How to Extend the Life of Food On Its Last Leg

How To

During your next fridge or pantry cleanout, think twice before tossing out some not-quite-fresh foods.

By some estimates, Americans throw away a quarter of the food we purchase.

In 2012, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, food waste totaled some 36 million tons. But at least some of that may be foods that don’t need to get tossed.

Chefs and foodies have plenty of tricks to revive or otherwise extend the shelf life of goods that are on their last legs:


  • “Use veggie scraps and any veggies that are about to spoil into DIY
 veggie stock,” says Jacqueline Fisch of Try her recipe here.
  • A 15- to 30-minute ice bath may help revive wilting greens.
  • Soak lettuce, parsley, kale, or other greens in cool water with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, says Joanna Runciman, author of The Radiant Woman’s Handbook. “I chop a little bit of the stalk off and soak for about two hours or so,” she says. “Usually, they miraculously revive and look good as new.”



  • “My most exciting discovery is that toasting almonds and other nuts almost always takes out that rancid taste they get when they’ve hung around too long,” says Angela Todd of

Brown sugar

  • Revive rock-hard brown sugar by sealing the sugar and either a slice of fresh bread or a moistened paper towel in a re-sealable plastic bag for a day or two.
  • For faster results, place the sugar in the microwave along with a separate small container of water. Microwave in 30-second increments until it’s steamed soft.


  • Kristina Sampson of The Vail Diet said she recently picked up this trick from a friend, to revive stale bread. “Place a damp paper towel over the top of the loaf and then wrap it loosely in tin foil,” she said. “Put in the oven on 300 degrees for 15 minutes or so. The water in the paper towel will steam the bread, and even the inside will be soft.”
  • Use a food processor to turn stale bread into breadcrumbs, says Runciman. “These breadcrumbs can be fried with a little garlic and butter and added to a salad, or simply use breadcrumbs and grated cheese for a delicious topping for lasagna-type dishes,” she says.
  • Stale bread works wonderfully as French toast, in a strata, or cut and toasted as croutons, said Lisa Huff of



  • Stale corn chips can be heated in the oven for a few minutes to get their crisp back, says Todd.  
  • Use a food processor to turn stale crackers or cereal into 
crumbs, says Huff. Add to the top of casseroles or in meatballs.
  • Frugal Foodie has turned stale cookies into crumbs, using a food processor. Make them into a cookie pie crust.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.



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