One of the most common questions we’ve encountered is “What are the best/safest methods for storing food?” Well, here are the answers. These tips are focused on refrigerating and freezing foods. That said, don’t forget that foods sitting at room temperature (dry pasta, for example) should not be stored anywhere near cleaning supplies. Also, don’t forget to wash your hands when dealing with your food. So, without further ado...
1. Check your temperatures
Your freezer should be 0 °F or less. Your refrigerator should be 40 °F or less.
2. Seal to avoid cross contamination
It’s important to keep all the food in your refrigerator sealed. If something goes wrong and some of your food goes bad, you want that to remain an isolated incident. Often, we move raw meat from the freezer to the fridge to thaw. It is crucial to keep raw meat sealed, or it might contaminate food that will remain uncooked. If you cannot put the meat in its own sealed container, cover it and place it on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. If you prepare your food in advance for the week, consider using air-tight meal prep containers or freezing some of your meals that will be consumed after 4 to 5 days.
3. Label food with dates
Using paper stickers or wet-erase markers, mark your containers with expiration dates and/or the date of storage. This can help keep you on track with your meal plan and meal prep goals as well as remember when you froze certain items that are ready for re-use. One great technique is freezing soups in pre-portioned amounts for a later date. Soups are great for advanced meal prepping in bulk.
4. Read packages
In addition to expiration dates, most packaging includes directions for how to best store the food. They are typically a pretty good indicator for when some foods may be ready to toss. However, they do have a bit of a grace period. When in doubt, use the smell test... but go by the dates on the packages for advanced meal planning.
5. Cook food before storage
Cooking food before storage kills unwanted micro organisms. If you’ve killed the bacteria before storage, it will struggle to reproduce. If something in your fridge is going bad, just cook it and freeze it to extend it's shelf life!
6. Cool food before storage
On the flip-side, don’t put hot food immediately into the refrigerator. It will warm up the foods around it and raise the internal temperature of the fridge. It’s suggested to cool freshly cooked foods for 30 minutes by surrounding the container with ice in the sink. This can also make some of your food soggy or over-cooked when when using airtight meal prep containers that lock in the moisture.
7. Glass Meal prep containers are better
Glass is microwave and oven safe. Glass can be safely disinfected at high temperatures. Glass is cleaner than plastic because the surface isn’t as porous. And using glass is better for the environment. Not convinced, read the Official Reasons to Use Glass Meal Prep Containers over Plastic for Food Storage.
8. Don’t let food sit out
You’ve probably heard that it’s dangerous to reheat cooked rice – but the reheating is not the problem. The rice example elucidates some great tips. When white rice is cooked, spores are released. If left at room temperature, these spores can grow into bacteria that make you sick when consumed. So here’s what to do: (1) store the rice in your fridge within an hour or so of being cooked; (2) don’t store cooked rice for more than one day; (3) when reheating the rice, make sure it’s steaming hot all the way through. Tips 1 and 3 can be applied to most cooked foods.
9. Use drawers appropriately
Most refrigerators have drawers for cheese, meats, and/or vegetables. Use them! Not only does this keep your organized, but those drawers are designed to maintain their temperature when the refrigerator door is being opened and closed. If a sensitive food doesn’t fit in a drawer (we’re lookin’ at you, gallon of milk), place it in the back of the fridge where it stays cooler.
10. Store fruits and vegetables separately
Not many people seem to know about this. Fruits give off a ripening agent (ethylene). So if they are placed beside fresh vegetables, those veggies may spoil sooner. Similarly, you’ve probably noticed that bananas tend to ripen faster than most other fruits. If you leave your bananas in the same bowl as your apples (or other fruits) those apples will go bad sooner. Now you know where that “one bad apple” adage comes from.
11. Look it up
Unsure how long food will last in a fridge or freezer? The internet probably has the answer. An easy-to-use and extensive resource is www.stilltasty.com. Another easy-to-understand list can be found at http://www.buzzfeed.com/christinebyrne/how-to-store-your-groceries. For your reference, here is a chart of common foods people worry about courtesy of The Kitchn:
12. No need for phobia
These guidelines will help you store food safely. If something unforeseen goes wrong, don’t freak out. Food poisoning is unpleasant, but usually limited to a few hours in the bathroom. Barring some other medical condition, you should be fine.
13. Plan Ahead of Time
A great way to know what to freeze or when to eat your meals is to plan it all out in advance. Check out MealPlanMagic to help with this as well as help you with the best time to eat each meal throughout the day depending on your goals and sleep cycle.