Egg with an expiration date on it in a mixing bowl.

Nobody wants to throw out good food. Nobody wants to eat food that’s gone bad. It’s a balancing act, and most of us are erring on the side of too much waste. The average American household throws away almost a third of the food it buys, according to recent estimates from researchers at Pennsylvania State University.  

“We’ve all been there—the berries at supermarket look so tempting or your favorite brand of pasta is on sale and you buy too much,” says Amy Keating, R.D., a nutritionist at Consumer Reports. “Or you think you’ll be making dinner every night during the week, but then things come up and the food goes bad before you’ve had a chance to use it.”

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to make sure food stays good longer—even fresh foods such as vegetables and eggs.

Basic Guidelines

The first rule of keeping food fresh is to check the temperature in the places where you store it. Kitchen cabinets should be between 50° F and 70° F, says Jackie E. Ogden, family and consumer sciences agent at the University of Georgia Extension and President of the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS). Set the fridge to 37° F and the freezer to 0° F or below.

More on Food Safety

Next, don’t take those “best by” dates on packages as gospel—even for fresh foods such as yogurt, milk, or eggs. “It’s easy to interpret them as ‘throw out on this date’ when what they may really mean is ‘this food may taste best before this date, give or take,’” says Keating. "But consumers should examine foods past their 'best by' dates for signs of spoilage, and when in doubt, throw it out."

And when you’re storing dry goods, the key word to remember is airtight, says Nancy Bock, senior director of communications and marketing at AAFCS. That helps to keep bacteria and moisture out.

Finally, be sure to label containers and bags with the date you wrapped and refrigerated or froze the foods.

Stay-Fresh Tips for 15 Foods

Bananas
Once the fruits reach the level of ripeness you prefer, put them in the fridge. They’ll continue to ripen, but at a much slower rate. Note that the peels will darken, but that doesn’t affect the fruit inside. If you do end up with overripe bananas, peel and wrap them tightly and store in the freezer. You can use them for baking or in smoothies.

Bread
Never refrigerate bread or baked goods like bagels, according to the National Wheat Foundation. These products can go stale up to six times faster than if you stored them in a breadbox, a kitchen cabinet, or somewhere else dark and cool.

But Ogden notes that especially in warm, humid climates, the choice may basically be stale vs. moldy. For longer storage, you can freeze bread, whole or sliced, depending on whether you’ll be defrosting by the slice or the loaf. Wrap it tightly in foil or plastic wrap and put it in a sealed container (such as a zip-top plastic bag) and it will keep for three months. You can take out what you need and let it come to room temperature and use it, or go straight from the freezer to the toaster.

Broth, non-cream soup, or pasta sauce
When you've only used half the box, jar, or can, it doesn't have to just sit in your refrigerator until it goes bad. Transfer the remainder to an airtight freezer container, leaving extra space at the top since the liquid will expand, and stick it in the freezer. 

Butter
Butter is surprisingly hardy for a dairy product. In the fridge, it lasts one to two months. But it can also be stored, tightly wrapped in an airtight freezer container in the freezer, where it lasts from six to nine months.

Cheese
Hard (cheddar, swiss) or soft (brie, Bel Paese), cheeses can be frozen for up to six months. The caveat? The texture will become more crumbly, so it’s best to plan to use it for cooking, not snacking. Hard cheeses are likely to fare better, but they also last up to six months in the fridge, anyway. (Soft cheeses should be eaten within one to two weeks.) Shredded cheese lasts for one month when refrigerated, but you can extend that to three to four months by freezing it.

Coffee beans
Don’t refrigerate! Beans easily absorb moisture, smells, and tastes from the refrigerator. You can keep your week’s supply in an opaque, airtight container somewhere cool and dark to retain best taste. But you can store beans in small, freezer-proof packages for up to a month if you’re buying in bulk.

Eggs
If you’re planning to eat or cook with them within three to five weeks after purchase, the fridge is generally fine (though remember that the fresher they are when you eat them, the better they taste.) But if you’re not going to finish your carton in time, eggs can be frozen for later use in cooking and will be good in the freezer for about a year.

Crack and lightly beat whole eggs before freezing them in tightly sealed freezer containers. (After freezing, yolks can get hard and not blend once thawed, according to the USDA, hence the need to beat the egg before freezing.) Egg whites can be frozen without beating.

Egg yolks alone need special treatment before freezing to make sure they’re usable when they thaw. If you’re planning on using them in something sweet, beat in 1½ tsp of sugar for every 4 yolks; if you’re going to make something savory, beat in ⅛ tsp of salt for every 4 yolks. Then freeze in a freezer container.

Flour
“Consumers think flour is flour is flour,” says Bock. “They use a pound and a half at Christmas, fold the bag over and stick it in the cupboard till the next Christmas, and then wonder why it doesn’t work as well or there are bugs in it.” Not only can refrigeration and tight wrapping keep your flour bug-free, it can extend all-purpose or bread flour’s usable life to two years. For those who don’t use flour often, it may be more practical to store it in the freezer, where it will keep indefinitely.

But note that whole grain flour degrades more quickly due to the oils in the grain’s germ. In a cool, dry place, it can keep from one to three months (Ogden advises just one); freezing can double that.

Grapes
Even in the refrigerator, these fruits can go bad in less than a week. But you can preserve them for months by freezing them. Just wash and dry them (remove the stems). Then place them on a baking sheet that's been covered with wax paper and freeze. Once they're frozen through, you can put them in an airtight sealed container in the freezer. 

Greens
There’s not a lot you can do to extend the refrigerator life of, say, lettuce, beyond keeping it wrapped in the crisper drawer, where it can keep for up to a week, says Ogden. Spinach, however, can last 10 months when frozen. “You blanch it—plunge it into boiling water—to stop the enzymes that break it down, then cool it quickly to stop the cooking process, dry it thoroughly, and then freeze it in an airtight container,” she says. Blanching and freezing will work for broccoli, cauliflower, corn kernels, or okra.

Herbs
Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, and other fresh herbs have very limited shelf lives. You can purée fresh basil, cilantro, parsley or oregano with a little olive oil and then freeze the purée in an ice cube tray. Pop the cubes into a plastic freezer bag and use them to season pasta or soup, or to make a topping for chicken or fish. 

If you’ve got a bumper crop, you can preserve them yourself by rinsing and drying them, leaving them in a well-ventilated place out of the sun (sunshine can reduce flavor), and then store (crumbled or whole) in an airtight container. 

Milk
Depending on how it’s been transported and stored, a carton of pasteurized milk may or may not be okay a few days past the date on the label—a sniff will probably tell you. But, says Ogden, if you freeze it, the milk will be usable for up to three months. “You can stir it together, but it may not have the same texture,” she says, “so you may want to use it for cooking rather than drinking. And be sure to leave ‘head space’ in the container if you’re freezing it, because it will expand.”

Pasta
Dried pasta in an unopened package can be stored and used up to two years, even past its “best by” date, but refrigeration won’t extend its usable life. If the package has been opened, it’s good for up to one year. (Just one to three months for egg noodles.) Meredith Carothers, MPH, technical information specialist, Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA, recommends storing it in airtight containers to help prevent it from going stale. Fresh pasta, however, lasts just 4 to 5 days in the fridge, but up to 6 to 8 months in the freezer.

Strawberries
Prevent berries from going moldy quickly by removing the stems and placing them in a paper-towel lined container. Refrigerate and don't wash the berries until you are ready to use them. 

Whole grains
These healthy grains, such as wheat berries, don’t keep as well as less-healthy refined grains, largely due to the oils in the grain’s germ (part of the kernel). Generally, stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry, place, like your cupboard, whole grains will keep for about six months. Keeping them in the freezer can double that shelf life. You can also freeze grains that you have already cooked. 

For more guidance on how to safely handle and store foods, you can turn to the USDA’s free FoodKeeper app, says Carothers. ”The app offers specific storage timelines for the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry for various products, including meat, poultry, produce, seafood, dairy products and eggs, and more,” she says, adding that the storage times listed are meant as guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules.

Top Options for Freestanding Freezers

If you're trying to keep food fresh longer, you may need more freezer space than your refrigerator alone can provide. CR tested both chest and vertical freezers, and both kinds have a lot to offer. Chest freezers have more available storage space and tend to be more energy efficient and less likely to cause freezer burn on foods; vertical freezers take up less floor space and are easier to organize. Here are four that got top ratings in CR's tests.

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GE FCM22DLWW

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GE FCM11PHWW

Price: $495

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Kenmore Elite 27002

Price: $930

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Frigidaire FFFH21F6QW

Price: $900

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