By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA
Do you know how long you can store food in your refrigerator? Do you know what foods can be frozen?
“Everyone, everywhere needs safe food, free from microbes, viruses and chemicals. But globalization means the food you are eating today may have come from the other side of the world…we all have a role to make food safe – from farm to plate.”-WHO
How to Keep Food Safe
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Refrigerator Strategies: Keeping Food Safe
In addition to keeping the temperature in your fridge at 40 °F, you can take additional steps to make sure your refrigerated foods stay as safe as possible.
- Avoid “Overpacking.” Cold air must circulate around refrigerated foods to keep them properly chilled.
- Wipe Up Spills Immediately. In addition to helping reduce the growth of the Listeria bacteria (which can grow at refrigerated temperatures), getting rid of spills — especially drips from thawing meats — will help prevent “cross-contamination,” where bacteria from one food spread to another.
- Keep It Covered: Store refrigerated foods in covered containers or sealed storage bags, and check leftovers daily for spoilage.
- Check Expiration Dates On Foods. If food is past its “use by” date, discard it. If you’re not sure or if the food looks questionable, the simple rule is: “When in doubt, throw it out.”
- Clean The Fridge Out Frequently. Make this task part of your kitchen cleaning routine!
Whether you’re dealing with leftovers or just-purchased foods, it’s important to get foods that need refrigeration into your fridge quickly. Leaving perishable foods out for two hours or more allows bacteria to multiply rapidly — and can put you at serious risk of contracting foodborne illness.
- Groceries: When you get home from the grocery store, put your refrigerated items away as quickly as possible. Never allow raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or produce that requires refrigeration to sit at room temperature for more than two hours; the limit is one hour if the air temperature is above 90 °F. (If you’re not sure whether certain produce requires refrigeration, ask your grocer.)
- Also, keep in mind that your car is probably even hotter than typical room temperature, so it’s important not to leave groceries in your car longer than absolutely necessary — and never more than 2 hours (or 1 hour on a hot day).
- Leftovers: These need to be refrigerated or frozen within two hours, as well. Despite what some people believe, putting hot food in the refrigerator doesn’t harm the appliance. To help hot food cool faster, divide leftovers into smaller containers before putting them in the refrigerator.
- Doggie Bags and Take-out Foods: Again, the “two-hour rule” applies to carry-home foods. Leftovers from takeout or restaurant meals need to go into the refrigerator within two hours at most. If you can’t get home within two hours after eating out, don’t request a doggie bag.
- Marinated Foods: Always keep food in the refrigerator while it’s marinating. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in foods left to marinate at room temperature. Also, remember this tip for marinating safely: never reuse marinating liquid as a sauce unless you bring it to a rapid boil first.