A few weeks ago, my PacNorthwest friend Beth, asked if I had any suggestions for long term food storage. Her reasons for wanting to store food for an extended period of time are quite valid: food fresh from the farm and/or in purchased in bulk is often more economical than sourcing ingredients in smaller quantities from the local store. And we all know that food grown or raised locally and sustainably is much more fresh and tasty than any other, right? Right.
Being that I was up to my eyes in freshly picked apples at the time, I agreed that a food storage post was in order. Besides, Beth is so encouraging toward my blogging efforts. She regularly leaves a sweet comment, or tries a recipe that I am convinced that no one is going to attempt, and tells me all about it. We bloggers live for that kind of feedback. How could I not help her out?
Food storage and safety is an important enough issue that my Not-So-Fineprint Disclaimer needs to be front and center. This post is outlining what I do in my own home. Our family is thankfully quite healthy. That said, I am unaware of any health conditions or sensitivities of my readers. Only you know what is right for you and your family. Bottom line: I’m not an expert. I’m just sharing the way I do things. Use your best judgement with regards to food storage and safety. When in doubt, consult the Food & Drug Administration’s guidelines for food storage, handling, and safety. (You’ll notice that my times are nearly identical to theirs, with the difference that I list only the items that we regularly eat.)
Phew! Now that that’s over with, I think I should start out with a little basic information. I try to buy local and/or organic food-stuffs whenever possible. Local organic is my preference, but my bare minimum requirement is that whatever food I buy is sourced from the USA. Our US farmers work way to hard for me to thwart their efforts by regularly buying imported food. Less miles between me and my food tastes better. I’m really not trying to get up on a soapbox here. I just want to explain what I buy, so that I better communicate how I store it and why.
Flours, other grains, rice, and dried beans can be stored at room temperature in airtight containers, and should be used within a month or two. When buying grain items in bulk, or when storing for longer time periods, store them in airtight containers in the freezer. Dirty little secret: the FDA allows a certain amount of bug and/or animal parts in our food and still be considered safe for sale and consumption. Hey, food is grown in the ground or raised outdoors–there is bound to be a little infiltration of organic matter, whether visible or not. Freezing grains and flours kills any bugs that may have hitched a ride in your food.
Now go to your little happy place a forget that I said anything.
First up: fall harvest squash and fruit. Fall squash, such as pumpkin, acorn, butternut, and spaghetti are not only decorative, but can be stored and enjoyed for several months. Make sure that the squash is free of blemishes, cuts, or soft spots. Store it in a single layer on a table or shelf in a cool, dry (not damp) area of the house. Most squash will keep for 2-3 months.
Apples can also be stored, with good results, for several months. Think about it–fresh tasting, crisp apples in December, January, or even February! I realize that you can buy apples at the store year ’round, but I’ve got news for you: those apples were still picked while in season during the fall, and kept in a cooler. Why not just store the apples yourself?
Long term storage apples must be unwashed, and in pristine condition. No bumps, no bruises, no dents, no bug damage. The phrase “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch” is rooted in fact.
While this apple is bruise and pest free, this mark makes it a no-go for storing.
This apple has two strikes against it for having both a bruise, and a dent. Now worries though, the apples that don’t make the cut for long term storage can be trimmed for eating or cooking.
Ahhh! A good apple! Defect-free and ready to prep for storage.
The nice folks at the orchard we visited said that they store their apples in plastic bags with holes in them. Then they keep a damp towel over top, and keep them in a walk in refrigerator; changing the towel every few days. The damp towels keep the apples moist, so they don’t shrivel up or get mealy in texture. I was told that most varieties of apples will keep all winter in their cooler. If you happen to have extra room in your refrigerator, or an extra ‘fridge in the basement, then feel free to store your apples like the orchards do. In lieu of extra refrigerator storage space, try calling your local orchard and see if they store apples to sell during the winter. Or store them yourself…
My grandmother used to wrap her apples in the daily newspaper for storage. Many people still do, although will caution you not to use any newspaper with colored ink. Seems the colored ink contains lead, which is not something to encase food in. The whole possiblity of having lead in newspaper ink makes me nervous enough that I buy blank newsprint from a moving and storage supply place.
On a completely unrelated tangent: blank newsprint is also great for kiddo art projects.
Since I don’t have any shelving in the coolest part of my house, I store my apples in an old canning jar box. Any box will do, so long as it has a completely smooth bottom. Apples resting on flaps or other raised surfaces on the bottom of a box will eventually bruise and spoil.
Use scissors or a box cutter to cut holes for ventilation. Apples release a lot of natural gasses. Air circulation is key to help avoid spoilage.
Cut the newsprint sheets into 6-inch squares. Place a blemish-free apple in the center of the newsprint square, and wrap it up.
Place the wrapped apples in a single layer in the ventilated box. Store the apples in a cool (40-60 degrees F), well ventilated part of the house, and here’s the kicker–on a level surface above the floor. I keep my apples in the basement, because it is well ventilated, and temperature controlled. Even so, subterranean rooms, such as a basement, have moist floors. You may not feel it, but the moisture from the ground is still present. That moisture will cause the apples to rot prematurely, which kind of defeats the purpose of storing them. Do yourself a favor and put your apples up on a table or shelf.
On to Meat. Meat prices fluctuate wildly throughout the year, so when I can get any of our staple meats for a good price, I stock up for a few months, and store it in our freezer.
Frozen meat quality deteriorates in the freezer due to “freezer burn,” or those pesky little ice crystals that form when freezing food. In a nutshell, when freezing food, the water molecules in food seek out the coldest part of the freezer–the freezer walls. When the food is not tightly wrapped, the water is able to migrate to the outside of the food, dehydrating the food, and and forming ice crystals in the surrounding airspace. Fancy-food-vacuum-sealer thingies suck the air out of the packing and help prevent freezer burn. Personally, I don’t think you need a fancy-food-vacuum-sealer-thingy to keep meat fresh in the freezer. You can do it yourself with stuff you likely always have on hand. Here’s how:
Now when I know that I will use the meat within the month, I just stack it in meal-sized portions, as tightly as possible, in a zippered freezer bag. I label/date it with a Sharpie before popping it in the freezer.
For longer term storage, I use a method that a butcher once shared with me. He told me how to freeze meats for optimum quality. You may have noticed that a butcher sells meats that have been stacked on top of each other, and wrapped tightly in wax lined freezer paper. The reason for that is to eliminate the amount of air in the packaging. The waxed liner acts as a vapor barrier, and helps force the water molecules to stay put inside of the food where they belong.
While the plastic wrapped foam trays in the meat cases of the store display the meat nicely, they are not the best vehicles for freezing because all of the air inside the packaging allows for the water to escape from the food and form freezer burn. Therefore, re-packaging meat for long term freezing is a good idea.
SO…Stack the meat as tightly as possible, and wrap it in a vapor barrier. I stack steaks, chicken breasts, etc. in pairs on a sheet of good quality plastic wrap.
Then, I tightly wrap the meat with the plastic wrap, being sure to push out much air as possible, before placing it on a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil.
After that, I pull the long sides of the foil up and fold over the top 1/2 inch or so, and continue folding the edge down in 1/2 inch increments until it is folded against the surface of the meat.
Repeat with the short sides so the meat is wrapped in a tight little package. And because I want to be able to identify the contents later, I write the name of the contents and the date on top with a Sharpie. You know, to avoid a “mystery meat” discovery later on.
I then stack the wrapped packages into a zippered freezer bag, which I also label with a Sharpie.
I just love labeling things with Sharpies.
Once the bag is full, I squeeze all the extra air out of the bag before sealing it.
|Pasty Filling||Dr. Pepper Pork||Ground Turkey||Chorizo|
|Round Roast||BBQ Pulled Pork||Ground Turkey|
|Ground Chuck (2 lbs.)|
|Ground Chuck (2 lbs.)||Bacon|
|Ground Chuck (2 lbs.)||Boneless Skinless Chicken||Bacon|
And because buying in bulk when things are on sale is only saves money if we actually eat the food, I have a sheet of paper taped to the freezer with a complete inventory of the contents. The freezer inventory sheet is also a huge help with menu planning.
I sure hope this helps shed a little light on food storage, and how I do it. Feel free to add your own tips & tricks in the comments section!
Below is a handy chart, courtesy of the FDA, for food storage guidelines for many of the food-stuffs that I freeze. I’ve made a few notes of helpful things I have discovered along the way.
(About 40° F)
|Pizza Dough (Homemade)||2-3 days||2 months||Store in freezer bags. Thaw in refrigerator overnight, then proof in a warm area for several hours to rise.|
|Cookie dough (Homemade)||1 week||6 months||Thaw overnight in refrigerator, then bake according to recipe.|
|Bread, fresh||Never–goes stale faster||3 months||Over wrap well to prevent drying out; thaw at room temperature|
|Bread and rolls, unbaked dough||2 days||2 months||Dough will need extra rise time if it was ever frozen.|
|Muffins, rolls, quick breads||3 days||2 months||Wrap individually, then place in zippered freezer bags.|
|Waffles||3 days||3 months||Freeze in a single layer with waxed paper between each. Heat toaster, without thawing.|
|Doughnuts, Fruit Pies, Cheesecake, Baked Sweets||Best eaten in 1 to 3 days||3-4 months||Thaw in refrigerator. Pies can be freshened by thawing then baking (covered) at 350 for 10-15 minutes.|
|Tortillas||1 week||3 months||Remove from original packaging and freeze in a freezer bag.|
|Butter||3 months||6 months||Leave in original wrapping, and place in a freezer bag.|
|Parmesan cheese, grated||1-2 weeks or more||2 months||Repackage in freezer bags.|
|Heavy Whipping Cream–whipped & sweetened||Should be used in 2-3 days.||3 months||Freeze lightly sweetened whipped cream in serving sized containers. Thaw in refrigerator overnight before use.|
|Ice Cream||3 months||Use within 2 weeks if opened.|
|Fresh eggs, in shell||1 month|
|Raw egg whites||2 days|
|Raw egg yolks||2 days|
|Hard-boiled eggs||1 week|
|Apples||3 months||Unwashed apples wrapped in blank newsprint and stored in a cold area, on a flat surface with a lot of air flow may last longer than 3 months.|
|Bananas||6 months||Thaw on counter for 20 minutes, then use for baking, or peel & freeze for smoothies.|
|Berries, cherries||Up to 1 week||6 months||Freeze in a single layer on waxed paper lined baking sheets. Transfer to freezer bags once frozen.|
|Citrus Fruit (lemons, limes, oranges)||3-4 weeks|
|Peaches||Up to a week|
|Pineapple||Up to a week|
|Juices or concentrates||7 days (opened)||1 year (unopened)|
|Hot dogs & Lunch Meat|
|opened package||1 week||2 months||If opened, put in a freezer bag before freezing.|
|unopened package||Until sell by date||2 months||Freeze in package.|
|Lunch meat-unopened||Until sell by date||2 months||Freeze in package.|
|opened package||5 days||2 months||Put in a freezer bag.|
|Bacon & Sausage|
|Bacon or pancetta||4 days||3 months||Put in a freezer bag.|
|Raw, fresh sausage from chicken, turkey, pork, beef||4 days||3 months||Put in a freezer bag.|
|Smoked breakfast sausage||1 week||2 months||Put in a freezer bag.|
|Pepperoni||2 months||Put in a freezer bag.|
|Ham, fully cooked vacuum sealed at plant, dated, unopened||5 days||2 months||Put in a freezer bag.|
|Hamburger, ground beef||2 days||4 months||Put in a freezer bag.|
|Ground turkey, veal, pork, lamb or mixtures||3 days||4 months||Put in a freezer bag.|
|Beef, Veal, Lamb, Pork|
|Steaks||3 days||6 months||Remove from supermarket package. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Then wrap with heavy-duty aluminum foil.|
|Chops||2 days||6 months||Remove from supermarket package. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Then wrap with heavy-duty aluminum foil.|
|Roasts||2 days||6 months||Remove from supermarket package. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Then wrap with heavy-duty aluminum foil.|
|Chili||4 days||4 months|
|Soup, broth-based||2 days||4 months|
|Soups, cream-based, such as chowders, bisques||3 days|
|Stock||4 days||6 months|
|Meat Stew||2 days||4 months|
|Cooked meat||4 days||3 months|
|Chicken, turkey, or duck, whole||2 days||9 months|
|Chicken or turkey, pieces||2 days||6 months|
|Fried chicken||3 days||4 months||Store in a freezer bag.|
|Pieces, plain||2 days||4 months||Store in a freezer bag.|
|Pieces in broth or gravy||2 days||6 months||Store in a freezer bag or container.|
|Flour, white||6 months||1 year||Freeze in airtight containers.|
|Flour, whole wheat or whole grain||6 months||1 year||Freeze in airtight containers.|
|Flour, bread||6 months||1 year||Freeze in airtight containers.|
|Commercially Frozen||Up to 1 year||Freeze in commercial packaging.|
|Carrots||1 week||6 months||Freeze raw, whole or chopped, in a freezer bag.|
|Beans, broccoli, peas, summer squash||2 weeks||6 months||Slice or dice. Freeze in a single layer on a waxed paper lined baking sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag.|
|Bell Peppers||1 week||6 months||Slice or dice. Freeze in a single layer on a waxed paper lined baking sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag.|
|Corn||1 week||3 months||Freeze in a single layer on a waxed paper lined baking sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag.|
|Green beans||5 days||6 months||Blanche whole beans in inboiling, salted water for 10 seconds. Shock in ice water, and dry. Freeze in a single layer on a waxed paper lined baking sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag.|
|Squash, fall or winter (hard)||Store on a level surface in a cold area of the house for 2-3 months.|
|Tomatoes||4 months||Put in freezer bag. Use in soup or sauces.|