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Food Storage: Do's and Don'ts

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Keeping food safe enough to eat and preserving its life span are important considerations. Ensuring that food does not spoil prevents our families from becoming sick from food-borne illnesses like E. coli, salmonella and botulism, while safe storage also saves us money over time because we will throw away less food.

Make The Most Of Your Grocery Trips

Despite the fact that food recalls seem to be a common occurrence in the news—from ground beef to spinach—environmental nutritionist Kitty Broihier reminds us that most food safety has nothing to do with these recalls, but with how we handle food on a daily basis in our own homes.

Food Storage Do's:

  • Check the dates on food. Many products display dates, but these dates often mean different things. “Sell by” labels tell the grocery store when the food should be removed from the shelf. “Best if Used By” and “Use By” dates tell the consumer the optimal lifespan of the product (use or freeze by these days). These dates refer only to food quality, not food safety. If a food is still unopened after the date has passed, it may be safe to eat, just not necessarily of the highest quality.
  • Only buy enough fruits, vegetables and meat for three to four days at a time. Use those ingredients before shopping for new produce and meats.
  • Store spices and oils in cool, dry places.
  • Store whole-grains, whole-grain pastas and whole-grain flours in sealed containers in the freezer to prevent them from becoming rancid.
  • Label food by clearly writing when the package was opened. Throw most foods away three to seven days after they were opened or prepared. Condiments, however, are the exception, as they may last longer.
  • Ensure that your refrigerator is 40 degrees Farenheit or colder, and your freezer is at or below zero degrees.
  • Use the oldest food first. Place newer cans and boxes of food in the back of the cupboard, and the older packages in the front.
  • Store raw meat on the bottom shelf so that it does not drip onto any other food.
  • Clean your refrigerator once a week.
  • Check the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website for food storage and safety tips.

Food Storage Don’ts:

  • Don’t use wax paper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil to wrap food that will be frozen.
  • Don’t mix raw meats with cooked meats and vegetables.
  • Don’t wash fresh fruits and vegetables before storing them. Their natural oils will protect them from spoiling; wash them only before cooking or eating.
  • Don’t overpack the refrigerator or freezer, it will make it more difficult to keep the food cold enough.
  • Don’t store eggs and milk in the refrigerator door; they won't stay cold enough to prevent bacteria from forming.
  • Don’t refrigerate whole bananas or tomatoes.
  • Don’t store potatoes and onions together. They release gases that cause one another to rot.
  • Don’t eat food from bulging or leaking cans.