The proper storage of food helps maintain food safety as well as quality. This is because when food is stored correctly the flavor, color, texture, and nutrients are preserved.
Most non-perishables will be stored at room temperature but keeping these items well beyond their shelf-life will have an effect on the quality of the product.
Some produce is best kept at room temperature. Ever had bananas go black quickly in the fridge? Watch the video below to understand why that is the case.
Refrigerators should be kept at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature to be sure you are not freezing or thawing your food.
Refrigeration tips include, but are not limited to:
- Use the food quickly. Open and partially used food will usually spoil quicker than unopened packages.
- Choose the proper storage container. Foils, plastic wraps, storage bags, and airtight containers are the best storage tools for the fridge, and the best container might change between food options. Open dishes that are not covered will not only spoil more quickly, but stink up your fridge.
- Refrigerate perishables as soon as they are cooled. You do not want to put hot items in the fridge, so allow freshly cooked items to cool to room temperature so your fridge does not heat up from it. Perishable items that are fresh from the store needs to be stored as soon as possible. For instance, a gallon of milk left sitting for more than 2 hours is no longer safe.
- Avoid overfilling the fridge. Food stacked tightly prevents air flow, so some items may not cool to the necessary temperatures. In addition, do not place things like foil over the shelving, as this prevents air flow as well.
- Clean the fridge often. Wipe spills as needed and clean the surface using hot soapy water.
- Check food often. It is not a good idea to leave food sitting in the fridge unchecked for long periods. Review your inventory and make plans to use up items before they perish. When in doubt if an item is good or not, throw it out.
Home freezers should maintain an internal temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezing keeps food safe for an indefinite amount of time but keep an eye on items and beware of freezer burn.
Freezer tips include, but are not limited to:
- Use proper packaging. Plastic freezer bags, freezer paper, freezer aluminum foil, or plastic containers with a snowflake symbol on them are great options for freezing foods. Be sure to use freezer specific storage items, because containers not intended for long-term freezer storage will not keep your food in good condition.
- Follow safe thawing methods. There are three ways to thaw food safely: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Plan ahead for mealtimes and thaw accordingly. Food thawed in the refrigerator is safe to be re-frozen or cooked with, but food thawed by the cold-water method or by the microwave need to be cooked immediately following thawing.
- Cook frozen foods safely. Some foods are safe to be cooked from frozen, but it will take longer for the items to cook. Follow the cooking instructions on the package to keep your meal safe.
- If food removed from the freezer is found to have white, dried-out patches, freezer burn has occurred. Freezer burn means improper packaging allowed air to dry out the food surface. While freezer-burned food will not cause illness, it may be tough or tasteless when consumed.
For a comprehensive list of the acceptable storage duration, and storage type needed for common foods, visit this article by the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.