Process Perishables When You Buy Groceries
Do you ever discover that you have meat, cheeses, or produce stored in your refrigerator that was fine when purchased, but within a few days is now past its prime - sometimes even beyond saving? Of course we all do! As a frugal person, believe me, you know this really stinks - sometimes literally!
As more of us try to eat healthfully on a budget, we know that fresh foods are usually better for us and more flavorful, yet they represent a significant investment and need more care than non-perishable foods. Here are tips to ensure that you get the best of your perishable purchases, every time.
- Allow time after your grocery run to take care of processing perishable items immediately after you return home. This means you make it a habit of remembering that "If I buy fresh meat or fruits, I'll need 10 - 15 minutes when I get home to take care of my purchases." Don't do your shopping for these items when it would be inconvenient to do the processing as well. This is also the best time to assess if perishable items should be left ready to serve or should be frozen, depending on your menu plans.
- When in doubt, it's better to freeze raw meat rather than not. You can always take it back out of the freezer to thaw. You can't make it fresh again after it isn't.
- Keep on hand vacuum storage bags, waxed paper, food wrap, foil, plastic bags, plastic containers, or whatever you prefer. Just be sure you're always stocked with these items so there's no excuse not to properly wrap your meats. And keep a marker handy for labeling the date you froze the item.
- Increasingly, some producers are packaging meat so it can be popped straight into the freezer. Whole birds are packaged this way and some producers of chicken parts are doing the same. These can be a superior deal as not only can you get them more quickly to your freezer, they are fresher because they've had better packaging since they were processed in the factory.
- I shop two stores regularly. One store is where I purchase most staples, and I buy most of my meats at a second grocery store that sells excellent chicken breasts, thighs, and leg quarters packaged ready for the freezer.
- If you buy family packs of meat, take the extra minute to process them so they are frozen or packaged in meal sizes. Take a 4 pound package of ground beef and divide it: 1 pound frozen for spaghetti sauce, another pound frozen for tacos, 2 pounds pattied and frozen for hamburgers. Always freeze steaks individually.
- Purchase a good salad spinner. Not only is this good for preserving lettuce and other greens for salads, but it's also useful for berries and grapes as well. You can also use the strainer basket to wash fruit or drain foods. Should you also process that head of lettuce when you get home? If it's not well packaged to begin with, you may find that washing, drying, and storing it in the salad spinner immediately preserves it longer than storing it in the original packaging. It also helps you get the most out of your purchase by ensuring that the lettuce is ready to go when you need it.
- Speaking of berries and grapes, they can be beautiful in the store one day, and the next day they're all growing beards in your fridge. This is no fun even if you bought them in season when they're likely to be at their best and on sale. Make the most of your investment; keep them fresh for several days by making a vinegar and water bath. Take 1 part vinegar to 2 parts cool water, immerse the fruits in them for a couple of minutes, then drain and DRY the fruit either by processing in a salad spinner with several paper towels or a dish towel to cushion the fruit, or by patting dry gently with towels. Why? The vinegar retards the natural fungal growths that spoils fruit so quickly. Store in covered containers in the fridge.
- When you open cheese, make sure you store it in a resealable container or plastic bag to retard drying and spoiling.
Source: Berry processing - Cook's Illustrated
By nhe from Denton, TX
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