Photo: Flickr/Michelle Tribe
If you have trouble using perishable food before it spoils, you're certainly not alone. More than 34 million tons of food waste is generated in the U.S. each year, and a whopping 39 percent of Americans say they feel guilty about wasting food. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, about two-thirds of household food waste is due to spoilage. So, to help you cut back on wasted food (and inflated grocery bills), Earth911 compiled this list of creative kitchen tools that will help you keep food fresher, longer. If you're on a tight budget or would rather not buy new, we've also provided handy DIY alternatives for each of these fun, food-saving gadgets.
1. Vegetable Keep Sacks
Did you know that storing some vegetables, such as potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic, in the refrigerator can actually make them spoil faster? Most root vegetables keep longest in a dry place that’s cool but not as cold as the average fridge.
Since most of us don’t have a root cellar, the best way to give root veggies a longer shelf-life is to keep them cool and away from light – which prevents sprouting.
These Orka by Mastrad Vegetable Keep Sacks make it easy to keep your veggies in the dark. Simply add veggies at the top, and remove them from the bottom when they’re ready to use.
DIY Alternative: If you’d rather not buy a new item to preserve your veggies, simply store onions and potatoes in paper bags in a cupboard or pantry. Why paper? Not only are paper bags readily recyclable through most curbside programs, but they’re also more breathable than plastic – which helps prevent spoilage. Tip: Don’t store potatoes and onions together. As potatoes ripen, they give off moisture and gases that cause onions to spoil more rapidly.
2. Cheese Keeper
Cheese is one of those foods that’s often difficult to keep fresh. If your Cheddars, Goudas and Parmesans aren’t developing mold, they’re often becoming mushy or drying out – which is equally unappetizing.
The food-safe clay has been fired at low temperatures, which gives it the ability to regulate the moisture around it, keeping your hard cheeses from drying out or your softer cheeses from getting mushy.
DIY Alternative: To help preserve cheese without a funky gadget, make sure to wrap all cheese securely in wax paper or cheese paper before storing it in the refrigerator, which allows it to breathe without letting in excess moisture or odors from your fridge.
3. Pop Containers
Storing half-empty bags of cereal, pretzels and other dry foods in your pantry often leaves them stale, tasteless and, let’s just say it, pretty gross.
Avoid tossing stale snacks, pasta and other pantry picks by transferring dry foods into air-tight containers after you’ve opened the original packaging.
These ‘Pop’ Containers from OXO are available in 11 different stackable shapes and sizes for easy pantry organization. The innovative pop-button mechanism creates an airtight seal and doubles as a handle.
DIY Alternative: To avoid buying new, pick up a few Mason jars from your local thrift shop for air-tight pantry storage. Or rescue a few large glass jars, such as those used to package pickles and pasta sauce, from your recycling bin for reuse as storage solutions.
4. Bread Preserver Box
There’s nothing quite like freshly-baked bread. But how do you keep your bread, bagels, rolls and other baked goods fresh longer?
Depending on where you call home, the air in your kitchen can dry out your bread, causing it to become stale. In more humid climates, baked goods may become too moist and begin developing mold earlier than usual.
So, what’s a greenie to do? Contrary to popular belief, storing bread in the refrigerator actually makes it spoil more quickly. The interior of your fridge draws moisture out of baked goods, causing them to go stale. Your best bet is to store bread on the kitchen counter using a container that regulates airflow.
This Adjustable Bread Keeper from Progressive International expands up to 11 inches to accommodate most loaf sizes and features an adjustable vent – which regulates airflow and keeps baked goods fresh.
DIY Alternative: If you live in a dry climate, store your baked goods on the counter in a tightly sealed bag or container, such as an air-tight storage container or linen bag. If you call a humid state home, poke a few holes in the lid of your container before storing your bread.
5. Herb Keeper
Just like fresh-cut flowers, fresh herbs stored with a source of water will retain their flavor and texture for longer than if stored loose in the refrigerator or on a countertop.
The suspended slotted tray in this Herb Keeper allows herbs to stand upright and comfortably spaced with their stems immersed in water for hydration. For convenience, the Herb Keeper also fits snugly inside your refrigerator door.
DIY Alternative: Soft herbs such as parsley, basil and cilantro stay fresh longest when stored on the counter in a glass with about an inch of water. Trim the stems first, then place your herbs inside.
For a longer shelf-life, wrap non-leafy herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme in a moistened towel and store in a reusable shopping bag in the refrigerator.
6. Garlic House
Much like vampires, garlic doesn’t care for the sun. Sunlight can change the flavor of fresh garlic, causing it to make your favorite dishes taste a little off. Too much sun also causes sprouting, which can lead to prematurely tossing your garlic bulbs.
For a longer shelf-life, store your garlic in a cool, dark place – such as a pantry or kitchen cabinet. Avoid storing garlic in the refrigerator; this can lead to early spoilage.
To take the guess-work out of storing your garlic, check out this nifty Garlic House from Uncommon Goods – which keeps your tasty bulbs in the dark for maximum freshness. Specialized holes allow for the proper ventilation garlic needs to stay fresh, eliminating unwanted oxidation and moisture.
DIY Alternative: To mimic the effect of this cool Garlic House without buying a brand-new item, store your garlic in a dark location with good air circulation, such as inside your pantry.
Do not store garlic in a sealed container. Fresh bulbs can be stored in a wire or mesh basket or even a paper bag. Just make sure your bulbs are away from sunlight and getting plenty of air for a fresh bite for weeks to come.
7. Onion Keeper
Figuring out how to store halved onions properly is a common kitchen conundrum. Sure, you want to save that unused onion half from last night’s dinner. But onions perish quickly after they’ve been cut, and it can often be tricky to remember to use them before they spoil.
Once you’ve cut an onion, you should always transfer it from pantry storage to the refrigerator to keep it fresh. Too much air can cause exposed onion to oxidize, leading to discoloration and a not-so-tasty flavor, so you’ll also want to opt for an air-tight container for storage.
This Onion Keeper is the perfect size for halved onions, and a tight-sealing lid will keep them fresh longer. Plus, a stainless steel insert in the lid helps keep odors at bay, so you can put the onion in your fridge without causing a stinky situation.
DIY Alternative: This cute Onion Keeper is great for conserving fridge space, and it also makes that halved onion stand out from the rest of the stuff in your fridge, reminding you to use it more quickly. But if you’d rather not buy new, any air-tight storage container will accomplish the same job.
8. Produce Savers
Many fruits and veggies produce ethylene gas as they ripen. These gases can build up in the crisper bin in your refrigerator, causing other produce picks to spoil more quickly.
Simply place two Produce Savers in your crisper bin, and enjoy fresher veggies for four to six months.
DIY Alternative: Want to stop ethylene gas buildup on your own? Check out these instructions from eHow, which will help you increase the shelf-life of your produce with minimal materials.
9. Fruit and Vegetable Keepers
Some produce picks, including lettuce, greens and berries, always tend to spoil before others. Reclaim all that hard-to-preserve produce with smart storage solutions that can extend shelf-life by up to two weeks.
These handy Fruit and Vegetable Keepers from Progressive International feature an adjustable vent that allows for air regulation to retain optimal produce freshness. Keep air vents open for produce like asparagus, carrots, berries and mushrooms, and close them up for lettuce, peas, greens, grapes and peppers.
A water reservoir in the base of the containers keeps produce moist, and the whole thing doubles as a colander for easy washing and storing.
DIY Alternative: Storing each produce pick in accordance with its needs is the best way to ensure maximum freshness. Check out these produce storage guides from Meals Matter, Vegetarian Times and Farm Fresh to You to find out how to properly store all your favorite fruits and veggies for better flavor and a longer shelf-life.
10. Vacuum Sealer
Vacuum sealers are immeasurably handy for keeping food fresh. With the touch of a button, these nifty machines seal food inside an airtight vacuum bag or canister for storing in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry.
So, you can use a vacuum sealer to store leftovers from last night’s dinner in the fridge, seal prepared sauces for pantry storage or keep in-season produce in the freezer for months to come.
Keep in mind that vacuum sealers can be a bit pricier than the other gadgets on our list (most range from $100 to $300). But many home cooks say the food-saving benefits are well worth the investment.
DIY Alternative: It’s tough to replicate the food-saving effects of a vacuum sealer. But if you’re looking to achieve similar results without buying new (or spending extra cash), check out this creative DIY method from The Kitchn – which helps you seal up your food with a straw and a plastic freezer bag.
Want More Tips?
Handy kitchen gadgets are great for keeping food fresh, but that’s not the only way you can cut back on food waste.
Freezing and canning is a great way to store homemade sauces, jams and jellies for months to come. It also allows you to preserve local, seasonal produce for use in tasty recipes all year. Not sure where to start? Check out our guide to freezing and canning your way to fresh, seasonal produce all year round.
If your produce is starting to look a bit too ripe to use, check out these five rescue recipes for overripe produce to create a tasty meal from your soon-to-be throw-aways.
And what about all those scraps left over after cooking? Sure, you can compost these common household leftovers, but why not find a creative way to reuse them first? Check out these 10 clever reuse ideas for food scraps, and start turning that trash into treasure.
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