Refrigerating Food: Don’t Lose Your Cool
Keep the fridge cool at 40°F and the freezer at 0°F. If it crosses 40°F, especially after a 2-hour-long power cut, meat, eggs, and milk may spoil but your nose may not be able to detect it. Don't keep the door open or even ajar for long. Store food in airtight containers, with the lid on and at the right place; for instance, meat in the meat drawer and eggs in the main section, not on the door shelves. Stored right, some fresh meat cuts can last a year.
While you regularly consume foods made from produce or supplies stored in your refrigerator or reheat leftovers you just pulled out from it, can you be sure they’re safe to eat? A refrigerator is something we all take for granted. Just push your food into it and it will keep it from spoiling. Right?
Unfortunately, that may not always be the case. Your food may do more than just spoil if stored incorrectly for too long or at the wrong temperatures. It could allow pathogenic bacteria to thrive, putting your health at risk. There’s a right way – and a wrong – to everything from where you place your food in the refrigerator to the containers you use.
Basic Tips On Food Refrigeration
Here are some basic dos and don’ts to ensure your food and you are safe.
Do Keep It Cool
It is vital you get the temperature settings right or you will be running nothing more than a glorified cupboard. Ensure the temperature is set at no more than 40°F.1 The freezer section needs to be much cooler, ideally at temperatures of 0°F or less.2
Do Check After Power Outages
If you experience a power failure, what should you do with the food inside? Do you toss it all? Or is it safe to eat? The rule of thumb is to check what temperature it is at when the power comes back on. If it has not breached the 40-degree mark, you are good to go.
But if it has dipped below for over 2 hours, your perishable foods like milk, meat or poultry, and eggs are likely to have gone bad. For everything else, an outage of up to 4 hours is not cause for concern if the doors were kept shut during this time.3
Do Get The Right Storage Containers
Always use covered, and wherever possible airtight, containers or bags to store foods.4 It may seem easier to just pop an opened tin can that has only been half used into the refrigerator, but it is a bad idea.
The tin can cause your food to develop a metallic taste while stored. Instead, transfer the contents to a different storage container before refrigerating.5
Do Know What To Store Where
Different sections of your refrigerator are designed to cool differently. For instance, the crisper creates the optimal environment for storing fresh produce with some amount of humidity and temperatures that are not as cold as the cheese/meats area.
The cheese and meat drawer, on the other hand, is kept extra cold, with direct cool air flow that is regulated to prevent freezing but keeping things much cooler than elsewhere in the main section.6
Temperatures on the door are higher, so do not keep foods that spoil easily or need cooler temperatures here. For instance, avoid putting eggs in the door. Instead, leave them in the carton on the main central shelves.
Do Not Try And Sniff Out Stale Food
While your nose can tell you when food has begun to spoil, it is not a fail-safe method. Sometimes, food may go bad or have pathogenic bacteria in it without any visible changes or noticeable odors.
In general, here are the times for which foods can last if stored correctly at temperatures below 40 degrees.7
- Poultry lasts 1–2 days in the main refrigerator, or between 9 months and a year in the freezer section.
- Fresh meats (veal/beef/pork) is good for about 3 to 5 days, or 4 to 12 months in the freezer, depending on the cut of meat.
- Salads last 3 to 5 days and are best not frozen.
- Cooked soups or stews can survive for 3 to 4 days in the fridge or can be frozen for a couple of months.
- Leftover cooked pizza and chicken patties/nuggets can be kept for 3 to 4 days. Freezing allows pizza to last between 1 and 2 months, while nuggets and patties should be fine for up to 3 months.
Do Not Dawdle At The Door
Keep a watch on those doors and ensure both the main section and the freezer compartment doors are tightly shut always. If they swing open they let warm air in and you run the risk of food spoiling.
When you do open the doors to pull out something or pop in some food, be sure to make this process as quick and efficient as you can. Taking your own sweet time may make the cooling inefficient while also exposing food to possible pathogens.8
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