16 Ways to Save Money by Cutting Food Waste

Learn how to save your food (and money) with these 16 freshness-preserving tips.
Updated May 1, 2024
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Woman shopping for groceries

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If you’re like most Americans, you end up throwing away almost half of the food you buy instead of using it. This habit doesn’t just waste good food, it’s also a drain on your bank account.

Fortunately, there are some easy ways to extend your perishable groceries’ shelf life so you can stop throwing your money away along with your groceries.

Use these 16 freshness tips to shop less, save more, and enjoy more of what you buy.

Be more selective of produce

.shock/Adobe supermarket vegetables

Even though it adds extra time to your shopping trip, it’s worth sorting through fruits and veggies at the store until you find food at peak freshness (or just before).

If you scan cartons of strawberries for mold and avoid apples with wrinkled skin, for example, you’ll be getting fresher fruit that lasts longer on your counter or in the fridge.

Know what to refrigerate

Andrey Popov/Adobe Woman searching for food in refrigerator

Conventional wisdom says that everything lasts longer if you refrigerate it — but that simply isn’t true.

For instance, refrigerated potatoes become less starchy and harder to cook, while refrigerated sweet potatoes solidify at the center, which also makes them harder to cook.

Keep a list of everything in your fridge

DragonImages/Adobe woman checking vegetables on shelves in her fridge

Half the battle is remembering what food you have in the first place, and it’s much easier to keep your purchases in mind when you can see what you bought.

Obviously, you can’t leave the fridge door open all the time, but you can write a clear list of what’s inside the fridge and post it on the door.

That way, you keep your food top of your mind so you can eat it before it goes bad.

Don’t buy food you won’t eat

Prostock-studio/Adobe lady holding plate with vegetables

If you’re buying cartons of cherry tomatoes or bags of kale because you feel guilty about your diet, not because you like eating them, it’s no wonder your veggies end up spoiling in your fridge. Stick to buying healthy food you know you’ll eat.

Understand expiration dates

8th/Adobe womans hand holding milk bottle in supermarket

Except for baby food, expiration dates don’t actually indicate the date past which your food goes bad.

Instead, the “expiration” date is simply the manufacturer’s best guess as to when they think their product will reach peak freshness.

Some foods with expiration dates, like eggs, last weeks past their expiration dates without spoiling.

Know when plastic helps or hurts

Olga Miltsova/Adobe fruits and vegetables in plastic bags

Some fruits and vegetables, like beets and ginger, last longer in plastic bags, while bananas and apples don’t.

A good rule of thumb is to wrap refrigerated fruits and veggies in plastic while removing any plastic from fruits and veggies that should be stored at room temperature.

Store some foods away from others

Ruslan Grumble/Adobe fresh bananas on the brown wooden

Some produce, like bananas, release ethylene gas as they ripen, which can cause other fruits and veggies to ripen too fast (like broccoli and lettuce).

Store ethylene-releasing fruits away from foods that don’t release ethylene to ensure each type of produce ripens on the right schedule.

Use your fridge’s crisper drawers

Africa Studio/Adobe opening drawer of refrigerator with vegetables

Instead of tossing perishable food into the fridge wherever it fits, be intentional about using your crisper drawers.

These drawers are meant to be more humid than the rest of your fridge to keep produce fresh for longer.

You can also control how humid each drawer is, so set one to high humidity and one to low. Store ethylene-sensitive leafy greens in the high-humidity drawer and ethylene-releasing fruits in the low-humidity drawer for best results.

Cut greens off of root vegetables before refrigerating

Monkey Business/Adobe view looking out from inside of refrigerator

While you can generally eat the greens that sprout from root vegetables like beets, carrots, and radishes, you should store them separately from the vegetables themselves. Leaving the greens attached dries out the veggies faster so they don’t last as long.

Freeze food you don’t have time to eat

hedgehog94/Adobe frozen mixed vegetables in refrigerator

Once you realize you don’t have time to use the carton of strawberries, bag of spinach, or package of chicken breast before the food goes bad, toss them in the freezer immediately.

As long as they stay at a stable temperature, frozen foods basically last forever (though they can decrease in taste quality over time).

Control moisture

New Africa/Adobe container with potatoes and onions in kitchen

Foods like garlic and onions spoil faster if you store them in moist conditions. Others, like potatoes, last longer in cool, dark storage spots with higher humidity.

Know which areas of your house are the most humid so you can store food in conditions that make it last the longest.

Store food away from the stove

Pixel-Shot/Adobe basket with vegetables on table in modern kitchen

If you keep your fresh produce in a bowl on the kitchen island near the stove or oven, move the bowl.

Heat can cause onions, garlic, potatoes, and most room-temperature produce to go bad faster. Keep these foods away from other heat-generating appliances too to help them last longer.

Keep produce out of direct sunlight

Halfpoint/Adobe senior couple unpacking fruit in the kitchen

Speaking of heat, make sure you keep produce out of direct sunlight too. Ambient light is okay for most produce (though potatoes and squash prefer cool, dark spots), but direct sunlight is just too hot to keep food in peak condition.

Start an herb garden in your kitchen

okrasiuk/Adobe woman's hand picking leaves of basil

Herbs like mint and parsley aren’t too hard to grow indoors as long as you plant them in well-drained pots, water them the right amount, and give them access to direct sunlight.

In other words, they’re ideal plants to grow in your kitchen window. You can pick herbs to use right when you need them instead of buying them at the store and letting them rot in the fridge.

Don’t keep (some) fruits and vegetables in their packages

1981 Rustic Studio/Adobe fresh apples on the table

Stores don’t always sell produce in the right packaging to preserve its freshness.

For instance, if your bananas, apples, or avocados come in plastic bags, take them out of the bag as soon as you’re home so they don’t ripen too fast.

In contrast, you can keep berries and grapes in the vented bags or cartons they come in. The circulating air helps keep them fresh.

Don’t wash food before you store it

WavebreakmediaMicro/Adobe kitchen porter washing tomatoes

If you rinse your fresh foods before stashing them in the fridge, stop. If you’d rather wash your foods before you store them, at least dry them off thoroughly before refrigerating. The extra moisture can cause fruit to spoil faster.

Bottom line

Mat Hayward/Adobe A woman shopping for groceries

Understanding the best ways to store your produce and other perishable groceries, plus getting a read on industry standards like expiration dates, is the best way to make your food last as long as possible.

With help from the tips listed here, you can stop throwing money away on food you forget to eat and keep more money in your bank account where it belongs.

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Author Details

Michelle Smith Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.

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