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The food storage mistakes that are costing you money – and wasting food

Follow these tips to get the most out of your grocery budget.

open fridge showing a couple of storage mistakes
Last updated: 09 February 2023

When we shop, we never buy anything with the intention of throwing it away. 

Still, there are times when the food destined for our stomachs winds up in the bin. Sometimes it's an oversight, perhaps some forgetfulness about what you actually have lurking at the back of the fridge, but it can also come down to a profound confusion about the best way to keep food for optimal longevity. 

Limp herbs, furry bread and dairy products past their prime are all commonplace in the home kitchen and although deterioration is inevitable, there are ways we can delay the decay of our more fragile groceries and reduce the cost to the environment and our pocket. 

If you're in the dark about storing food to keep it fresher for longer, here are some mistakes to avoid if you want to make the most of your grocery shop. 

1. Not making the most of your freezer

Yes, your fridge keeps most things fresh, but your freezer can keep some items fresher for much, much longer. Of course, we all know about freezing meat and fruit such as bananas, but did you know nuts are also suitable for freezing? 

"Nuts are expensive and can go rancid quickly once opened, but they're perfect for freezing," says CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair

She suggests storing nuts in an airtight container and using them straight from the freezer as needed. Fiona also reveals that seeds such as fennel, poppy and sesame can be stored and used in the same way.

2. Neglecting your bread

How to best store your bread depends a lot on the climate you live in. Bread and moisture are not great friends and, if you live in a temperate climate, it's best not to store it in the fridge as you'll find your loaf becomes stale much quicker than if you leave it at room temperature.

If you know you won't use the whole loaf in a few days, store well-wrapped slices in the freezer (this also means you'll have bread on hand whenever you forget to stock up for those school lunches)

In warm, tropical areas, though, or even a very warm kitchen, it's best to store bread in the fridge so it doesn't go mouldy. 

Also, avoid keeping your bread in a plastic bag, as this will also encourage mould, especially in humid climates.

Of course, every loaf is destined eventually to go stale. But if this is where you've got to with your loaf, don't toss it out – whizz it in a food processor and freeze the crumbs for making schnitzels, or chop into chunks, drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven to create crunchy croutons for salads.

adjusting the digital thermostat on a fridge

Setting your fridge and freezer to the wrong temperatures can be fatal to fresh food.

3. Setting your fridge to the wrong temperature

Fix that stat! Food will spoil at a greater rate if your fridge is set to the wrong temperature. 

Too cold and you'll be finding frost-bitten food shivering in the depths of the fridge. Too warm and bacteria could proliferate, creating a food poisoning risk. 

Some fruit and veg with a high water content, such as cucumbers and lettuce, are prone to freezing below 0°C and become a gelatinous mess once defrosted. 

The Australian Standard for fridges uses a fresh food compartment average temperature of 3°C

Ashley Iredale, CHOICE fridge expert

But other foods such as meat and fish prefer temperatures below 0°C, and these should be stored in the chiller compartment. If you're unsure what temperature is best, CHOICE fridge expert Ashley Iredale says to set it to 3°C. 

"The Australian Standard for fridges uses a fresh food compartment average temperature of 3°C," he says. "It's a good target to aim for because it means not freezing foods yet still keeping them below 4°C."

Our fridge and freezer temperature guide will help you find the right setting. 

4. Being disorganised

We've all had the unpleasant experience of discovering last month's curry skulking in the back of the fridge. But there are also a couple of other reasons why a neat fridge is a good fridge. 

First, if it's overloaded with food, finding things is like a scavenger hunt and leaving the door open while you locate the mayo wastes energy and money. 

Second, if you let the air circulate within the fridge, it will do its job much better. And of course, keeping it lightly stocked will hopefully mean you don't forget about that tzatziki you bought last week. 

Find the best fridge for your needs in our reviews.

5. Not knowing the difference between use-by and best-before

Some of us have a cavalier attitude towards vaguely whiffy items and others adhere strictly to best-before dates. 

But did you know that use-by and best-before are not the same thing? You should definitely heed use-by dates, as these products need to be eaten by a specified day – but best-before dates are different. 

"Foods with a best-before date are less perishable, and this date gives a guide as to how long you can expect the food to keep its quality, rather than its safety," says Fiona. 

"Food can be eaten and sold after this date and it'll often be perfectly acceptable."

So if you're chucking out items at their best-before date, you're wasting perfectly good food and money.

freshly made basil pesto

Try a little tenderness: storing leafy herbs such as parsley and basil takes a little more thought.

6. Putting your herbs in water on the bench

Woody herbs can withstand a bit of rough treatment, but leafy varieties such as parsley and basil need more tenderness. 

Fiona says they'll last longer if you wrap them in wet paper towel and pop them in an airtight container. But if you've returned from the farmers' market with an oversupply of fragile herbs, you can always whip them into a pesto or salsa verde and keep them for a few weeks.

7. Storing eggs at room temperature

It's generally fine to keep your eggs on the benchtop, but they'll keep far longer in their carton in the fridge. 

Although those plastic egg holders in your fridge may keep things tidy, it's better to keep your eggs protected in their cardboard, as this means you can keep an eye on their best-before date. It'll also stop the eggs from losing moisture and absorbing fridge odours.  

8. Keeping tomatoes in the fridge

Gorgeously fragrant fresh tomatoes will lose their aroma in the fridge, so keep them in a bowl on the benchtop, separate from other fruit and veg.

If they start to wrinkle up or slump a little, roast them with garlic and whizz them in a food processor to make a delicious, freezable pasta sauce. A tomato that's slightly past its prime and unlikely to be enjoyed fresh is excellent to add to a bolognese, curry or stew.

9. Having an underperforming, inefficient fridge

CHOICE experts have tested hundreds of fridges over the years and have found plenty of models that struggle to keep food fresh and are staggeringly inefficient to run – costing you potentially hundreds in wasted food and electricity over the appliance's lifetime. If you have an old fridge that's past its prime or you don't do your research before purchasing a new model, you might find you're left with a dud that hits you in the hip pocket (and leaves your lettuce wilting much faster than you would like).

We assess and score fridges based on their performance and efficiency, looking at factors such as temperature stability, how long they keep food fresh, 10-year running costs and more. Check out CHOICE fridge reviews to find out more.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.