with this. It is also important to store food correctly. Airtight or plastic wrapping, washing produce before you’re ready to eat it, and removing stems can all lead to produce going bad more quickly. Some vegetables and herbs, like asparagus, cilantro, and parsley, will last longer if stored in a glass of water in the refrigerator.

Temperature and humidity also matter. Most fridges have two produce drawers, each with the ability to change the humidity setting. Whether something needs high vs low humidity depends on whether it emits ethylene or if it is sensitive to ethylene. Ethylene is a gas produced by plants that affects the ripening process. If a fruit or vegetable gives off ethylene it should not be stored with one that is sensitive to the gas as it will cause the produce to go bad faster. Ethylene-producing produce does better with low humidity and ethylene-sensitive produce does better with high humidity. If your fridge does not have humidity controls just sort them into two drawers. Click on the link to see examples of both.

While not all-encompassing, the graphic below has some storage tips for many fruits and vegetables.

Food storage tips infographic

Another thing to consider is composting. Rotting food in landfills contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and can be harmful to the environment. Composting can reduce these emissions while giving nutrients back to the soil. It helps prevent soil erosion, improves soil health and encourages healthier plant growth, and can help with stormwater maintenance and conserving water. There are several ways you can get involved with composting in the Baltimore area. Baltimore City Department of Public Works has drop-off centers for certain food scraps to be brought to, information about these sites can be found here. Other services like Baltimore Compost Collective and Compost Crew will pick up compost and replace it with an empty bucket on a scheduled basis. You can also set up a composting station at your home. Examples of foods that can be composted are most fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and paper filters, crushed eggshells, paper tea bags without staples, crackers, and cooked rice/pasta. Most dairy, meat, bones, oils, and plastic should not be composted.

I hope this blog helps you take a step towards more sustainable nutrition and a healthier planet. If you need help with any aspect of your nutrition, check out the customized nutrition coaching plans that PUSH511 offers! Happy Nutrition Month!

About the Author

Cristen Headshot

I am a Licensed Registered Dietitian with experience in critical care, cardiology, weight loss, allergy services, and food service. I graduated from Penn State University with a BS in nutrition and finished my RD training at the University of Maryland. I am currently in PA school and am looking forward to combining my love of nutrition with medicine. After moving to Baltimore in 2019, I did a trial class at PUSH511 Fitness as I was looking for accountability and to meet new people. When I walked into the gym for the first time, everyone was congregated on one side cheering on a member who was struggling with ring muscle-ups at the end of the workout. It was such an uplifting moment to witness. I left the gym that day in dire need of ginger ale, but also very excited about this amazing and supportive community I had stumbled upon. I am grateful for this opportunity to give back and share my love of nutrition!


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