9 Ways to Keep Food in Your Fridge Safe
When was the last time you cleaned out your fridge? Has your fridge ever become so cluttered that you can't keep track of what is in there anymore? Have you ever run out of space for new food? Are you constantly having to move things out of the way to get to what you want? Are you unsure when certain items were placed in the fridge, or worse yet, not even sure what is in that container?
Almost everyone’s fridge has most likely been at this level of congestion at some point. This is especially common after holiday meals. It's easy to place food in the fridge without much thought, however, this can be a serious health risk. Food can be harmful to our health even when it does not look, smell or taste spoiled. Microorganisms in food, such as Salmonella, E. coli, O157:H7 and C. Botulinum, can make us sick, and even be deadly. Proper food storage is crucial in the prevention of foodborne illnesses. Here are nine guidelines for proper, safe food storage:
Maintain the correct temperature. Keep your fridge below 40°F and your freezer at or below 0°F. The temperature danger zone (TDZ) is the range of temperature in which bacteria grows at the fastest rate. This range is 40°F to 140°F. Keeping foods below 40°F slows the growth of bacteria that spoils food.
Cool cooked food. Cooked or reheated perishable foods should be chilled within 2 hours, or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90°F. This brings the food out of that dangerous temperature range more quickly.
Read the label. Be sure to read food labels thoroughly for storage instructions. Many items off the shelves at the store may need to be refrigerated after opening. If these items are left out of the fridge for an extend time they should be discarded.
Packaging. Ensure that leftovers are stored in airtight containers or wrapped thoroughly with plastic wrap. Label containers with the date refrigerated and a description of the contents. Freezer tape adheres well to most surfaces.
First in, first out (FIFO). Foods should be organized with the food expiring first at the front. This is to ensure food is not left to go out of date and spoil. Adding date labels to products can help with organization as well as tell you when to throw something away.
Hierarchy. Food storage hierarchy should be followed to prevent cross contamination. Keep raw meats away from items that will not be cooked. For example, ready-to-eat foods, i.e., foods that can be eaten in their raw or current state should be stored on top. This includes lunch meats, salads, cheese, whole fruit, such as apples, chicken salad, etc. For meats, poultry and fish, the higher the internal cooking temperature is, the lower in the refrigerator they should be stored.
Length of stay. The length of time a food product can be kept in the fridge or freezer depends on the product. Fresh, perishable items such as raw meats and poultry will have less time they can sit in a fridge compared to packaged items such as deli meats and hot dogs. Whether the package has been opened also has an effect on storage time. FoodSafety.gov has a cold food storage chart that outlines the length of time food can be stored in the fridge and freezer.
Inspect. If food has been in your fridge for a while be sure to inspect the products and keep a lookout for mold and other spoilage.
Clean your fridge. When in doubt, throw it out. Get rid of any questionable food products weekly. Spills should be wiped up immediately to reduce the growth of listeria.
Following guidelines such as these will help you to keep a clean, organized and safe fridge!
Written by: Sam Wdow, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern