New Refrigerator Designs May Keep Perishables Alive Longer; Shelf-Stable Products Need the Right Care, Too

Proper handling of foods--both perishables and shelf-stable ones--will give your food a few extra days or even weeks or months of freshness.  Shelf Life Advice is full of advice on proper wrapping and storage of hundreds of edibles. Now refrigerator manufacturers are offering new features that they claim will increase the longevity to foods that must be kept cold.  And a recent lengthy article in Cook's Illustrated magazine offers numerous tips on ways to help non-perishables last longer.  If you want to know even more, consult the 3 links  (listed near the end of this article) to reliable info from universities.


 Proper handling of all foods, perishables and non-, will help you avoid food waste.  If you want to get a better understanding of how grave that problem is, watch this segment of "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver." (The show airs on HBO on Sunday evenings., but this link is to Youtube.)) The host of this show recently did a lengthy, lively, and often funny monologue on this serious subject. 


The latest refrigerator improvements:

If you're in the market for a new fridge, check out the August 2015 issue of Consumer Reports.  (You can probably find a copy in your  local library or on a newsstand.)  The article provides a description of these bigger and better models, refrigerator shopping tips,  and (on page 44) prices, ratings, and recommendations. There are suggested models for large families, small kitchens, and folks looking for the best budget buy. Prices range from $800 up to $7,400. 


Her are some new fridge features Consumer Reports describes:


Ÿ The Samsung Chef Collection has a 4-door configuration, and--catch this--the bottom right section can be switched from freezer to fridge! 


Ÿ A GE model has what's called "dual-evaporative cooling."  (In standard models, the unit's fresh-food compartment is cooled with air from the freezer.)  These new   models have 2 "unique climates," which are better able to keep "optimal humidity in the fridge."  Another benefit: ice cubes "no longer taste like fish or other foods with strong odors."


Ÿ In many of its models, Whirlpool puts filters inside the crisper drawers.  The company claims that this feature "extends freshness by up to 25 percent by absorbing the ethylene gas that certain fruits and vegetables give off, accelerating the ripening process."  (Note: for more info on ethylene, go to "Ethylene and Produce: Friends or Foes?" on Shelf Life Advice.


Ÿ Several Kenmore, LG, and Samsung models have a "door-in-door compartment," which enables buyers to access beverages, condiments, etc. without reaching into the fridge's main section.  Theoretically, this feature could preserve the freshness of refrigerated foods by reducing temperature swings in the unit.  (The magazine doesn't guarantee this claim.)


Ÿ Though the following advantages don't relate to extending freshness, pull-out shelves and split shelves are also excellent features of the new refrigerators, as are matte finishes that don't show fingerprints the way that stainless steel does.


Food scientist Dr. Catherine Cutter approves of the new fridge designs:  "I'm excited to see new refrigerator features that compartmentalize foods better, allow for different temperatures, and provide tons of extra storage.  While I haven't seen any direct evidence that the new features really extend the life of certain foods, the features make a lot of sense."


How to handle shelf-stable products:


Let's begin with some good general advice from Dr. Cutter, one of the members of this site's Advisory Board. "To keep shelf-stable foods tasty and safe as long as possible, keep them cool, dry, and out of direct sunlight." 


In the free issue of Cooke's Illustrated that I received recently (as an inducement to subscribe), pantry products were highlighted in "Keeping Kitchen Staples Fresher Longer." Here are some of the excellent and perhaps lesser-known tips we found in this article:


Ÿ Oils:  These oils can be stored in the pantry: canola, corn, peanut, vegetable; these should be refrigerated: sesame and walnut.  Once they're opened, replace them in 6 months.  Olive oil unopened will last  a year, opened 3 months. Keep olive oil in a dark place; sunlight will give it a stale, harsh flavor. To check for  the freshness of any oil, heat a small amount in a skillet.  If it smells rancid, discard the bottle.


Ÿ Spices and dried herbs: Don't store spices and dried herbs near the stove or a window. Heat, light, and moisture shorten their shelf life.  Restock when the scent or color disappears.


Ÿ Vinegars: These contain acetic acid and are pasteurized, so they can last indefinitely.  Don't discard them even if they develop sediment. It's harmless and  can be strained out. 


Ÿ Soy sauce: It should last a year thanks to high levels of sugar, salt, and acid.  Most of this product is pasteurized, but, if it isn't, refrigerate it.Otherwise, it may develop a "fishy flavor" in a few months.


Ÿ Baking powder and baking soda: Cook's Illustrated says that, "Despite most manufacturer claims, of a shelf life of one year, our tests have proven they lose potency far sooner." Replace both every 6 months to get biscuits with maximum "lift."


Ÿ Chocolate:  Don't store chocolate in the fridge:  "Cocoa butter easily absorbs off-flavors from other foods and changes its crystal structure." Wrap open bars tightly in plastic to keep them fresh.   Unsweetened and dark chocolate can last 2 years, milk and white chocolate about 6 months.   Chocolate exposed to rapid changes in temperature or humidity may develop a discolored surface, which doesn't affect the flavor.


Ÿ Vanilla: Due to its high alcohol content, vanilla is extremely shelf stable.  "In  tests, we're found that even 1-year-old vanilla is indistinguishable from fresh."  Just keep it tightly sealed and away from light and heat.


Cook's Illustrated is a  beautiful  magazine with a lot of colored illustrations that will make you hungry and even salivate over vegetables.  It comes out bi-monthly.  If you're really into cooking, you may want to consider subscribing.  To get a copy of the free issue, click here.


To learn more  about handling nonperishable foods and to consult charts on the shelf life of your pantry food products, here are some sites you may want to visit. Note: the last one (from UNL) covers refrigerated and frozen foods as well.  Shelf Life Advice contains shelf life data if you do a search for a particular food. "Basics in Safe Food Handling for Food Pantries" (from Michigan State University Extension) "Pantry Food Storage"  (from Ohio State University Extension)  "Food Storage Chart for Cupboard/Pantry, Refrigerator and Freezer"  (from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln) 


To learn more about the problems created by food waste, go to  this Shelf Life Advice article: "Food Waste: The Extent of the Problem; Your Role in the Solution." 


To read about its connection to global warming, go to this Shelf Life Advice article:  "Food Waste and Global Warming: the Unfortunate Connection." 




Consumer Reports, "Keeping It Fresh," August, 2015, p.43-44.


Cook's Illustrated "Keeping Kitchen Staples Fresher Longer,"  free issue, 2015, p.16-17.


Catherine Nettles Cutter, Ph.D. , Pennsylvania State University, Department of Food Science



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