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Save Money at the Grocery Store by Stretching How Long Your Food Lasts. Here's How

Prices at the grocery store are getting more expensive, but we can help you get the food you already have stay fresh longer.

refrigerator doors open
The best places to keep your milk, cheese, eggs and fruit in your fridge may not be what they seem.
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

Groceries bills in the US are becoming increasingly more expensive, as families are spending roughly $460 more per month on average due to inflation. Food is one of the many things getting pricier, which could mean grocery trips need to be more focused on things you actually need. You can start by learning how to preserve the shelf life of food in your fridge (like meat, milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables) and to only toss foods that have gone bad

There are several methods for prolonging the shelf life of fridge food, including keeping perishable dairy items in the coldest part of the fridge and using a surprisingly simple kitchen staple to prevent lettuce rot. The Food and Drug Administration recommends keeping refrigerated foods at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Mayo Clinic says that after four days, the risk of harmful bacteria increases. If something smells or looks off, it isn't worth the risk -- so go ahead and toss it.

We recommend performing the sniff-and-feel test before eating anything that's been sitting in the fridge too long. For more, check out these ways to save money on items you buy regularly. This story was recently updated. 

Use paper towels to keep your greens fresher for longer

Once your salad, spinach and other greens start looking dark, wet or slimy, they're no longer any good. You'll notice they have less of an earthy green smell and more of a pungent aroma. And if you don't have time to turn them into a pesto sauce, you can make them last longer with the help of a simple kitchen tool: paper towels

When you buy herbs like cilantro or a bunch of spinach, wrap a paper towel or two around them to absorb any moisture from the grocery store water spray, which can cause mold. For plastic tubs of greens like salad, layer some paper towels throughout the tub -- three should do the trick -- to keep villainous moisture at bay.

If you'd rather go green, try using produce bags, storage containers and reusable paper towels after rinsing your greens to make them last longer. You could also poke small holes in the plastic bags you do use in order to promote greater air circulation.

When you're ready to eat your greens, make sure to rinse them to remove any lingering bacteria. You can also prewash your greens, like romaine lettuce leaves, and let them dry completely before storing them wrapped in towels for the fridge. If any individual leaves look like they're decaying, toss them out, but give the container a good sniff, too.

two cartons of milk

If your milk doesn't ever seem to make it to its use-by date, you may be storing it wrong.

Alina Bradford/CNET

Move your milk and other dairy foods to the back of the fridge

If you've noticed the milk and other dairy items you buy seem to be some of the first to spoil, it's probably because you're storing them the wrong way. You may think as long as you put them in the fridge immediately after use they'll be OK -- but that's not always true. 

Your refrigerator temperature isn't even throughout, with some spots typically colder than others. For example, the back of the fridge tends to stay chillier, so it's a much better place to store milk than the side door. 

Not only is the door more temperate than the back of the fridge, but you also expose food at the front of the fridge to warm kitchen air every time it opens. Dairy and other perishables should stay fresher several days longer when kept in the back. 

A common tip suggests putting just a pinch of salt into milk after opening to make it last a week longer past its expiration date. Full disclosure: We haven't tried it. If you don't think you'll be able to drink the milk before it expires, the Dairy Council of California states you can freeze it and thaw it out when you're ready to drink it. 

However, make sure you're following your own common sense and smell the milk before drinking. If it smells sour or looks clumpy when you pour it into a glass, toss it out immediately. The same goes for other dairy products, like yogurt, heavy cream and sour cream.

blocks of cheese

Dairy products should always be stored in the back of the fridge.

Unsplash

Roll your cheese in parchment paper

To keep your cheese from growing mold too soon, the American Cheese Society recommends removing it from its plastic wrapping and rolling it up in wax or parchment paper instead. To go greener, get a reusable food wrap like Bee's Wrap. You'll want to change the wrapping periodically either way.

The American Dairy Association suggests storing most cheese at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Soft cheeses like brie and cottage cheese should last a week at these temperatures. Hard cheese like cheddar can typically last three to four weeks. 

If your cheese develops an overly dry or slimy texture, it's best to discard it.

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Add a layer of oil on top of your tomato paste

Unless you're baking a pizza from scratch, chances are you're not going to use all of the tomato paste from the can at once. You can help keep it fresher by adding a thick layer of oil over the top of the paste. 

When you're ready to use it again, pour or spoon the oil off the top. If you still have some tomato paste left that you plan on using at a later time, pour on more oil to cover it. 

If black rings form around the inside edges of the can after you stick it in the fridge, this is often dried and oxidized paste. Avoid it when spooning out the red tomato paste. You can also use a paper towel and scrape the black part off, or scoop out the fresh paste and store it, covered with oil, in a separate container.

raw steak

Don't let that perfectly good steak go bad. Freeze or cook it before you have to toss it.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Keep your meat fresh

FoodSafety.gov guidelines say lunch meat should be tossed after three to five days if opened. Raw bacon lasts one week and fresh ground meats (sausage, hamburger) will only last one to two days. Meats like steaks, chops, roasts and ham can last up to five days in the fridge.

If any of these meats have been sitting in your fridge for longer, you need to cook it, can it or freeze it. If not, the meat will start to go bad and you'll have to throw it out. Cooking it will help give it an extra three to five days of life in the fridge and months more life in the freezer (if your freezer consistently stays cold). If you're canning the meat, it can last for up to two years and you don't have to store it in the refrigerator.

Some foods, like fish, are better put in the trash if they haven't been cooked within a day. As always, though, make sure you smell your food before you cook it, to lower the chance of foodborne illness.

Don't let your eggs spoil, put them in the back of the fridge

Like dairy products, eggs should be stored in a cool spot in your fridge. That means near the back of the fridge, not in the door.

If you're not sure they're still good and the sell-by date is overdue, you can conduct "the egg test." Fill a bowl with water and place one egg in at a time. If the egg sinks to the bottom, it's good to eat. If it floats, it's time to toss it out.

Toss any deviled eggs that have been sitting out for several hours. Since they're made with perishable items like mayonnaise, they can't stay at room temperature for long. However, if you've refrigerated them, you can safely eat them up to two days later.

hard boiled eggs

Keep your eggs fresh by keeping them out of the fridge door.

Chowhound

Wash your fruit with white vinegar and water

Berries, like strawberries and raspberries, are known to grow mold fast. Once this happens, you should avoid eating them. However, you can preserve fruits by washing them in distilled white vinegar and water, rinsing them with water and waiting until they're completely dry before storing them in the fridge.

Once the berries are dry, place them in a new container lined with a paper towel and keep them out of the crisper drawer, which is more humid.

Need more kitchen tips? Check out these foods you need to purge from your fridge and how to unclog a kitchen sink using things you already have around the house.