How to keep our food fresh for longer without using any plastic?

by Rada Boneva
 How to keep our food fresh for longer without using any plastic?

In our previous article we introduced you to the problem of food waste. Did you know that more than 30% of the food worldwide ends up in landfill?

Here we shared some of the worrisome statistics about what’s happening with the food that gets thrown away every single day.

We are now moving forward to our improvised anti food waste “course” to explore what we can do to prevent food waste.

Of course, it all starts from us, the way how we shop and what our basket contains. It’s good to have a list when shopping, to plan a weekly/daily meanu, to share food with colleagues and friends, to donate to those in need, to let our creativity flow and use everything we have in the fridge before it goes bad.

It’s easy to plan our meals ahead if we know that product X expires soon but sadly we can’t find this information on the banana peels or on the kale leaves.

How do we keep our food fresh then?

Did you know that the term “root cellar” refers to an underground space where one can store fruits, nuts, veggies and even wine and other types of homemade alcohol? That’s been a commonly used tactic over the years for storing food for the winter months when seasonal food would become scarce. The temperature is between 1 and 3 degrees Celsius with constant humidity of about 90%. The reason why some fruits last for quite a while even after they’ve been picked is because their plant cells continue to “breathe” and are bacteria – resistent for a long time. We all know how picked flowers revive when put in a vase with water.

These practices are still common amongst elderly people, farmers, food producers and slow-food lovers, all in all, people who don’t want to be dependent on suppliers, stores or fridge limits.

But today we’re not going to be talking about how to pickle cabbage or how to make compote. While in this case it’s about storing food for the colder months, there are also some tricks which can help us to extend the life of already purchased/handpicked/cooked fruits, nuts, meals & more. Without the use of any plastic, of course!

You didn’t think we’d recommend you to use cling film, did you?

  • How many times have you reached towards the plastic wrap when you cooked a bit too much food? It’s quite easy to manage without this thin, unrecyclable plastic film. You can cover your plate with another plate, the lid of your cooking pot, move your food to a reusable food container or even to a jar (admit that you often get some soup from your parents/granny in a jar or try the typical Bulgarian style, put your leftovers in a repurposed ice-cream tub!). Have you tried using beeswax wraps? You can make them at home or look for some locally made ones. They offer a beautiful & sustainable way to wrap your sandwich or cover your salad bowl. The fabric is soft and easy to shape using only the warmth of your hands.

  • You can also wrap cheese in your beeswax wrap. That’s a pretty good strategy if you need to save some space in the fridge or if you’re going on a picnic.
  • If you need to store your cheese for longer, we’d recommend you to keep it in salt brine. You can make your own brine from water & salt and/or citric acid. If you want to keep your cheese in hard blocks, then we’d recommend to make your brine of yoghurt, water and salt.
  • We’d say that the freezer is your best friend when combatting food waste. Don’t worry, it’s normal to get bored of eating the same food for more than two days but you don’t have to throw it away. You can freeze it in a reusable food container or a jar. You can even put tomatoes, bananas and fruits with pits directly into the freezer wihout using any food containers, they’ll stay intact. 
  • You probably know that not only when freezing but also when refrigerating food one needs to wait fot the hot food to cool down to room temperature because if you store hot food, this might influence the overall temperature of your fridge.
  • How to store bread? Bread thrives in cotton bags and wooden/steel bread drawers.
  • If you’ve purchased more than you actually need, cut it into slices and put it in the freezer. When you feel like having a loaf, get 1 slice out, put it in the toaster and you’re good to go.
  • We already shared about how picked flowers can be kept for a few more days in a vase with water. If we think of veggies and spices as cousins of flowers, then we can follow the same logic and store celery, dill, parsley and carrots in jars with water.
  •  You can tear the leaves of fresh lettuce, wrap them in a towel and put the towel in the fridge, that way your lettuce will be fresh for at least 3-4 days.
  • You should keep onions, potatoes and garlic far away from direct sunlight, we recommend storing them in a cupboard or a covered basket.
  • One fact that caught us by surprise is that one doesn’t have to store fruits in the fridge. However, if they’re outside, placed right next to each other, they interact which can shorten their shelf life. If you happen to have a crate of fruits, we recommend wrapping each fruit in old newspaper.
  • Most of us have had at least 1 tasteless tomato salad in a restaurant. This is usually not due to bad tomatoes but to the fact that the tomatoes have been kept in the fridge where they do not belong.
  • For other small round fruits like cherry tomatoes we suggest that you use an old egg carton to keep them separate.
  • If you’ve stocked up on nuts, keep them in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge to prevent insects or mould from getting in.
  • You can use the newspaper trick if you’ve purchased unripe avocado, wrap it in, wait for 3-4 days and your avocado will be ready for consumption : )
  • If you’ve made a lot of hummus, pesto or you’ve just opened a can, add 1 layer of olive/sunflower oil which will form a protective layer on your food and preserve it.
  • What is more?

    • Against unpleasant odour of fried or rotten food in the fridge, you can use the good old friends – white distilled vinegar, baking soda, salt or lemon. Baking soda can also be used for removing hard stains, if you’re out of soda and your fridge happens to smell funny, get a few slices of lemon, sprinkle some salt on them and keep them in the fridge for a few hours.
    • To keep track of what spices you have in the pantry, you can write their types on the lids of the jars you keep them in or if you’re in the creative mood, you can even make your own adhesive stickers with pictures. 

  • Apart from freezing or canning your surplus of fruits and veggies, you can also dehydrate it. If you don’t have a dehydrator at home, don’t panic, you can use the fan of your oven. It will take a little longer but it’s totally worth it – you divert food waste from landfill and get a tasty package-free snack ; )
  • Strawberries, blueberries, mango slices – we mentioned freezing them but how do we keep them separate? We’d recommend placing them on a tray and then putting them in the freezer for 12-24 hours, afterwards you can take them out and store them in a food container to save some space, by that time they’ll be hard enough and won’t stick to each other.
  • If you can’t drink the tap water in your area, we’d suggest using a natural charcoal filter instead of buying mineral water in plastic bottles! This method will save you time, money and waste.

A couple of recipes:

  • You can find out how to make your own apple cider vinegar from scraps here.
  • Our friend Simona from the blog Zero Waste Sofia is also sharing some practical ideas about how to turn food scraps into delicious meals.
  • If you make your nut milk at home, don’t throw away the leftover pulp, mix it with some oats, berries, mashed banana, a spoon of honey/agave, add some coconut flakes, cinnamon & vanilla and use it as cookie dough : )
  • If you have some orange peel lying around, dehydrate it and add it to a cake!
  • You have a surplus of spices? Boil them together with some dried pear and rosehip and you’ll get a blend of delicious autumn tea. When you find the herbal combination that works best for you, you can put it in a jar, decorate it with a nice ribbon, add a cute sign and give it to someone with a lot of love to keep him/her warm during the cold winter months : ) 

Last but not least – pay attention to which area of the fridge you store your food in. Be careful when storing products on the door of your fridge because when you open the fridge, hot air comes in and the area exposed to that most is exactly the fridge door. We recommend storing the products with the lowest shelf life on the top compartment so that you can spot them straight after you open the fridge.

How to wash dishes without using any plastic?

We cook, bake, mix and leave a pile of dishes and utensils behind. You’re probably aware of the fact that the conventional kitchen sponges are one of the items that pollute the environment most. They’re made of synthetic materials which cannot be recycled or composted and are full of bacteria! We can easily substitute the kitchen roll with a regular fabric towel or an old t-shirt and use either a sustainable dish brush with a replaceable head or a natural plant-based luffa sponge.

When choosing dishwashing liquid, we shouldn’t only think of its properties but also of its packaging and environmental impact. Even hard plastics such as PET and HDPE can be recycled only 2-3 times before being sent to landfill. To avoid using any plastic, check whether there is a package-free store in your area or try our miraculous Marseille soap which can be used as a substitute of a number of products such as the shower gel, the surface cleaner, the laundry detergent and the dishwashing liquid. You can apply it directly on the surfaces or dillute it with a little bit of water when cleaning the kitchen top, the shower or the floor. We recommend adding a few drops of white distilled vinegar as a final, polishing touch to the cleaned surfaces.

Some of the harmful ingredients you should stay away from are : petroleum mineral oil (leftover product from the extraction of petrol), parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl, ethyl), Triclosan, Formaldehyde, Ethanolamine and more.

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P.S. We’d like to thank our friend Rada Boneva for this lovely article, check out her inspirational & educational blog HERE:

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