The hot summer months are coming and food spoilage is a real possibility. On the shelves of your pantry some foods can quickly go bad, even healthy choices like fruits and vegetables. The instability of these foods in hot weather requires shopping, buying in smaller quantities, and possible increased food wastage. To offset these possibilities, it is handy to have – on your shelves or in your freezer – foods that are stable – at reasonable temperatures – either fresh, frozen, canned, or packaged in some protective way.
1 – Potatoes, as plants, have all the phytochemicals (antioxidants) and fiber of plant foods. In addition, they contain Vit. C, potassium, folate, and many B vitamins, as well as magnesium, iron, calcium, and zinc. They will keep in a cool, dark, dry for 2-5 weeks, or for several months in a 43-60° environment, like a root cellar – so long as you keep them dry. Potatoes are versatile, useful in soups, salads, and as side dishes or the main dish. Be careful of the calories added to their tops.
2 – Onions also are low in calories, high in antioxidants, and high in Vit. C, potassium, and the B vitamins, as well as iron, magnesium, and calcium. They keep 1-2 months in a cool, dry, dark place – just not in the same place as potatoes. The off-gases from each one can cause the other to spoil. Their nutrients help lower the risks of cancers and diabetes type II and increase bone health. Onions enhance every food preparation, except pastries.
3 – Apples keep well at room temperature 5-7 days and for 6 months at 30-40°. As plants, they are full of fiber and antioxidants, as well as Vit. C and potassium. Apples are useful when eaten raw – or in salads, baked goods, and juices or smoothies.
4 – Canned fruits and vegetables are processed to kill harmful bacteria that are sealed out with canning. Fruits and vegetables have multiple colors which indicate a high content of antioxidants that help to prevent inflammation and the chronic diseases that result. Low-acid canned veggies – potatoes, beets, spinach – can keep 2-5 years. High acid fruits – grapefruit, applies, berries, pineapple – can keep for 12-18 months. Be sure to can the fruits in 100% fruit juice; avoid heavy syrup. In canned veggies, read the label and choose the low-sodium option.
5 – Dried fruits and veggies have the same the same high content of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals as fresh, but can last up to 6 months (for veggies) and up to a year (for fruits) at room temperature.
6 – Cooking oils will keep in dark bottles for 4-6 months without turning rancid. It will keep even longer in a cool place.
7 – Grains of all kinds have been stripped of their nutritious protein/fat-containing inner sperm layer to prevent rancidity, then ground into white flour. But the whole grain is much more nutritious – high soluble and insoluble fiber, manganese, phosphorus, copper, B1, iron, selenium, magnesium, and plant-based protein. Brown rice and farro can keep in an air-tight container for 6 months. Oats and barley will keep 1-2 years. Some whole grains have been kept in a cool, dry place for centuries without spoilage (in the pyramids); the secret is avoiding moisture and oxygenated air. Whether as whole grains or as the whole grain flour products – pasta, tortillas, shells – when kept dry and cool, they can last 1-3 years.
8 – Nut butters are nutrient dense (because they are made from nuts) and will keep for up to 9 months at room temperature. They contain healthy plant fats and proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Without preservatives, natural peanut butter lasts for one month at 77°. Almond butter will keep for up to a year at room temperature. Cashew butter keeps for 3 months at room temperature. The secret is keeping it cool, dark, and air tight to avoid the fats from turning rancid.
9 – Dried (10 or more years) or canned (2-5 years), beans are the winner for long shelf life. They contain the most fiber and the most plant-based protein of all plants. They contain B vitamins, manganese, iron, phosphorus, zinc and copper (two critical minerals for vegetarians). They can be used anywhere in any food process – salads, soups, side dishes, main dishes and they pair well with other foods. The secret – don’t get them wet.
10 – Nuts and seeds are high powered. They contain plant fats and proteins as well as all the vitamins and minerals of the grains. They are also high in calories and must be eaten with control. Cashews and seeds keep for 6 months at room temperature. Pistachios keep for 1 month at room temperature. The secret to keeping nuts is to keep them in the freezer – a cold, dark, dry environment that prevents rancidity.
11 – Canned and dried soups are useful in a variety of dishes and wonderful served hot on a cold, blustery day. Canned low-acid soups will last 5 years at room temperature. Tomato-based soups will last 18 months. Dried soups will last up to one year, if kept dry. When containing healthy ingredients, like veggies, beans, and whole grains and low in sodium, these soups can contribute more than warmth to the diet.
12 – Sterilized milk in sealed cartons and sterilized soy milk products can last up to 9-10 months. Canned coconut milk can last 5 years.
Having some or all of these products on the shelf or in the freezer can insure safe, nutritious food even in the most difficult of weather conditions.