Maximum care, minimum waste
It’s a familiar scene, you race in the front door lugging grocery bags, dump them on the bench and stack everything in the fridge and freezer without much thought, at the same time as having a conversation with the kids, tripping over the dog and putting dinner on the stove. By simply unpacking and storing produce in the right area of your fridge, freezer or pantry, you’ll get greater longevity and flavour out of your ingredients. But what goes where?
Cheese and Dairy
“The best place to store cheese is in the vegetable crisper,” says cheese expert, importer and executive producer and presenter of television series Cheese Slices (SBS Food television), Will Studd. “Temperature and humidity play an important role in both the storage and the presentation of traditional and farmhouse cheeses,” he says. “Cool, damp conditions are ideal. The best place to store cheese after purchase is in its original wax paper, or box, in the vegetable compartment of the fridge.”
Wine cabinets are also ideal for cheeses with their constant low temperatures (less door opening) and high humidity.
Butter should be stored in the dedicated ‘dairy’ compartment, and the temptation to freeze butter or cheese resisted. “Never freeze cheese or butter,” advises Studd. “Freezing kills all of the microbial activity and the health benefits of cheese and butter, and upsets the protein structures.”
Fish and Shellfish
Chef and owner of Martin’s Seafoods and Finefish in Sydney, Andrew Boyd, says the crisper is also the best place to store oysters. “The vegetable drawers are just the right temperature,” he says.
When it comes to choosing and storing fresh fish, Boyd says once seafood has been handed over the counter, its shelflife is heavily dependent on how you keep it in the fridge. He recommends unwrapping the fish, or shellfish, from the paper the fishmonger has wrapped it in.
“The paper is merely insulation for getting it home, but once in the fridge, the paper acts as a barrier to cold.” Boyd recommends transferring fish and shellfish to a plate, or bowl, then covering it with cling wrap.
Chef, butcher and owner of Hudsons in Sydney’s Cammeray, Drummoyne and Mosman, Colin Holt says the principles for storing meat are similar. “Take the meat out of the paper bag the butcher put it in so the cold air gets to it,” he says. “If the meat has been vacuum packed, it will generally last six weeks in that packaging in the fridge as it’s airtight. It can also be put in the freezer that way.” A beef roast can be frozen for six months, sausages, or a whole duck for three months.
Fruit, vegetables and herbs
Fruiterer Yaz Yazbek of Mosman’s Fourth Village Providore takes the storage of fruit and vegetables very seriously. He works in a glass-walled, climate-controlled vegetable showroom, akin to an indoor greenhouse. The room houses leaves, herbs and soft vegetables including eggplants, leeks and zucchinis. He says most customers need advice on storing everyday fruit and veg to ensure ripeness, longevity and optimum flavour.
Yaz’s top tips for storing fruit and vegetables
“Tomatoes should never be refrigerated, keep them in a bowl on the bench,” he says. “Potatoes and root vegetables need to be kept in a cool, dark place, away from light and humidity; they were grown underground, so try to replicate that environment,” he advises.
When and how to freeze
Successful freezing requires a number of factors to be taken into account including the size, shape and structure of the ingredient or product, its initial temperature, how the food is packed – eliminating air is key to successful freezing, and how the food is stacked in the freezer. Freezer drawers make it easy to stack containers of frozen food.
Lyndey Milan says most people don’t know how to use their freezer effectively. To help, she’s published ‘The Golden Rules of Freezing’, (lyndeymilan.com) a comprehensive guide to what, and how to freeze.
Lyndey suggests leaving two to five centimetres at the top of the container when freezing liquid foods (soups, stews) as they will expand once frozen. She also suggests packing food into quantities that suit your lifestyle in order to reduce waste. For example, single portions for quick lunches, and larger serves for family dinners.
Lyndey’s top tips for freezing
• Freeze foods as soon as possible
• Pack and wrap food properly, avoiding air, as this can cause freezer burn
• Label with the date and contents
How much attention should be paid to Used By dates?
Used By, Best Before and Sell Before labelling is governed by state and territory food authorities.
Used By dates must be printed on milk, sliced meats and processed cheese. The NSW Food Authority says it is ‘illegal’ to sell foods after their Used By date has expired.
Best Before, however, is a more gentle indicator. While it’s commonly marked on condiments, dry goods, chocolate, grains and frozen foods, the NSW Food Authority says these foods are still safe to eat after the date has passed, providing they are not damaged and have not deteriorated. ‘Best Before’ marked foods can be legally sold after the marked date has passed.
Deciding what to keep and what to throw out
If in doubt of an ingredient’s freshness, Colin Holt advises a sensible approach. “If something smells ‘wrong’, if meat smells liverish, then it has gone,” he says.
“We’ve become desensitised by relying on labels and dates. Our grandparents didn’t have stickers on everything, they engaged their senses, the nose knows,” he adds.
By stacking your fridge and freezer more efficiently and finding the best place to store each ingredient, you’re less likely to ever have to question the freshness or your food, or to throw away precious ingredients.