When putting food in the refrigerator or freezer you want to make sure you are storing everything properly in order to prevent foodborne illnesses. Keeping foods at properly chilled temperatures is one of the best ways to slow the growth of bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria, E. Coli, and botulinum. The US FDA (US Food & Drug Administration) offers a few food storage tips for the refridgerator and freezer food safety avoid contracting a foodborne illness.
Five Basics to Always Follow
Follow the “Two Hour” Rule
Be sure to refrigerate or freeze perishable food right away. Always follow the “two-hour rule” which is the maximum amount of time for leaving refrigerated items such as eggs, meat, seafood, and poultry at room temperature. This rule also applies to items such as leftovers from meals and food you’ve brought home from take-out.
Keep Track of Temperature
Part of refrigerator and freezer food safety means taking a look at your thermometer and make sure your appliance is set to the correct temperature. The refrigerator should be 40° F (4° C) or below and the freezer should be 0° F (-18° C). Keeping the temperature constant will help to preserve the food and reduce your energy costs.
Keep Track of Time
If you purchase prepared foods, such as luncheon meat or rotisserie chicken, be sure to consume them as soon as possible. The more time they spend in the refrigerator, the greater the chance for foodborne illness, especially if the temperature in the refrigerator is above 40° F.
The Nose Doesn’t Always Know
Understand that even when food doesn’t look, smell, or taste bad it can still make you sick. Many foodborne illnesses are caused by pathogenic organisms in undercooked or raw eggs, meat, poultry, and seafood; and on fruits and vegetables. Keeping your foods chilled will inhibit the growth of bacteria.
There’s More to Safety Than Time & Temperature
Refridgerator and freezer food safety is only one component of ensuring your kitchen is a safe environment for cooking. Following smart food handling practices, such as properly washing your hands and cleaning kitchen surfaces used for food preparation, separating raw from ready-to-eat foods, and cooking at the correct temperatures, will also help to reduce your chances of spreading bacteria unknowingly.
Refrigerator Food Safety Tips
- When marinating meat or produce, do so inside the refrigerator and not on the kitchen counter. If you want to use the marinating liquid as a sauce, be sure to bring it to a boil first so bacteria can be killed.
- It’s never a fun task, but be sure to clean your refrigerator on a regular basis and wipe up any spills ASAP. Bacteria from spills can easily contaminate uncovered produce.
- Store all refrigerated foods in sealed bags or covered containers. Do not keep eggs in the refrigerator door as the temperature in that location is too warm. Instead, keep eggs on a shelf in their original carton.
- Check product expiration dates. The “use by” date that manufacturers place on packages is their recommendation for ensuring the best flavor. The “use by” date is not a food safety date and food that is past the “use by” date may be perfectly fine if it has been properly refrigerated or frozen. However, if the food appears questionable, or has an unpleasant odor, throw it out.
Freezer Food Safety Tips
- Food that has been properly handled and stored in a freezer at 0° F will be safe to eat. Freezing does not kill bacteria, but it does stop it from growing. However, food quality such as flavor, juiciness, and tenderness can be affected by the amount of time the item is kept in the freezer.
- Freezing does not reduce the nutritional value of foods, which is why frozen vegetables and fruits are equally nutritious, if not more so, than their raw counterparts.
- Freezer burn happens when food is not stored in airtight packaging. Freezer burn does not cause the food to be unsafe to eat but it can impact the taste or consistency of the food item.
- To avoid freezer burn, always make sure that items going into the freezer are tightly sealed in freezer bags or airtight containers.
The power’s out! What do I do!?
Regardless of where you live, a storm or power outage can cause your home to lose its electricity. When this happens, be sure to keep both the freezer and refrigerator doors closed and open them only when absolutely necessary. Most refrigerators will maintain their temperature for close to four hours if left unopened. A freezer will keep its temperature for close to two days if it is closed.
When power is restored, check the temperatures in both the freezer and refrigerator. If the freezer is 40°F or below, the food is safe. Foods in the refrigerator should be safe if the door to the appliance was kept shut and the electrical power was off for less than four hours. If the refrigerator was above 40°F for more than two hours, discard all meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers.
Know the Shelf-Life of Your Vegetables and Fruits!
If you’re wondering how long fresh fruits and vegetables you buy will last, take a look at Tommy’s Superfoods produce shelf life guide. In addition to helping you reduce food waste and saving money on groceries, this handy guide allows you to compare the shelf life of common fruits and vegetables when stored at room temperature, in your refrigerator and in your freezer. It’ll help you to ensure that your food tastes great and is stored properly.