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Last year The New York Times and other news outlets reported a scary statistic: Americans throw out approximately 40 percent of all the food we purchase. Let’s say you spend $100 a week on groceries — that’s like taking $40 and just tossing it in the trash. If you’re one of the many of us who are resolving to spend money more wisely in the new year, then taking a look at your grocery shopping and food storage habits and making some improvements will help stretch your food dollar even further. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing helpful tips to make the most of the food you buy and help you avoid having to throw anything away.
1. Don’t let oil or nuts go rancid. Whenever I cook in a friend’s home, rancid olive and vegetable oil is the number one food sin that I see committed. Many people don’t realize that oil goes bad, so it’s very important to keep it (especially pricey olive oil) in a cool, dark place. Take the sniff test to determine if yours has gone bad: if it smells musty and off, it’s time to say goodbye. (And here’s an important food disposal tip: if you must throw it away, don’t pour oil down the drain; it’s terrible for waste-water treatment plants.) If you don’t use a lot of oil, avoid buying giant bottles so it won’t go bad before you use it up.
And the worst offense you could commit against your lovely bottle of olive oil is to keep it on the stovetop. Yes, it’s handy to have it close by, but the residual heat from cooking will speed up its demise. As for nuts, many people don’t realize that they go bad quickly, because the heart-healthy oils they’re packed full of go rancid. Nuts keep very well in the freezer, so if you buy walnuts to bake with, keep them in a plastic bag in the freezer until you need them. No need to defrost before use. This is also an excellent place to store pricey pine nuts. Just remember to close all plastic bags with a rubber band or clip, and then store in a freezer bag.
2. Butter needs your TLC. Butter is another item that I often see languishing in friends’ fridges long past its expiration date. Salted butter keeps a bit longer because the added salt acts as a preservative, but unsalted butter that’s required for baking goes bad more quickly. Butter that’s gone bad will also smell a bit “off,” but the best way to check it is to slice off a small piece. Is there a translucent ring around the edge? If you’re in a pinch and really need butter, then you can slice the outer edges off and still use it, but for delicate, butter-heavy baked goods, you’ll want to get some of the fresh stuff. The great news is that butter freezes extremely well, so if you buy a pound of butter, but only need one stick for your recipe, throw the other sticks in a plastic bag and store in the freezer until you need them — no more than a few months, though. (This is actually a great thing to have if you’re making pie dough, because you want your butter as cold as possible. For pie dough, take butter out of the freezer and just defrost slightly before cutting it into chunks.)