Plastic-Free Food Storage takes some thinking outside of our 21st century box but it can be done and this post shares some of my tips.
There is no denying that plastic does a very good job of keeping fresh food, well, fresh. Tupperware didn’t surge to popularity just on looks alone. That airtight seal had a lot to do with it too! And cling wrap has become a kitchen staple. As we move to a plastic free kitchen, however, I’ve had to look for alternative ways to store food without plastic.
In my “Use what you have” post, I described how I am resisting the urge to buy new products while I still have serviceable items in the house so I still have plenty of plastic containers for storing food. For the purposes of this post though I’m only going to look at non-plastic options for food in the fridge, the freezer and the pantry.
Fresh fruit and vegetables have differing needs when it comes to storage. Some things dry out in the fridge, some things like the dark so, from my research and trial and error in our own kitchen, I’ve split fruit and veggies into six categories. Even with the best of storage, there are still things that really don’t last well. I’ve found this to be the case with basil so I always try to use it the day I buy or pick it.
In crisper drawer of the fridge
- Beetroot (leaves removed)
In cloth bag (or tea towel) in the fridge
- Brussels Sprouts
- Greens such as bok choy
- Green beans
- Herbs other than basil
- Radishes (leaves removed)
- Snow peas
In sealed glass container in the fridge
- Melons (cut)
At room temperature
- Avocado (to ripen)
- Mangos (to ripen)
In a glass of water on the bench
In a cool dark place
- Sweet potatoes
- Melons (uncut)
I’ve created a poster of this list for your fridge door. To download it click here.
Meat, Fish and Cheese**
When these are purchased, whether in your own containers or not, the airtight receptacle in which they are purchased is usually suitable for keeping in the fridge. Ensure, though, that there is no chance that liquid will drip onto any food below.
I prefer to keep my cheese with minimum contact to air so that we don’t end up with dried, hard bits that are not particularly palatable. Reusable wax wraps are great for wrapping cheeses in the fridge. Aluminium foil is recyclable so it is another option, although not completely waste-free.
Cured meats such as ham like to be wrapped in fabric. They will dry out in time so putting the wrapped meat into a sealed container will preserve it for longer.
Freezer burn (which is dehydration) is an issue when freezing meat. It occurs when the meat is exposed to the dry air of the freezer. The meat is still ok to eat but it doesn’t look great and the flavour may be compromised. The only way to avoid it is to reduce contact with the air. Meat frozen in a sealed glass container for a short period of time will generally be fine. Since changing the way I shop and only buying the meat we will use for that week, freezer burn has not been an issue. When we buy fresh fish we generally do not freeze it but rather eat on the day it is purchased or the following day.
However, if you prefer to buy your meat in bulk, it will need to be frozen and it will need to be protected from the air in the freezer. Wrapping it well in waxed paper is the best plastic-free method I have come across. The waxed paper, however, is not recyclable nor does it compost well so this is not a waste-free option.
Leftovers and cooked food
We love leftovers at our place as I discussed in my Minimising Food Waste at Home post. Often they will be packaged up as a lunch or two and put in the fridge for the coming days. If it will be eaten at home, a bowl covered with a wax wrap is sufficient. For lunch ‘to-go’, putting it in a sealed lunch container is the easy option.
Often, however, we freeze leftovers and meals prepared in bulk. Sealed glass or steel containers are great for this. I try to make sure everything is clearly labelled or we end up with guessing game meals! It is important to put the date on frozen food and eat it within recommended time frames. One resource I found for this was from the US Food & Drug Administration.
In the Freezer
I’ve dealt with a few freezer points above but I have some other plastic-free food storage tips for the freezer to share too.
When I make stock (and it will work for soup too), I freeze it in glass jars in ‘usable’ quantities. I might freeze stock in one cup portions and soup as a single or maybe double serve. Glass jars can be used in the freezer. Just make sure that food is cool when you pour it into the jar and that you leave space at the top for expansion of the food as it freezes.
Similarly, I freeze things like tomato paste and lemon juice in ice cube trays which have approximately one tablespoon capacity sections. Once the cubes are frozen, I tip them into sealed containers in the freezer so it is easy to grab the quantity I need for a recipe.
The freezer trays have been useful for freezing chopped fresh herbs and chilli in the same way.
I often make cookie dough in bulk so I can have a homemade sweet treat for the kids’ lunchboxes on hand. I make the dough and form it into cookie sized balls which I place on a tray with space around each ball. I put the whole tray in the freezer and then drop the frozen balls into a sealed container to keep in the freezer for when I’m ready to bake them. Once they are frozen they do not stick together so I can just take the quantity I need. This method also works for things like mango or banana slices for throwing into smoothies.
I also keep fresh ginger root in the freezer in a sealed container. I grate the frozen ginger directly from the root for recipes that call for fresh ginger and pop the remainder back into the container for next time. We’ve also stored fresh chilli
To be honest, I freeze all sorts of things!
The one thing I am still struggling with is storing sliced bread in the freezer without plastic. At the moment I am reusing the same plastic bread bag over and over when I collect my sliced loaf in my bread collection bag (I’ll share the instructions to make your own in a future post). It needs to be kept airtight for freshness. I am keeping my eye out for a loaf shaped container which I think will be the next thing I try.
A note about using wax wraps in the freezer
Wax wraps are a great plastic-free food storage tool but I have been informed by someone who makes and sells wax wraps that they should not be used in the freezer because the wax tends to crack and expose the fabric to air or food, it may also allow bacteria to colonise.
In the Pantry
Finally, a few words about food storage in the pantry.
Pantry moth is something I’ve had to deal with periodically. Pantry moth eggs come into the house in the dried goods we buy. I have heard of people freezing everything before they store it in the pantry because this kills the eggs. I, frankly, can’t be bothered with that. My approach is to make sure that I use containers which have a very good seal. This way, if a food does end up with an infestation, it is contained to just one container – usually – and the food waste is minimised. I try to make it a rule that we never leave open packets of dried goods in the pantry.
See my post on Minimising Food Waste at Home for more ideas for reducing food loss through poor storage.
What are your plastic-free food storage tips? Share them in the comments below. Let’s make this a great resource.
*best eaten immediately
**Please remember that this blog is a non-judgemental and respectful space and individual choices to eat or not eat animal products is not up for discussion. Any such comments will be deleted.
Disclaimer: I am not a food scientist nor an expert on food safety. Do your own research and use your commonsense when storing food and consuming food that has been stored. The this post is for information only. You are responsible for your own informed choices.