Slacking off on properly storing food drains both your wallet and your patience. It's a bummer to pull out the night's dinner ingredients only to find them stale, wilted, odorous or caked in mold. Plus, for those of us who like to buy in bulk, take advantage of case prices, or savor summer's freshness long into the winter, it's imperative not only to know the proper storage tactics, but also to practice them.

According to researchers at Brigham Young University, food lasts longer when kept away from humidity, air, light and heat. What? You don’t have a root cellar that’s consistently 40 degrees and dark? If you want to maximize your food's shelf life to ensure perky fruits and veggies, protect your meat from turning brown, and prolong the life of your dry goods, read on!

Meat and Fish

Let's start with the bacteria-harboring culprits, meat and fish. It's easy to unconsciously slap these puppies down in the fridge after you rush home from the store with strung-out kids and a daunting menu to prepare. Yet properly storing these few items keeps your family healthy and your dinner tasty.

Don't overestimate the refrigerator's power and naively think that if it's in the fridge, you're safe. Refrigerators slow down the growth of bacteria, they don't eliminate it. As a general rule of thumb, ground meats, poultry and fish keep well for one to two days, whereas roasts, steaks and chops are safe for three to four days. Don't push it.

Ever have yummy chicken drippings coat your apples and oranges? Ick! If the answer is "no," then you must be storing your chicken properly on the bottom shelf of the fridge. As the coldest place in the refrigerator, the bottom shelf protects well-wrapped meats from the infamous salmonella.

For more information on storing mincemeat and cured meats, or for help with defrosting visit HelpWithCooking.com.

Eggs

Unless you're pulling your eggs straight out of the chicken coop, you’d best store those in the fridge too. Keep them in their container, not in the funny little egg-holder tray.

If you choose to use the egg grooves on your refrigerator's door, you could be asking for trouble. Items on the door heat up every time the door opens. If your kids are like mine, they sometimes stare blankly into the fridge, exposing all food to the room's temperature. Instead, store eggs somewhere safe towards the top of the fridge.

Fruits and Vegetables

Most fruits and veggies can go for long periods of time before they start resembling a science project. Still, storing these items properly will ensure good taste, crispy texture and give you that "just picked" satisfaction. Fruits and vegetables abide by a different set of storage rules than their bacteria-prone counterparts. In this instance, not everything needs to stay cold.

According to the Food Network, tomatoes are finicky. Storing tomatoes in the refrigerator results in a mealy texture and dampens both the fragrance and the aroma. Tomatoes should always be stored unwashed and at room temperature, along with their friends, garlic, onions, bananas, potatoes, lemons and limes.

Asparagus and herbs do best with their stems soaked in water like flowers. Fruits other than bananas ripen nicely at room temperature and then transfer easily to the fridge for safekeeping. Additionally, items stored in the crisper drawer miraculously retain their moisture, retarding dehydration.

Oh, and remember that root cellar I mentioned? If you want to prevent your potatoes from growing eyes and your onions and garlic from sprouting, it really does work like a charm.

Cereals, Grains and Pasta

Here's the good news: bulk grains and pasta safely last for eons. In fact, researchers at Clemson University claim pasta, stored correctly, lasts forever. So, go ahead and buy bulk, but just remember to keep all flours, grains and cereals in airtight containers. Plastic bins with airtight tops, such as Tupperware, are ideal for maintaining your dry goods' freshness. If you don't do BPA, large mason jars with lids screwed on tight work equally as well.

Rotation

So, you're stocked with canned goods and bulk items. It's time to teach you a new habit. Food rotation ensures freshness by using the oldest goods first and saving the newest for later. When you get home from the store, and your meat is neatly wrapped on the bottom shelf of the fridge, break out your Sharpie and start dating. Yes, write the date with permanent marker on the tops of all canned goods and bulk-food storage containers. Then when it's cooking time, simply pull from the oldest and move the new food to the back.

This tactic can also be used for fruits and vegetables. You may have tomatoes with wrinkled skin and others that look fresh from the vine. While the wrinkled tomatoes might not be your first pick for sandwiches, chopped up and cooked, they'll make a tasty pasta sauce. Also, use your sprouting potatoes and onions first. As long as the skins are not shriveled, cutting off the sprout and proceeding with business-as-usual is just fine.

This has been a guest post by Christina from Tetonia, ID
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Haste Makes Waste: Food Storage 101