Make your food last in the fridge

Choosing what to keep in the fridge is tricky. Photo | A. Kadumukasa Kironde II.

What you need to know:

Durability matters. Time to make your food last longer in your fridge and while you save money, writes A Kadumukasa Kironde II.

I bet the majority of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) lovers are unaware that the chips which are served by them, besides being frozen are made in Egypt. It is a safe bet to say that where there is a KFC in the region, their fries originate from Egypt.

I recall a couple of years ago several Kenyan MP’s were up in arms and furious to be told that despite Kenya growing potatoes, the local type was not suitable thus the need to import. 

However, for numerous reasons intricate and technical; running a conglomerate such as KFC requires a special brand of frozen potato and to date none of our countries have mastered the technique so for the foreseeable future Egypt will continue to have a monopoly.  While on the subject of Irish potatoes, the UK-based Food Standards Agency, in the past had prohibited the storage of Irish potatoes in the fridge because of health concerns.

Lab tests had discovered that chilling potatoes brought about the formation of additional sugars that would convert into potentially carcinogenic acrylamide when the potatoes came into contact with heat as they were being fried, baked or roasted.

According to the latest report from the FSA, acrylamide formation is not a problem after all so by all means go ahead and keep them in the fridge without fear of inimical danger. 

Storing them in the fridge is now recommended, and farm refrigeration experts point out that the potatoes sold in supermarkets are stored at around 2°C to keep them looking perfect – even though this means they do not make the best chips, because of additional sugar formed by chilling.

Parts of the fridge

One of the least misunderstood workings of today’s modern fridge are the least cool and warmest areas of the fridge. Before that, regarding any food items in the fridge; in terms of usage last in, first out (LIFO) is the unequivocal mantra to which we must all adhere. To begin with, different foods will have ideal temperatures and it helps to have a fridge thermometer, a handy gadget few of us have or would even know where to find in Kampala. In the absence of such, it helps to know the coolest and warmest part of your fridge and what I have discovered is the warmest area would be the door(s) followed by the top shelf with the coolest place being the bottom or sometimes referred to as the salad drawer.

The other issue with fridges is that they are dry. Keep a few sponges inside which will help soak up excess moisture of the vegetables and in turn keep them fresher. Most fruit and vegetables are best stored at 90-95 per cent relative humidity, but in home fridges it is much lower – as little as 35 per cent in some cases. No wonder spinach wilts and cheese goes hard and cracks. Vegetable drawers are often equipped with a little vent with a sliding cover – keep these closed if you want the humidity higher; great for veg but generally not so good for fruit.

Deciding on what to put in the fridge

It can be daunting to agree on what should and should not be refrigerated. Nevertheless, some useful guidelines will come in handy. Draw up a priority list and make sure that items do not overstay since that takes up precious space. Buy several plastic containers of varying sizes and as you use up certain items transfer what is left to a smaller container freeing up space. Nothing is more annoying than having a quarter full of a container of rice or stir fried beef from your favourite Chinese take away that has been in the fridge for a week.

Mustard loses its heat at room temperature, and if you value that delectable punch, bung it in the fridge. Ketchup and brown sauce is fine kept in the cupboard, as long as you are planning to use it within a couple of months, anyway who wants chilled sauce on their sausages? Ninenty nine per cent of the people that I know never bother to keep their soy or fish sauce in the fridge.

Read the label and it advises to keep it under refrigeration, though I suspect that use of potassium sorbate (E 202) as a preservative, plus the salt makes it none the worse off for not being kept in the fridge.  Mayonnaise is another matter though, as the lower sugar content and added egg content make it vulnerable to bacteria, and after opening must be kept in the fridge.

Tahini, the hummus lover’s essential ingredient, can stay in a cupboard if you are getting through a jar in less than a month or two. However, any longer and it may go rancid, so keep it in the fridge. Yes, it will go hard, so you may need to warm the jar in a bowl of hot water before spooning it out.

Lemons too have a tendency to become hard while in the fridge or the fruit bowl; the trick is to keep them submerged in a jar of water in the fridge and surprisingly they can stay juicy for a month.

Alternatively, squeeze them in a relatively large quantity and keep in a bottle in the door of the fridge and they will last indefinitely. Limes work too, although they lose their green colour after a couple of weeks. The same can be applied to carrots. For maximum effect, be sure to change the water every few days.

Milk, which most of us get through fairly quickly, is fine in the door, but cream is better off in the main compartment of the fridge, as is yoghurt and cream cheese such as mascarpone. Cheese likes the warmer spot at the top of the door, which is often handily equipped with a lid to keep the moisture in. It will not work though, so keep it wrapped in waxed paper or beeswax wrap, not cling film.

The exception is parmesan, a very dry cheese, which is best wrapped in foil to stop it turning into a rock. Alternatively, keep the wrapped cheese in a box in the body of the fridge, but leave the lid slightly open. If space is a constraint, buy enough to use for that particular meal.

The home fruit bowl is a bit of a curse. It looks nice, but it makes no sense as fruits have different respiration rates, meaning they ripen at different speeds, giving off ethanol as they do, which may speed the ripening of other fruit. We all know not to put bananas in the fruit bowl, but the same is true of other fruits as well. Speaking of bananas and the same applies for plantain, as soon as it ripens, it can keep in the fridge for a good week since the ripening effect will cease and you can avoid overripe and getting rotten.

From a practical stand point, I recommend keeping different types of fruits in different bowls rather than keeping them all together. 

Cucumbers go off pretty fast out of the fridge. Pop the cucumber in an upper drawer or shelf still wrapped in its plastic, if it came like that, or in a plastic bag, as that will help stop it drying out.

Tomatoes lose flavour if kept in the fridge too long, not to mention becoming mealy. Allow them to ripen at room temperature and if you do not manage to eat them all when they reach the perfect deep red, then put them in the fridge – better a chilled tomato than a mouldy one.

Giving them a couple of hours to come back to room temperature before eating will do much to ameliorate the damage and improve the taste.