In these times, we are all worried about actually being able to buy food, but ironically at the time of writing, much food is going to waste. Difficulties with on-line shopping can mean that you can’t edit orders easily; I was 49,000th in a queue yesterday. Many orders don’t arrive with all you have requested, and substitutions may not be what you planned for, but usually we are just grateful to get some food!
Using a list to write down what you already have can help keep you organised and reduce waste, and you can also write down when it will go out of date and the order you need to eat things – in the restaurant industry this is standard stock control procedure – first in first out.
However, with all the chaos around shopping at the moment, you may be faced with a load of food in the fridge that you can’t afford to waste and it is going out of date rapidly. Here are some simple tips to keep you safe and reduce waste.
See information on best before and use-by dates in the Q and A. Don’t take risks, observe the use-by but best before can be more flexible.
A permanent marker pen e.g. a Sharpie, labels, containers with lids (can be recycled take away or even yoghurt pots with lids), or Ikea do really good tubs with lids and their resealable bags in various sizes are brilliant.
There are plenty of myths about left overs and what you can and can’t do with them. I use left overs all the time, and usually pack them, label and freeze so I can have a home-cooked lunch or dinner when I want it.
Take care to handle foods with clean hands, and cool quickly by:
Portioning food into small trays (clean old take-away containers are great)
Rinsing rice under the cold tap
Slicing meats and chicken
I put rice and curry / chilli in the same container to make a home made ready meal. If you put curry in the bottom and rice on the top, when you tip it out it is the right way up!
Cooked Rice is fine to keep – there is a myth that it isn’t but so long as you cool it quickly and get it in the fridge or freezer, it is fine. I make too much brown rice deliberately because it takes so long to cook, and freeze it in bags. To defrost, I put it in a seive and tip boiling water on top, or put it in a saucepan of boiling water for a minute or so.
Defrost other foods by putting in the fridge for a day, or use the microwave. You can do a defrost for 10 minutes followed by a cook on high – experiment to see what works best. Sometimes I am so hungry I just put it on high from frozen and it seems ok – give it a stir half way through.
Sliced bread is great in the freezer – just toast what you need – no waste!
Bagels – the same – slice them first if not pre-sliced.
Wraps keep in the freezer as do pitta breads, naan etc.
Make breadcrumbs and freeze (especially around Christmas if making bread sauce and stuffings)
Too much milk?
Skimmed milk will freeze in the plastic container. Defrost by putting in the fridge.
Make sauces – béchamel or white sauce and freeze in handy sizes so you can rustle up a macaroni cheese or lasagne with less hassle.
Grate it and freeze – saves getting the grater out each time you want a bit of cheese for a topping.
Wash and pat dry, then bag and freeze – the herbs break when frozen if you rustle the bag a bit – no need to chop or faff about with ice cube trays.
Cook them up puree with a stick blender and make a sauce – or roast with garlic and thyme, puree then freeze in portions.
My tomato sauce recipe: fry a chopped onion, chopped celery stick and grated carrot in olive oil with a crushed clove of garlic. When golden, add a tin of tomatoes or fresh tomatoes, a squeeze of tomato puree, some thyme and pepper and a pinch of salt. Simmer for 10 mins, blend with a stick blender, portion and cool for about 30 mins, lid, label and freeze.
If only a few people like them or you live on your own, divide up a pack into portion sizes, label and freeze and have the tomato sauce portions handy as well.
Meat and poultry, sausages etc.
Freeze in the pack, defrost in a dish in the fridge. If the pack is open, then double wrap to prevent freezer burn.
Washed lettuce and leaves out of date?
Don’t eat them raw, but cook up to make a stock. Cool and freeze.
Fruit going a bit soft?
Wash it or in the case of bananas, peel, put in bags in the freezer ready for a smoothie – or home made ice cream when mixed with yogurt, cream or even milk.
Lemons and limes
Wash, slice and lay on a tray in the freezer – when frozen, pack into bags.
How long does stuff last in the freezer?
As far as safety is concerned, forever if kept frozen. The quality may deteriorate, and things with lots of fat can go rancid, so these foods would be best eaten within a month or two. If unsure, defrost and cook, give it a try before throwing away!
What is freezer burn?
This is when the air gets to frozen foods and dehydrates it – it is then inedible as it goes rock hard. To avoid this, remove as much air as possible from any pack and seal. The re-sealable bags are great, but push the air out first.
What is “Best Before?”
This only means it tastes best before the date – it doesn’t mean you have to chuck it out then!
What is “Use by?”
This is for your safety, so pay attention, particularly if it is a ready-to-eat food such as pate, soft cheese or ham.
Check dates every day so you don’t end up throwing food away because it is out of “use by” date.
Freeze foods if you think you will not be able to eat them in time before the expiry of the use-by date and put a label on when you take it out of the freezer if you live in a busy household, or someone will put it in the bin!
How to defrost?
If it is bread or cake then you can defrost at room temperature.
If it is a food that would normally be in the fridge, then defrost in the fridge, to stop bacteria growing on the surface (which defrosts first).
Protect other foods from raw foods defrosting in the fridge by using a deep dish to prevent spillage of the drip.