Minimizing Food Waste: What You Need to Know About Home Food Preservation
Everyone has been there at some point. You have a fridge full of groceries, much of which is going to go unused. Whether you overbought or under consumed, you have food left over and no idea what to do with it. Rather than simply throwing the food away, preserve it! There are a variety of ways to make food last longer so it can be eaten or cooked later. This guide will outline several different ways to preserve food at home.
Food preservation means keeping food from going bad. Preserving food keeps microorganisms (such as yeasts) from forming on food, as well as slowing the oxidation that causes rancidity. From freezing, pickling, and drying, there are many ways to preserve food. Not only will you be saving food, but you will help reduce food waste and save money!
Before we get to the preservation of food, we should talk about meal planning. The first step in food preservation is proper food planning and preparation. Meal prep is essential for making the most out of your ingredients. To begin, write down a plan for what you want to make based on what is in season and what is available. Without a proper plan, you are likely to forget something or over buy. Think about what ingredients you are going to use first. Eggplant, for example, needs to be used quickly. However, a vegetable like squash can last longer, meaning it doesn’t need to be used right away. Make a logical plan and you shouldn’t have an issue with excess food.
When you bring your food home, you want to keep it in a clean environment. Not only do you want to keep your fridge, freezer and pantry sanitary, but you also want to keep your air clean. Poor air quality will ruin good food by contaminating it. A simple way to keep the air in your house clean is with an air filter. When choosing filters, there are eco friendly washable and reusable filters you can use to help ensure your food is kept in the best possible conditions.
When it comes to storing excess food, you have a few options. A root cellar is a storage structure underground such as an unheated basement, porch, pantry, crawl space, or in ground clamps. Root cellars are mainly used by people aiming for self sufficiency. They keep food from freezing in the winter and keep food cool in the summer to prevent spoilage.
The key components to a root cellar are ventilation, darkness, humidity, storage, and earth-shelter insulation. All this means is root cellars are cold, ventilated storage areas generally below or partially below ground. that will keep groceries fresh. Although there are also above ground root cellars, they require refrigeration from a source such as a Coloot or an AC unit. Even with all those conditions of a root cellar met, there are certain ingredients that store best in actual root cellars. Potatoes, carrots, cabbage, beets, apples, onions, and garlic all store well in root cellars.
Drying and Dehydrating
Another method of storing food is to dry or dehydrate at home. Dehydrating food is the process of removing moisture from food, inhibiting the growth of microorganisms. This can be accomplished by using commercial dehydrators, solar dehydrators, sun ovens, a traditional oven, or hang drying. Dehydrators are good options for when you are low on space, but they need to be kept in a cool dry location. Foods that dehydrate best are fruits, vegetables, and meat for jerky.
Salt and Sugar
When it comes to older tried and true methods, preserving food in salt or sugar is a good option. The practice has been around long before the modern methods of freezing or dehydrating were available. Both salt and sugar draw liquid out of food and prevent bacteria or mold from growing. However, preserving food in salt or sugar changes the flavor and texture; this method is only recommended for those with adventurous preferences.
Pickling is another traditional way to preserve vegetables and reduce food waste. And, whether you realize it or not, pickling is not just for cucumbers (pickles) anymore. You can actually pickle almost any vegetable. All you need is some water, vinegar, spices, vegetables and you’re set.
Canning has been a key component in food preservation for years and years. If you can’t eat all the vegetables you have grown in your garden, procured from a local farmers’ market or obtained elsewhere, canning is a viable option. Canning fresh vegetables helps preserve the vegetables for use at a later time, thus minimizing food waste and allowing you access to organic vegetables out of season. Canning also eliminates the growth of new bacteria, so food will not easily spoil.
According to a number of sources, the majority of vegetables will need to be blanched, at the bare minimum, before freezing. Onions and peppers are two exceptions as they can be frozen raw. Fresh herbs can be frozen in oil, to be used in cooking at a later date.
Another key step is to thoroughly wash your produce, then remove stems, stalks, cores and pits from your fruits or vegetables prior to freezing. Take out as much air as possible from your storage container or bag before sealing to prevent the food from becoming rancid.
Food planning, storage, and preservation is extremely important. Be smart when buying food, keep your air clean and use preservation methods. From storing in a root cellar to dehydrating, from pickling and canning to freezing, there are multiple methods to preserve food at home. No matter the method you choose, preserving food is always a better alternative to throwing it out. With this guide you can be sure no food is going to waste.