Until refrigeration technology was developed, people were limited in how they could store food. Colder climates could use cellars and even ice for storing food, but much of the world wasn’t so fortunate.
Salt was used to preserve meat. Smoking and curing meat was (and still is) used. Canning food worked as well. Despite those options, refrigeration, specifically, freezers was a game-changer for society because it made it easy to store food for many months or longer.
Recently our refrigerator broke down. We hired an appliance repair man to look into it but the repair cost was $900 so we opted to buy a new fridge. All told, we were without a fridge for 4 days. With two young kids, that was a juggling act. Fortunately, it was winter and we live in a cold climate so we put milk and eggs in the garage. We were relieved when the new fridge was installed.
While there are general food-storage options, many foods have unique storage methods. This extensive article sets out your general food storage options followed by articles that explain how to store specific types of food.
Table of Contents
- 10 General Food Storage Ideas
- How to store specific types of food
10 General Food Storage Ideas
While each specific type of food has suggested storage methods, there’s a set number of storage methods and mechanisms. They are the following.
By far the most common form of food preservation, a refrigerator allows people to keep food around for a few more days. The refrigerator completely changed the face of food storage; no longer did milk have to be delivered every day, nor did daily shopping have to happen.
When It’s Used
Refrigeration is best used in one of two circumstances. First, for keeping food edible for another few days; this could be anything from leftovers to lunch meat. Second, refrigeration allows people to store condiments like mayonnaise for longer periods of time.
Make sure that food is well-sealed. Additionally, frequent cleaning of the fridge will help it perform at the best level.
Whereas a fridge is more useful for short-term storage, freezers allow food to be kept for longer periods of time. Freezing requires a bit more planning for keeping food safe; outside of ice cream, few foods are ready to eat right out of the freezer.
When It’s Used
Freezing food allows food to be kept for much longer periods. Typically, food is kept in a freezer for anywhere from 3 months to over a year. Meats and fish tend to be less likely to thrive given extra time in the freezer, while more stable foods like soups will last longer.
Food that is to be frozen should be properly packaged so as to minimize the risk of freezer burn. Additionally, frozen food should be brought to a low temperature as quickly as possible; for example, soups should be packed flat in order to increase surface area.
While many may have an image of a cellar as a place to go during a tornado, it is actually the best place to keep certain root vegetables. Potatoes and related plants rot quickly when exposed to high temperatures and light; a cellar reduces the effects of both.
When It’s Used
Cellars were historically used to store large amounts of the yearly harvest, especially in root vegetables and some fruits, like apples. Today, it is more likely to use them to keep potatoes, yams, and onions.
Like the cellars of years past, limiting the amount of heat and light that enters a cellar will help it maintain food longer. Additionally, moisture should be limited.
Plastic wraps like cling wrap offer a quick and economical, if somewhat annoying, way to protect food from outside odors and tastes. It is especially useful to help keep pastry creams from developing a skin, packaging leftovers, and helping create a steam-proof seal.
When It’s Used
Cling wrap is used whenever a quick seal method is needed, but is especially useful in creating a seal that is hard for other odors to penetrate. For this reason, it is especially common in refrigeration.
Due to the physical qualities of plastic wrap, it can be hard to cut a piece and then wrap food. Instead, use the dispenser to help guide the wrap around the food in question, and then cut it. Also, plastic wrap should not be exposed to direct heat, and is not ideal for most foods and freezing.
Wax paper is more of a tool in food storage than a direct technique. It is hard to think of wax paper as the primary player in any food storage method; instead, it is more useful playing a supporting role. For example, wax paper is invaluable in helping to keep hamburger patties from sticking together, both for refrigeration and for freezing.
Aluminum foil has a number of advantages when used as a food storage medium. For starters, it is very difficult to melt aluminum foil; the same cannot be said for wax paper or plastic wrap. As such, aluminum foil can immediately be used as a cooking medium.
When It’s Used
Aluminum foil is especially useful in wrapping hot food and preparing it for freezing or refrigeration. Additionally, aluminum foil is used to help keep other surfaces clean, especially those that are harder to clean.
Aluminum foil should be cut with the food to be stored in mind. Additionally, if it is to be frozen, an inner layer or more aluminum foil or plastic wrap will help to reduce freezer burn.
A wide variety of plastic containers exist to store food. It is highly recommended to avoid those containers that are not BPA-free, as this chemical has created some level of health concern.
When It’s Used
Depending on the type of plastic used in the construction of the container, a number of different approaches can be used. Some plastic is ideal for freezing. That said, most plastic containers are best suited for storing food in a fridge or for short-term storage, like in a lunch box.
Avoid using plastic, opting instead for glass, if a food is especially prone to reacting with materials. For example, a tomato-rich chili can stain many types of plastic. Also, while most plastics are microwave safe, very few can stand direct heat from a stove or oven.
Speaking of glass containers, canning offers an economical and environmentally friendly way to store considerable amounts of food. Used for decades, canning allows people to save everything from tomatoes to green beans without a need for refrigeration or freezing. Best of all, many of these can be cooked before, making final preparation a breeze.
When It’s Used
Canning lends itself especially to vegetables; tomatoes and green beans are perhaps the most common canned foods, but the method can also be used to store a wide variety of sauces and stocks.
Maintaining proper hygiene is essential when canning food. Make sure that all surfaces are sanitized. Also, if any canned food smells off or has mold growing in it, discard it at once.
Vacuum sealing acts in many ways as a modern version of canning. Like canning, vacuum sealing forces any excess air out of a storage medium. Unlike canning, vacuum sealing often requires freezing to be truly effective.
When It’s Used
Vacuum sealing can be used to help prevent the risk of freezer burn in a number of foods, especially meat and fish.
Limit the amount of food to be vacuum sealed at any given time. Also, treat vacuum sealed items with care; a nick in the plastic can quickly break the seal.
Smoking and Drying
Smoking has been used for centuries to help preserve food, especially meats. Drying, similar to smoking except for the absence of smoke, is similarly used, especially for vegetables and fruits. That said, some meats are preserved by drying. Sometimes, the drying process can be helped by salting, although this can introduce a wildly different flavor to the final product.
When It’s Used
While a novelty today, smoking is useful for meats and fish to help keep them shelf stable. Additionally, drying helps to promote stronger flavors in fruits and vegetables, as well as storing those whose tastes diminish quickly, such as certain chili peppers.
Make sure to maintain a constant level of heat or smoke throughout the process. If preparing meats or fish, limit the amount of time that the food in question spends between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, as this is the temperature where bacteria thrive.
How to store specific types of food
Bagels, like most baked goods, have a limited shelf-life until they go stale and then moldy. Most people consume baked products within a couple of days. However, you can freeze them for later. We usually have a loaf or two of bread in the freezer. It toasts just fine. Same with bagels. Of course it’s not fresh, but it’s convenient.
I love fudge. I also love that you can let it sit out for quite some time and it won’t go bad. Recently we received a huge chunk of fudge as a Christmas gift. While I love fudge, I can’t eat too much at one time. It’s best savored.
However, it sat in the bowl for several weeks where we could enjoy it regularly. We finished it before it required any additional storage, but there are other ways to store fudge.
Who doesn’t love fresh cornbread? I sure do. Like other baked goods, it doesn’t last long at room temperature. If you have a whole pan of cornbread, you either gobble it all up in a day or two or plan on storing it.
We’re big coconut oil users. We use it for frying mostly. While hotly debated, we believe it’s one of the healthier oils.
At room temperature, it’s a soft solid. This is no problem because it melts quickly.
Storing it is pretty basic. We set out the details here.
Citrus fruits like limes last pretty long at room temperature. However, who eats a whole bag of limes in a week? Unless you put a slice in every beverage (I love lime in plain soda water), limes tend to sit.
You do have options to prolong the life of limes.
I love leeks. Always have. They add pizzaz to salads, soups, stir fries and other dishes.
Like all vegetables, you’re limited in how long and by which methods you can store them. Nevertheless, we put together an extensive leek storing guide.
Our kids love cucumbers so we buy a lot of them. Kids being kids, they love them cut up, so we cater to those wishes. However, kids being kids, they don’t finish all their cut cucumbers all the time, which leaves us with having to store them.
Fortunately, there are some great cucumber storage methods.
Storing artichokes requires some preparation. Your options are limited. They go bad quickly. If you really want to store them, check out our article listing your options and preparation required.
There are 6 ways to store fennel. You can also store different parts such as the bulb, leaves and/or seeds. We cover how to store all parts in every way. Check it out.
Whether you bake or buy scones, sometimes you end up with too many. Instead of letting them dry out or go stale, learn how to store them properly. There are 2 main ways to store scones. We explain those methods in detail please explain the different types of scones.
I don’t buy cheesecake with the intention of storing it. I plan to eat it all, but let’s face it, it’s rich and filling. More often than not, I need to store it either to eat in the next day or two or for the long-term. I put together an in-depth cheesecake storage guide. Check it out:
Who eats the entire package of soft-shelled tortillas in a single sitting? Nobody. It’s even a stretch for a family of 4 to finish them. I ain’t complaining though. I like that there are many in a package. You just have to store them properly. We set out how to store soft-shelled tortillas at:
I love nectarines. Not as much as peaches (I don’t mind eating the skin of peaches), but a ripe nectarine is amazing. Harvest is short and sweet. When it’s harvest time, you can buy boxes of them which is fun to eat for a couple of weeks, but after that you need to store them. How do you store nectarines? We wrote the guide on that. Check it out:
Shallots are a sweet onion. I have a wicked sweet tooth so I love cooking with shallots. Like onions, they can be stored for a long time. Discover all the many ways to properly store shallots:
I love the sour and sweet combo of grapefruit. I can eat 2, 3 or 4 in a sitting. However, because they come in huge bags (that’s how you buy them cheap), sometimes I need to store them. Discover the different ways you can store grapefruit:
Brownie recipes usually create a large pan which cuts up into 12+ brownies. Unless you have a house full of kids, you’re not going to polish them off in one sitting. What do you do with the remaining brownies? You store them. Fortunately, you have several storage options. Check them out:
I love asparagus. My favorite way is grilled on tin foil with lemon and olive oil. We grill it all summer long. However, sometimes we buy too much. It can spoil quickly, which means we store. Check out how to store fresh apsaragus:
Storing maple syrup is pretty easy. It lasts a long time, but we have a few good storage tips you should know about along with detailed explanations as to why and how to store it based on type of maple syrup (light vs. dark) and other considerations.