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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Think Green (Food Storage)

Frugal Kitchens 101
In the past few weeks I have given you some ways that thinking green in the kitchen can save you money. This week's topic is food storage. Food storage includes all methods you use to keep a particular food from the moment it enters your home until the time you use it. The main methods are pantry storage, refrigeration and freezing. All of these methods have one thing in common. They all require some form of packaging whether it be the package the food came in or packaging and containers you use for short or long term food storage. Thinking green when making the choice of how to store the food means you will ultimately save money. Try to use recycled or reusable containers rather than plastic wraps and tin foil. In general the following factors can damage your food storage: air, light, humidity, rodents/other small animals, insects and temperature extremes. One of your biggest food dollar savers will be using a vacuum food sealer such as FoodSaver® Vacuum Sealer.

Pantry Storage

Home canned and store bought foods, boxed foods and packaged foods are generally stored in kitchen cabinets or pantries. A pantry can be as small as a tall cabinet or closet to a large walk-in pantry like mine. Any food in your cabinets or pantries cost you money to get it there in addition to the cost of the food itself. Protecting your pantry food supply will depend on the original packaging.

Your pantry food storage should be dark for most of the time and at a temperature about 55º to 65ºF. All foods should be protected using a suitable container for the purpose you need. Choose containers that can be re-used or are recycled. In most cases you should be able to find recycled containers simply by asking people you know to save them for you. The best containers for protecting your pantry food supply are:

  1. vacuum sealed glass jars - By far this is the best as it keeps out all damaging factors except light. Use mason jars or recycled jars that mason jar lids will fit so you can vacuum seal. The vacuum seal is achieved when home canning foods to make them shelf stable or using a FoodSaver® to vacuum seal dried foods in mason or regular jars to keep them fresh.
  2. glass jars - Originally packaged foods can be placed in 2 gal jars as can larger quantities of dried foods such as pasta. Smaller quantities of food can be place in smaller jars but be warned that humidity may still be able to get in the jar enough to effect the food. Check restaurants for institutional sized jars as they often give them away free.
  3. food grade plastic pails or jar like containers - These are ideal for larger quantity dried foods especially flours. Doughnut shops or restaurants often give away 5 gallon plastic pails but some may charge a small nominal fee of $1. Recycle containers from foods you or someone else bought at warehouse type stores. Buy condiments like ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise in larger institutional sized plastic container then recycle the containers to use in your pantry.
  4. non-food grade plastic containers - These can be used to protect store bought packaged foods from rodent damage providing the food does not come into direct contact with the container. You may have to buy these containers so check for stackable shoebox size containers at the dollar stores if you are storing on shelves. These are great for envelope type foods and smaller boxed items like pudding mixes. Larger covered plastic bins are great for protecting bags of flour, rice and grains. The bins can sit on the floor yet rodents and water lower than the height of the bin won't get in.
  5. metal containers - Store bought canned food in most cases comes in tin cans. Keep these up off the floor and dry to prevent any rusting. Use recycled coffee cans with lids to protect smaller amounts of food. These will keep out rodents and insects but a little humidity might be able to get in.

Refrigerator Storage

By far the major enemy in refrigerator storage is air. The inner compartment of the refrigerator is dry so it draws moisture out of the food. Anything that is stored in the refrigerator unless it is a fruit or vegetable protected by the humidity control in the crisper must be covered to prevent cold air from damaging it or it becoming contaminated. I do not find tin foil or cling wrap suitable for refrigerator storage because both are single use materials that add to landfills. Several well known brand name companies have convinced us the only way to go is to use plastic in the form of bags, cling film or hard containers. I am going directly go against this advice and recommend you minimize the use of plastic in your refrigerator. The reason for this is in the long run barring breakage glass containers will out perform plastic containers hands down. The nice thing about using glass containers is you can easily see the contents. Glass containers don't discolour over time like plastic does and if you use heat resistant containers they can go from fridge to microwave with no worries. What I really like about glass containers is they are inert so there's no plastic taste or worries about chemicals from the plastic leaching into your food. When looking for glass replacements for plastic containers check resale stores, yard sales, dollar stores and department stores. Recycling this way is a great way to save money! Here are the glass containers I use in my fridge.
  1. mason jars - I use a lot of these because I have a lot so if a jar isn't in use for canning it might just find it's way into the refrigerator. I make dips and sauces directly in mason jars using the blender method. I have jars in use that are well over 30 years old so with proper care mason jars are a great value.
  2. recycled jars - I try to recycle as many jars from store purchased foods as I can. My problem tends to having difficulties finding enough so I put the word out I'm looking for these types of jars with lids.
  3. vacuum sealed canisters - These are specialty canisters useful for short term storage meant to be used with the FoodSaver® Vacuum System or similar. This method extends the life of cheeses and produce in the refrigerator.
  4. covered casserole dishes - All of my large glass casserole dishes have plastic lids. These are used for refrigerator storage. I have three smaller casserole dishes with glass lids
  5. covered 4 oz bowls - I have several of these small bowls that can be used during meal for mis en place or for storing small amounts of foods in the refrigerator.
It is virtually impossible to not have some form of plastic for storage in your refrigerator. Some plastic containers still finds its way into my refrigerator but it is a lot less as I pare down my hard plastic containers but some commercially purchased foods come in plastic containers or packages. Any hot food should be cooled before putting it into any plastic storage container for storing in the refrigerator. Most of the plastic used in my refrigerator are the acrylic FoodSaver® canisters used for a variety of foods and bags for the FoodSaver® that keep cheeses fresh by vacuum sealing them.

Freezer

By far the most prominent storage used in my freezers is butcher's paper because that is the way our bulk meat purchases come packaged. Butcher's paper is a salmon pink paper coated with wax on the food side. This form of packaging is used almost exclusively by butcher shops and abattoirs. When properly used the meat is well protected from freezer burn. The freezer is one area of food storage that I do not want to use glass as breakage presents a safety issue and it is a huge mess to have to clean up. I've tried hard plastic container (GladWare®, Ziploc®) but I find both become very brittle with the cold. This results in broken lids and/or bottoms when things get moved around in the freezer. My storage of choice for the freezer is vacuum storage bags especially if you order the no brand version online. These are a sure fire, economical way to protect against freezer burn. I also use zipper style freezer bags for a few foods. Both these styles of bags can be washed and reused providing they were not previously used for meats, fish or poultry.


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