How to store olive oil, jam and other kitchen staples so they retain their healthy benefits.
When meat smells funky or fruit gets moldy, you know it's time to toss it.
But new science is showing that even "non-perishables" such as jam, olive oil, dried herbs and grains can spoil during months in your pantry.
We surveyed a dozen experts to find out what's at risk, and learned some great tips for prolonging your food's nutritional shelf life.
Antioxidants decrease an average of 32% after 6 months on the shelf.
These antioxidants, known as catechins, may decrease your risk of several types of cancer, but they are sensitive to both oxygen and light.
Sadly, tea, unlike fine wine, does not improve with age.
Make it last: Buy tea in airtight packages such as tins, rather than cellophane wraps, which air can penetrate and diminish the nutrients.
Store your tea bags in sealed, opaque canisters in a cool spot.
Green tea is more sensitive to heat than black tea, so place your sealed container in the refrigerator to keep the leaves fresh and healthy for as long as possible.
Canned tomato juice loses 50% of its nutrients (lycopene) after 3 months in the refrigerator, even when it's unopened.
Similarly, scientists in Spain have found that the lycopenes in ketchup deteriorates over time.
That's a shame, because it's a potent antioxidant that may fight many forms of cancer and heart disease and even strengthen bones.
Make it last: Skip the pre-made tomato sauce and make your own using boxed whole or diced tomatoes rather than pureed.
Whole and diced tomatoes contain more solids, which provide added protection for the lycopene.
If ketchup sits in your fridge for months, buy smaller bottles.
Vitamin-C declined 40%, on average, after 8 months in proper storage (in a place that's cool, dark, and dry), according to researchers in Holland.
You probably wouldn't keep potatoes that long.
But farmers often store them up to 5 months before shipping them to market.
Make it last: Look for smaller potatoes (often labeled new), which have a slightly higher vitamin-C content to begin with, and buy only what you can eat in a few weeks.
We also recommend keeping potatoes in paper sacks, rather than plastic grocery bags.
Paper keeps out excess light and oxygen which destroy nutrients, but paper still allows the potatoes to breathe, without trapping in moisture like plastic can.
The potency of antioxidants declined 40% after 6 months, according to a 2009 Italian study of bottled olive oil in the Journal of Food Science.
Yet in many households, bottles can sit on the shelf for much longer than that.
Make it last: Don't store oil near the stove or leave it uncapped for long, as it's sensitive to oxygen, heat and light.
If you don't cook with it often, buy smaller bottles to save the nutrients.
The anthocyanins in blueberry jam decline by 23%, on average, after 2 months of storage at room temperature.
Similarly, strawberry jam loses up to 12% of its health-boosting flavonoids after 6 months in a dark cupboard.
Experts believe the flavonoids (including anthocyanins) contribute to the anti-inflammatory, memory-preserving, antioxidant effects of berries.
Make it last: Store jams in the fridge before opening to retain about 15% more of the anthocyanins and their antiaging benefits.
Another option is buying sugar-free blueberry jams.
Researchers found that they maintain higher levels of nutrients and anthocyanins over time.
Dried Herbs & Spices
The capsaicin in chili powder decreased continuously during 9 months of storage in one Chinese study.
Capsaicin may contribute to weight loss and also help fight certain cancers.
Generally, spices that should be bright in color but have grown dull are also devoid of flavor and nutrients.
Make it last: Air penetrates plastic and destroys nutrients, so buy in glass jars whenever possible.
Better yet, grind your own.
Whole spices such as peppercorns retain health benefits, nutrients and flavor much longer because the inside of each peppercorn is protected from light and air.
Store herbs and spices out of direct light and away from the hot stove.
Grains & Dry Goods
The riboflavin in enriched macaroni plummeted 50% after being exposed to light for only a day, according to a Journal of Food Science study.
Even dim light can degrade riboflavin by 80% after 3 months, according to another study.
The folic acid in enriched flour is also sensitive to both light and oxygen.
Make it last: Store grains in opaque ceramic containers, far from the stove's damaging heat.
A dry cupboard is better than the fridge for retaining nutrients, except in the case of brown rice, which contains a small amount of oil and therefore spoils faster at room temperature.
DO: wrap in paper towels to absorb moisture, and place in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer.
DON'T: refrigerate basil, which is damaged by the cold; stand it in water on a sunny windowsill.
DO: store eggs in their original container on a refrigerator shelf.
This will make them last for 3-4 weeks past the sell-by date.
DON'T: store eggs on the door, where eggs are vulnerable to temperature fluctuations which can destroy nutrients.
DO: store meat in the meat compartment, it's specially designed to keep cool air in and can help meat and it's nutrients last 3-5 days past the sell-by date.
DON'T: forget to reseal the package.
DO: Store cherry and grape tomatoes in their original containers in the refrigerator.
Ripen large varieties on the counter as cold temperatures halt color, flavor, and the nutrients development.
Once bright red, store them in the fridge.
DON'T: place ripe tomatoes near vegetables, as they give off ethylene.
DO: wrap cheese in moisture-proof plastic or foil.
This will help it keep 2-4 months past the sell-by date.
DON'T: throw it away at the first site of mold.
If the outside of hard cheese has visible mold, trim off the mold and a 1/2-inch area of cheese below it.
DO: store yogurt at around 39°F, an appropriate temp for your fridge.
This will help it maintain nutrients 10-14 days past its sell-by date.
DON'T: be deterred by separation—simply stir and enjoy.
DO: hit the dairy aisle right before checking out to minimize the amount of time milk is left unrefrigerated, and store it on a shelf pushed far back in your fridge where the air is coldest.
DON'T: store it closer to or on the door; the air tends to be warmer there.
Alliums (onions, shallots, garlic)
DO: store in a warm, dry place like your counter-top.
DON'T: place them near ripening fruits; alliums contain strong sulfur compounds, which taint other produce when kept in close vicinity.
Also, don’t store them in the fridge, exposing them to cold and moisture will initiate rotting and rooting.
DO: ripen on your counter-top for about a week, which nearly doubles the melon’s lycopene and beta-carotene levels, according to a USDA study.
Pop it in the fridge a day before eating.
DON'T: store it near other fruits.
Watermelon nutrients are easily damaged by ethylene, a gas released by fruits that speeds up deterioration.
DO: place unwashed mushrooms in a paper bag in your refrigerator.
Keeping them cold and dry disfavors bacterial growth and the paper bag protects against dehydration.
DON'T: wash prior to storage.
Stone Fruits (nectarines, cherries, plums, peaches)
DO: ripen on the counter and transfer to the refrigerator.
To prolong the life and nutrients of stone fruits, remove their pits and boil the fruits in simple syrup for a few minutes, cool and store in an airtight container in the freezer.
DON'T: refrigerate these fruits while they’re still firm or they’ll never ripen.
DO: store in their original ventilated plastic bag, remove bruised or damaged fruit and wrap with paper towel to absorb excess moisture that promotes mold growth.
DON'T: wash until right before eating; doing so in advance encourages mold development.
DO: pat them dry before storing, as excess moisture contributes to decay.
Wrap in paper towels, place in a plastic bag and store in the crisper.
DON'T: keep them in close proximity to ethylene-producing fruits like tomatoes.
DO: store in their original clamshell containers, which increase ventilation.
Remove bruised or moldy berries from the batch; they’ll speed up decay among the rest.
DON'T: wash berries prior to storage for the same reason as grapes.
DO: store in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper to lock in moisture.
Puréed apples mixed with sugar keep their nutrients well in the freezer, as do slices of apple that have been sprinkled with lemon juice to prevent browning.
DON'T: store near vegetables, which can be damaged easily by the ethylene the apples produce.
DO: keep baking potatoes like Yukon Golds or Russets in a cool, dark place and store smaller varieties like red potatoes in the fridge.
DON'T: store baking potatoes near direct sunlight, which stimulates the growth of a toxin that can be dangerous in large amounts.
Also keep smaller-size potatoes away from apples and pears, which will take on the tuber’s earthy flavor.
DO: wrap a paper towel around the spears and place the entire bunch in a perforated plastic bag in your crisper to prevent dehydration.
DON'T: submerge these green sprigs in water; this method actually increases bacteria growth, hastening decay.
DO: remove leafy tops to prolong storage.
Peeled baby carrots can go anywhere in the fridge, but larger carrots with skins are much more sensitive to ethylene.
You DON'T: want to store large carrots next to fruit, after a week or two they’ll become bitter and nearly inedible due to the ethylene from the fruits.Tweet
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