Anna Omelchenko

One day you have perfectly fresh ingredients but the next...

Max Bonem
July 18, 2017

Whether your weekly shopping takes you to a regular grocery store or farmers market, you probably have an understandable desire to load up on fresh ingredients. However, if you aren’t careful, many of them can go from perfect to horrifying in a just a few days. Here are eight foods that go bad quickly and our Test Kitchen's tips for how to prevent them from spoiling.

Lemons & Limes

Lemons and limes are two fruits that won't last long unless you store them properly. While limes dry out and turn brown if left out at room temperature in just a few days, they'll last up to a month if stored in the refrigerator. Similarly, lemons last much longer when kept in the refrigerator. However, according to Test Kitchen Assistant Kelsey Youngman, lemons needs to be stored in plastic bags as well. If not, lemons can become moldy in only a few days, even in the fridge, which can then spread to other produce in your refrigerator as well.

Shredded Cheese

When properly refrigerated, many cheeses, especially the harder varieties, can last upwards of two weeks in your refrigerator and not grow any mold. Shredded cheese, though, will develop mold at a much faster rate because of the added exposed surface area. Keeping the grated cheese in a sealed container is a good start, but, according to Test Kitchen Senior Editor Laura Rege, the best way to prevent it from growing mold is to only grate as much cheese as you need for a specific recipe. Grating less cheese more often will extend the life of the cheese as a whole and the more cheese you have to enjoy, the better. 

Herbs

Herbs are one of the most frustrating items you can purchase at the grocery store. Not only are they expensive, but they also wilt quickly and lose their vibrant aroma in as little as three days. To extend their life, though, Test Kitchen Associate Editor Paige McCurdy-Flynn immediately washes her herbs—parsley and mint, for example—then wraps them in paper towels and stores them in a sealed plastic bag. These extra steps will extend the life of your herbs by up to a week.

Bread

Freshly baked bread is one of the most delicious things you can make or bring home. However, really fresh bread has a very short shelf life and will start to get moldy or go stale in as little as three or four days. The Test Kitchen team suggests freezing the bread or just using the bread in that abbreviated span. 

Berries 

If you buy fresh berries in those green containers from the farmer’s market, they’re going to go bad really fast—in a few days or less. So, the Test Kitchen team suggests storing your berries (unwashed) in a colander or a sieve, which allows them to aerate in a receptacle that won't absorb moisture. Using one of these will extend the life of your berries for up to a week.

Salad Greens

Whether it's lettuce, spinach or mixed greens, you do not want to keep your salad greens in the plastic bags they came in. Instead, the Test Kitchen team suggests removing the greens, washing them immediately and then placing them in a kitchen towel-lined zip lock bag. The big difference is the paper towels, which will keep the greens dry and extend their life by up to a week.

Spices

Spices won't go bad overnight, but most of us forget they're there until we randomly need them for a recipe (seriously, how often are you using that jar of ground mace?). As Test Kitchen Justin Chapple says, “you have to replace your spices, you can’t just use them until they’re dead.” Your spices will last about three months if they’re ground and up to six if they’re whole, so make sure to write the purchase dates on the bottles so you don't end up getting stuck with completely dull spices when you need them most.

Cooking Oil 

Cooking oil, especially the cold pressed varieties of seed oils or olive oil, should always be stored in dark glass and in a cool, dark area or even in the fridge. Youngman adds that, “If it’s cold pressed oil, it will go rancid quickly. If it’s highly refined oil like canola, it’ll have a longer shelf life. However, those are so refined that it can be hard to tell when they go bad.” Moral of the story: Replace your oil often and keep it away from heat and light.