How quickly will my grocery haul spoil?

Illustration for article titled How quickly will my grocery haul spoil?
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The biggest question everyone asks now after returning home from the grocery store—tired and frazzled after trying to maintain social distance in narrow aisles while simultaneously maneuvering a cart and checking off items on a grocery list—is, how long before I have to do this again?

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Fortunately, The Guardian has produced a handy guide to how long it takes for 17 different food items to go bad, and how to tell. (Hint: the date on the package is not always the best indication.) In most cases, you can trust your nose: if something smells bad, it will also taste bad. But there are some fun tricks, like this one for eggs: if it floats in water, like a witch, it’s gone bad. As for your precious yeast, keep it sealed in an airtight container in a dark, cool place, and it’ll last until we have a COVID-19 vaccine.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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I still remember judging the shoppers around me on March 17th when I went out after the start of the shopocalypse. People were buying the absolute dumbest stuff, what are you going to do with 10 heads of lettuce? That’s not food! I’m standing in line at Sprouts with a case of canned chickpeas and everyone around me has random vegetables and all sorts of fresh crap that wasn’t stable or nutritious they were wasting their money on. And I saw several young men buying cans of Manwich... that’s a sauce, there’s no meat in that!

People have gotten smarter, but are still not particularly smart, about their shopping since. They’re still not really thinking “I shouldn’t go to the market for weeks, I can’t rely on only fresh foods for several weeks” and that’s dangerous to them and to those around them, it’s why canned and dry goods are already in findable levels here again.

Nuts are the one thing that has gone bad on me that I wasn’t expecting, it was an older package of Trader Joe’s walnuts and it tasted off eventually, probably because I left the bag out in the light. That was no fun.

Here are a few storage tips to keep you from having to go to the store as often:

If you want fresh milk but you don’t need a lot and expect to not go to the store for a little while, get Lactose Free Milk. Its best-by date is a month or further into the future usually, and stored in the fridge it’ll last longer than that.

Bread can be frozen and defrosted in the fridge, the microwave, or the toaster with ease, it won’t be worse for wear, and if you freeze it fast enough it’ll probably be in the same state it was shipped to your store in.

Carrots will last a long time, there as an article about this yesterday here on TheTakeout, the short version is “pack them in cool water.”

Potatoes when selected and handled properly will last you weeks. A cool, dark place away from moisture is your best bet. If they grow eyes, just cut them off, it’s still food. Watch for soft spots, moldy smells, turning black or green, wrinkling or splitting skins. You can get at least 2 weeks out of a potato this way, if not double that.

Apples when stored in the crisper can last over a month, but the key is to pick the right apples. You need a hardy apple like a Fuji which is cultivated to survive and remain crisp and sweet, you need it to be free of handling blemishes like soft spots, nicks and bruises as those don’t handle the passage of time well. Watch for wrinkled skin and soft spots, even then you can either eat them or cut around them, making some apples an excellent choice for your food budget right now.

Frozen vegetables can be an excellent value and keep well if you treat them well by not leaving them in the freezer door, they’re superior to canned vegetables because they don’t have to be packed in liquid or salted, which saps vegetables of their personality. Frozen corn is my favorite, you can grab a handful and drop it into soups or fried rice or anything.

Canned goods of course can stretch your dollar if you know what to look for. Moderate dented food should be avoided, and if a can has a small dent, make sure to smell it before cooking with it. Vegetables have little nutritional value so leave them for last (or frozen, as mentioned) and stick to protein-rich items like beans and meats.

Sliced sandwich meats and cheeses can spoil in a week upon opening, you can try to avoid this problem by not opening them until you need them, but the best way to handle them is to freeze them in individually-portioned baggies. Sliced meats handle freezing very well, you want them to freeze faster so put them as far back as you can get them, maybe cover them with an already-frozen item to help speed up the process. Sliced cheeses can be frozen adequately, some like cheddar will get a little grainy, others like swiss will be essentially unaffected by the process. Defrost them by putting them in the fridge the night before and consuming the next day, or using the defrost setting on your microwave and keeping a close eye as you will get melting and other issues.