Are You Storing Food Safely?

Are You Storing Food Safely?

Are You Storing Food Safely?

Whether putting food in the refrigerator, the freezer, or the cupboard, you have plenty of opportunities to prevent foodborne illnesses.

The goal is to keep yourself and others from being sickened by microorganisms such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and C. botulinum, which causes botulism. Keeping foods chilled at proper temperatures is one of the best ways to prevent or slow the growth of these bacteria.

These food storage tips can help you steer clear of foodborne illnesses.

Storage Basics

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishables right away. Foods that require refrigeration should be put in the refrigerator as soon as you get them home. Stick to the "two-hour rule" for leaving items needing refrigeration out at room temperature. Never allow meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or produce or other foods that require refrigeration to sit at room temperature for more than two hours—one hour if the air temperature is above 90° F. This also applies to items such as leftovers, "doggie bags," and take-out foods. Also, when putting food away, don't crowd the refrigerator or freezer so tightly that air can't circulate.

  • Keep your appliances at the proper temperatures. Keep the refrigerator temperature at or below 40° F (4° C). The freezer temperature should be 0° F (-18° C). Check temperatures periodically. Appliance thermometers are the best way of knowing these temperatures and are generally inexpensive.

  • Check storage directions on labels. Many items other than meats, vegetables, and dairy products need to be kept cold. If you've neglected to properly refrigerate something, it's usually best to throw it out.

  • Use ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible. Refrigerated ready-to-eat foods such as luncheon meats should be used as soon as possible. The longer they're stored in the refrigerator, the more chance Listeria, a bacterium that causes foodborne illness, can grow, especially if the refrigerator temperature is above 40° F (4° C).

  • Be alert for spoiled food. Anything that looks or smells suspicious should be thrown out. Mold is a sign of spoilage. It can grow even under refrigeration. Mold is not a major health threat, but it can make food unappetizing. The safest practice is to discard food that is moldy.

  • Be aware that food can make you very sick even when it doesn't look, smell, or taste spoiled. That's because foodborne illnesses are caused by pathogenic bacteria, which are different from the spoilage bacteria that make foods "go bad." Many pathogenic organisms are present in raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs; unclean water; and on fruits and vegetables. Keeping these foods properly chilled will slow the growth of bacteria.

  • Following the other recommended food handling practices will further reduce your risk of getting sick — clean your hands, surfaces and produce, separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods, and cook to safe temperatures.

Refrigeration Tips

  • Marinate food in the refrigerator. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in foods left to marinate at room temperature. Also, never reuse marinating liquid as a sauce unless you bring it to a rapid boil first.

  • Clean the refrigerator regularly and wipe spills immediately. This helps reduce the growth of Listeria bacteria and prevents drips from thawing meat that can allow bacteria from one food to spread to another. Clean the fridge out frequently.

  • Keep foods covered. Store refrigerated foods in covered containers or sealed storage bags, and check leftovers daily for spoilage. Store eggs in their carton in the refrigerator itself rather than on the door, where the temperature is warmer.

  • Check expiration dates. A "use by" date means that the manufacturer recommends using the product by this date for the best flavor or quality. The date is not a food safety date. At some point after the use-by date, a product may change in taste, color, texture, or nutrient content, but, the product may be wholesome and safe long after that date. If you're not sure or if the food looks questionable, throw it out.

  • The exception to this is infant formula. Infant formula and some baby foods are unique in that they must be used by the use-by date that appears on the package.

Freezer Facts

  • Food that is properly frozen and cooked is safe. Food that is properly handled and stored in the freezer at 0° F (-18° C) will remain safe. While freezing does not kill most bacteria, it does stop bacteria from growing. Though food will be safe indefinitely at 0° F, quality will decrease the longer the food is in the freezer. Tenderness, flavor, aroma, juiciness, and color can all be affected. Leftovers should be stored in tight containers. With commercially frozen foods, it's important to follow the cooking instructions on the package to assure safety.

  • Freezing does not reduce nutrients. There is little change in a food's protein value during freezing.

  • Freezer burn does not mean food is unsafe. Freezer burn is a food-quality issue, not a food safety issue. It appears as grayish-brown leathery spots on frozen food. It can occur when food is not securely wrapped in air-tight packaging, and causes dry spots in foods.

  • Refrigerator/freezer thermometers should be monitored. Refrigerator/freezer thermometers may be purchased in the housewares section of department, appliance, culinary, and grocery stores. Place one in your refrigerator and one in your freezer, in the front in an easy-to-read location. Check the temperature regularly—at least once a week.

Choosing containers to freeze food

Every year consumers call the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Meat and Poultry Hotline and Michigan State University Extension asking if food items are safe in their home freezers. Understanding the concepts from the USDA can help avoid some of the freezing confusion.

Freezing food and maintaining it at 0° Fahrenheit will keep it safe. The quality could suffer during lengthy freezer storage. Freezing keeps food safe by slowing down the movement of molecules, causing microbes to enter a dormant stage. The freezing process preserves food for extended periods because it prevents the growth of microorganisms that cause both food spoilage and foodborne illness.

Proper packaging materials for freezing food protects the flavor, color, moisture content and nutritive value of foods from the harsh climate inside the freezer. Using inappropriate containers will give your food inadequate protection and reduce the quality of the product.

Exactly which container to choose depends on the type of food to be frozen and your personal preference. Do not freeze fruits and vegetables in containers with a capacity over one-half gallon. Foods in larger containers freeze too slowly which results in an unsatisfactory product. In general, packaging materials must have these characteristics:

  • Moisture vapor resistant

  • Durable and leak proof

  • Do not become brittle and crack at low temperatures

  • Resistant to oil, grease and water

  • Protect food from absorption of off-flavors or odors

  • Easy to seal

  • Easy to mark

Cartons for cottage cheese, ice cream and milk do not resist moisture vapor sufficiently to be suitable for long-term freezer storage.

Rigid containers and flexible bags or wrapping are two general types of packaging materials that are safe for freezing.

Rigid containers made of plastic or glass are suitable for all packs and are especially good for liquid packs. Straight sides on rigid containers make the frozen food much easier to remove. Rigid containers are often reusable and make storage in the freezer easier because they can be stacked.

Regular glass jars break easily at freezer temperatures. Choose wide mouth, dual-purpose jars made for freezing and canning if you wish to use glass. These jars have been tempered to withstand extreme temperatures and the wide opening allows easy removal of partially thawed food. Covers on rigid containers should fit tightly, if they do not, reinforce the seal with freezer tape. Freezer tape is especially designed to stick at freezing temperatures.

Flexible freezer bags and moisture vapor resistant wrapping materials such as plastic freezer wrap, freezer paper and heavyweight aluminum foil are also suitable for dry packed products with little or no liquid. Bags can also be used for liquid packs. Bags and wraps work well for foods with irregular shapes. Remove as much air as possible before closing for best results.

Ensure that your efforts to freeze foods result in delicious meals at a later date. Remember that the type of container you choose when freezing food can make a difference in the quality of the end product. Your choice of proper freezer packaging materials makes for tastier food.

The Absolute Best Way to Organize Any Freezer (and Keep It That Way, Once and for All)

An organized freezer means a few things. It means no more boxes of frozen spinach falling on your sensitive little toes. It means your roommates will know better than to move your favorite $12 pint of ice cream to the door where it will likely melt. It means you'll never waste money buying loaves of bread when you already have plenty on hand. And it means you won't have to spend time wiping down packages, should a package of meat leak before it freezes. The point? An organized freezer is incredibly important for any home cook.

So we all want it; why is it so hard to get it? Maybe it's because freezers come in a lot of different sizes and shapes (and so do groceries, obviously). There's no one-size-fits-all formula for organizing a freezer, but we do have plenty of rules and tips that you can keep in mind. Certain items should go in certain zones of your freezer, and there are plenty of things you can do to add order. Find your freezer type (or types, if you have a bonus freezer in the basement!) below and get to organizing. Our first tip: Have a cooler and/or insulated bags on hand to hold your groceries while you work.

First, the 8 Organizing Rules for Any Kind of Freezer

Let's start with some general tips to keep in mind — no matter which type of freezer you have.Line things up from back to front. Always put stuff new towards the back and pull the older stuff (the stuff that needs to be eaten first) to the front.

Label and date anything homemade. The most important tool for an organized freezer is a Sharpie marker (and masking tape, should you need it). Everything homemade in there needs to be clearly labeled and dated the day it's frozen.

Freeze things in usable portions. It might be tempting to just throw the whole value-pack of chicken pieces straight into the freezer, but you'll regret this shortcut later when you only need a few pieces and the whole thing is one frozen mass.

Freeze things flat. As much as possible, freeze things flat. Put that leftover chili in a freezer bag, seal, and lay the bag flat in the freezer until frozen. Flat things of an even thickness are easier to stack or organize upright in a container.

File things vertically. With your stuff nice and flat, you can file it vertically in an organizer and grab what you need, rather than dealing with stacks.

Take things out of boxes when possible. Anything that comes in a box (waffles, ice pops, and chicken nuggets, for example) can likely be taken out of said box to save room. If you need the cooking instructions, cut them out and tape them to the bag.

Pick the right containers. Air circulating around frozen foods can lead to freezer burn, so your best bet is to find a container as close to the size of what you want to freeze as possible. If you're using plastic bags, make sure you use thicker freezer ones, and press out as much air as possible before freezing. If you're using foil, make sure foods are tightly double-wrapped. Doing these things mean you maximize freezer space and keep air out.

Keep a freezer inventory. This will help you keep your freezer organized moving forward. You'll know what you have on hand and what you've used up. Starting (and maintaining) one is easy.

Plastic vs. glass: Which food storage container makes sense for you?

While it can come as a shock to some, plastic and glass storage containers are not wholly interchangeable. Each material provides unique benefits when it comes to organizing the kitchen. If you're unsure which container makes sense for you and your home, it might be time to draw up some conclusions on why these two materials outperform one another in different ways.

Below are our comparisons between glass vs. plastic containers to help you decide which is truly a better option for your kitchen.

Glass is better for the environment

When it comes to durability, longevity, and its ability to be recycled, glass outperforms plastic on environmental impact. If properly cared for, glass can outlast the lifespan of plastic in the kitchen. Where plastic is prone to melting or discoloration, glass remains a durable and long-lasting solution for food storage.

Additionally, glass is one-hundred percent recyclable, and so long as it is properly disposed of, you can recycle glass at a designated facility. Unfortunately, due to the wide variety of plastic products available, many recycling plants only offer recycling to a few types of plastic. Anything non-recyclable is tossed into a landfill, where it remains for many years.

Therefore, glass wins the argument for most environmentally friendly.

Glass provides a healthier alternative

When it comes to health benefits and safety in the kitchen, glass is a better material. But, unfortunately, even BPA-free plastics are prone to releasing toxic chemicals if heated. This makes washing, microwaving, and heating plastic containers a threat to your health. Plastic containers are also prone to warping and melting, creating a challenge when placing them in the dishwasher.

Luckily, glass is heat-tolerant and can be microwaved, heated in the oven, or placed into the dishwasher. Since it is non-porous, glass materials do not absorb or release any toxic chemicals or microscopic particles when used.

If you are looking for a food-safe and family-safe storage solution, glass is the better choice.