Checking and Storing Raw Food for Optimal Freshness

In my classes, I get asked a lot about the best way to store expensive raw food ingredients for the best and longest shelf life. Here are some of the answers I give:

Nuts, Seeds and Grains are best stored for between 3 months to one year in a glass jar in a cupboard or pantry. They stay even fresher stored in the refrigerator for up to a year or in the freezer even longer.  The question becomes, how do you know how fresh they actually are and were they fresh when you bought them? If you buy your fresh nuts and seeds from a reputable source that has a high turn over such as Whole Foods, chances are pretty good that they are constantly refilling their bins and shelves with fresh ingredients. You can be  sure you are getting something  fresh there. Also, when you buy online from companies that specialize in nuts and dried goods, you will most likely be getting fresh products, but this is not always the case. Here is how you check for rancidity. Smell it. If you get a pungent smell, or you get a bitter feeling at the root of your nose, that is the sign it is not fresh and may in fact be rancid. Another sign to look for is bugs. If there are crumbs at the bottom of the bin (at the store) or in your jar at home that could be a sign you have bugs. It is pretty likely that most nuts, grains and seeds have bug larvae, the trick is not letting them hatch. Keeping them in a cold or cool place will help to keep anything from hatching. Don’t worry about the larvae though, you as long as you are soaking and rinsing nuts, seeds and grains before you eat them, all dirt and impurities are washed away.

Soaked and dehydrated nuts and seeds have a shorter shelf life and they should not be frozen. I usually try to use dehydrated nuts within 6 months and I keep them in a dark pantry.

Dried Fruit are best stored in the refrigerator to prevent bugs from hatching. If the dried fruit is very fresh, you can keep it in the cupboard or in cold storage for up to 6 months.

Spices are best  replaced every 6 months, and stored in clear glass jars in your cupboard out of the light. The difference in the taste and potency of fresh spices is unbelievable so it is worth it to throw out any old spices and just start fresh. You can keep the jar and wash it, then refill it with bulk spices from the store or shop for super fresh spices and more.

Fresh fruit is best at room temperature as the flavors are better. Especially tomatoes, as refrigerating them actually makes them mealy. If you put them in the refrigerator, put them in a separate drawer with fruit only as the gases will make other foods possibly go bad. Using green bags (Debbie Meyer or EvertFresh) will help your fresh fruits and vegetables to last much, longer in your refrigerator.

Vegetables (other than hard squash and onions and garlic) are best stored in the green bags I mentioned above. They help the vegetables to last much longer than regular plastic bags. If you store in any type of plastic bag, make sure the end is closed to prevent wilting. If you can fit your veggies into a glass container, that is always best. You can revive wilted herbs by placing them in a glass of cold water like a flower.

Glass is always the best choice when storing food. In a personal experiment, I found that strawberries lasted 2 times longer when stored in glass instead of a plastic bag.

Even large salads can be stored in ½ gallon glass jars. They look beautiful, and you can see them smiling at you in your refrigerator. Always store your food in clear glass and label it by writing on it in permanent ink (the ink washes off with a good scrubber). Find cases of pint, quart, ½ gallon and gallon mason jars at hardware and grocery stores. There are also lots of glass storage sets with plastic resealable lids available at a variety of stores.

Plastic is a good second choice to glass. Reusable plastic containers should be a food grade plastic and clear so you can see what you have (no expensive science experiments). There are now a lot of BPA free options available.

Freezing destroys some of the nutrients in fresh food because of its water content. Some recipes can be frozen and defrosted and still be quite tasty. Some examples are raw lasagna, raw apple pie, or anything that has low water content. Dried fruits, nuts, seeds and grains are fine frozen because they have no water.

Refrigeration – Go through your refrigerator at least once a week to prevent fresh foods from spoiling. You never know what’s hiding back there!

Storing in cupboards is good for spices, nuts, seeds, grains, and dried fruits for 3 to 6 months. Any longer than that, and they should go in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage.

Countertops are great for foods you really want to eat like fresh fruits, prepared crackers and healthy snack foods in glass jars. If you can see it, you are more likely to make a healthy choice.

Labeling is important to keep foods rotated and fresh and to remember what that little thing is “is it a seed or a grain or what?”  Using a piece of masking tape or store-bought label, write the date including the year purchased, and the name of the item and whether or not it’s organic.

In the end, if you are not sure about something, throw it in the compost bin. It is going back to the mother earth that way. If you buy in bulk get 5 gallon buckets and keep the lid well sealed. Get the bulk items (or any item for that matter) out of the plastic bags you bought them in and get them into glass or the next best thing ASAP.

Have fun and enjoy your fresh foods!

2 thoughts on “Checking and Storing Raw Food for Optimal Freshness

  1. Elizabeth Kennedy

    I met a woman at the Natural Grocery today. She uses nutmilk bags to take her produce home. I wonder if these bags make good alternatives for storing things like lettuce in the crisper. I’d rather use these than disposable green bags, even if they are multiuse and BPA-free. What do you think?


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