It's not always easy to keep your food fresh enough to eat, but there are ways to help preserve your ingredients and leftovers until you're ready to eat them.

Here are some ideas for the best way to store foods like rice, diary and meat safely; keeping your food fresher for longer. There are also some tips on understanding date labels and how best to use your fridge and freezer to make the most out of your food.

Understanding food date labels

Just because a date on your food has passed, it doesn't mean you cannot eat it - see what type of date it is and check it with the definitions below:

  • You can eat or freeze foods right up until the end of the ‘use-by date’. But as use-by dates are safety dates, do not eat after this date has passed (unless frozen first).
  • 'Best before' dates are about quality rather than safety. So if the date has passed the food should be safe to eat, but might begin to lose its flavour and texture. Eggs can be eaten a day or two after their best before date has passed, and must be cooked thoroughly.
  • 'Sell by' and 'display until' dates are for shop staff so can be ignored.

Fridge tips

  • Fridges should be between 0°C and 5°C.
  • Leftovers should be cooled within 90 minutes and then refrigerated for up to two days.
  • Store eggs in their box in the fridge.
  • Don't store food in open cans and tins as the metal may transfer to the contents. Instead, put the food in a storage container or covered bowl.

Freezer tips

  • Provided that the freezer is kept at -18°C, there is no time limit to how long food can be frozen, but try to eat within three months as the texture and taste can be affected.
  • Freezing food before the use-by-date can extend the life of food. Defrost in the fridge and eat it within 24 hours.
  • Keep some essentials in your freezer so you can create nutritious meals without much preparation.
  • Keep tabs on what's inside the freezer by labelling them beforehand.
  • It is good to freeze food in portions, so that you don't have to defrost more than necessary.
  • Almost any food can be frozen including hard cheese, milk, pizza, mashed potatoes, soup, ready meals and bread.

Rice rules

  • Ideally serve rice straight after it has been cooked. If this isn't possible, ensure you cool the rice within an hour and refrigerate – either by running it under cold water, or sealing it in a plastic container and then putting in a bowl of cold water.
  • Store cooked rice in the fridge – but don't keep for longer than a day before reheating.
  • Rice cannot be reheated more than once so portion it out if you have too much for one serving.
  • When reheating rice, ensure that it is piping hot throughout.
  • If you do have any leftovers after reheating the rice, put them in your caddy to be collected by the council.

Meat advice

  • Store raw meat and poultry in clean, sealed containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
  • Do not eat meat after the use-by-date (unless it has been frozen) and always read the label for storage instructions.
  • Fresh meat, fish and sausages can be frozen before their use-by-dates in their own packaging or in airtight containers. Consider separating them into the portion sizes you need before freezing.
  • You can defrost raw meat, cook it and re-freeze it. Don't freeze raw meat twice.
  • Leftover roast meals can be saved in airtight containers - either refrigerate or freeze them.

Bakery advice

  • Sliced bread, pitta, crumpets, hot cross buns and bagels can all be frozen. They can be toasted straight from the freezer.
  • Leftover bread crusts and slightly stale bread make breadcrumbs when whizzed in the food processor. These can be stored in the freezer for use in bread sauces, savoury crumbles or coating chicken or fish.
  • If you'd rather not use bread for sandwiches because it's starting to go hard, it can still make great toast.
  • Use leftover croissants and muffins to make bread and butter pudding.
  • You can freeze leftover cake in slices. Cake can be frozen for up to one month without affecting the taste or texture if wrapped in a layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of foil.
  • Bread goes stale much faster in the fridge. Instead, store in a cool, dark and dry place such as a bread bin or store cupboard. Remember to re-seal the pack.
  • A day old loaf of bread can be freshened up by being sprinkled with water and put in a hot oven for 10 minutes. It will be soft and crusty like a new loaf.
  • Spread garlic butter on the crusts from a loaf and toast under the grill. Cut into fingers and serve for a quick and easy snack.
  • Consider buying half loaves of bread if you can't get through a whole one.

Fruit and vegetable advice

  • Fruit and vegetables are best kept in the bag they come in as it keeps them fresher for longer. A shrink-wrapped cucumber will last around three times longer than one which has been sold loose!
  • You could also use airtight plastic boxes – such as Tupperware – and ice cube trays which are great for freezing stock or fresh herbs in a little water.
  • Soak wilted greens in cold water for 30 minutes to revive them for a salad or sandwich.
  • Pour boiling water over hard dried fruit which has been in the cupboard too long and leave to soak and soften.
  • Potatoes can be frozen, parboil for six minutes, drain and cooled before freezing. Mashed potato can be frozen in airtight containers.

Diary advice

  • Cheese can be frozen if you don't think you can eat it before it's use-by-date. Hard cheese can be grated and stored in airtight containers or freezer bags and used straight from the freezer in baked meals like lasagne.
  • Milk can be frozen, either in bottles or small amounts can be frozen in ice tray holders. Shake well after defrosting.
  • Yoghurt can be poured into a lolly mould and eaten while still frozen.