Having to decide whether or not to eat that last bit of butter chicken (after a hefty serving for dinner) in order to avoid having to look for Tupperware with a matching lid can be frustrating. Even though it is okay to store leftovers in the fridge, sometimes we leave them in there for too long or they are stored inappropriately. I hate having to throw away food that has gone off; guilt always rips at me, knowing that it's gone to waste. This got me thinking about food storage best practices, the do’s and don'ts, and the things we tend to overlook, for example how expiry and use-by dates get allocated to foodstuffs.
Here are some top tips and facts that you may have not known about food storage.
Good Hygiene Matters
Good hygiene practices should always be top of mind when looking to preserve food and keep your family healthy. In one of our previous blogs we talked about how often do you need to clean the fridge and why it’s important to do so, as leaving food in any storage area for too long (or worse still keeping food in areas that are contaminated and unsanitary) can leave you and your family at risk of a number of undesirable illnesses such as diarrhoea, fever, abdominal cramps, and nausea, to name just a few. It’s best to disinfect all food storage areas before use.
Expiry and Use-by Dates
Pre-cooked foods, raw meat, poultry, fruit, and yoghurt, indeed every item sold out of a refrigerator or a cool shelf at your supermarket has a ‘use-by’ or ‘expiry’ date that we need to consider when purchasing goods. Expiry dates are formulated by microbial challenge studies conducted by producers in which they inject their products with microorganisms that could potentially ruin the product to see how long the product last. Some producers use mathematical modelling tools that do multiple tests based on specific factors like the difference in ingredients used, the acid levels, even the temperatures in storage facilities and use that as a guide. Smaller producers opt for using the dates their competitors use as it’s more cost effective.
Another consideration with these items is preserving the cold-chain whilst shopping. Take a read of one of our previous blogs Grocery shopping in the age of Listeriosis for some tips and tricks on how to shop for refrigerated goods safely.
Cling wrap vs waxed paper
Products like cheese should not be wrapped in cling wrap once opened as the cheese can absorb chemicals and odours from the plastic and this encourages faster growth of bacteria. Waxed paper helps make it last a little longer than cling wrap. This is also applicable to fish that has been thoroughly dried. Ensure that your hands are washed thoroughly before handling the food and waxed paper to avoid contaminating either of them.
Contrary to popular belief, storing bread in the refrigerator doesn’t make it last longer, it actually does the opposite. It’s best kept tightly sealed in its original packaging and consumed within 4 to 7 days. Freezing bread, on the other hand, does slow down the growth of mould, but would need to be thawed before consumption. I always try to limit the amount of air that the bread is exposed to as oxygen encourages bacterial growth, and even more so when the environment is humid.
Eggs and Milk
Did you know that storing them in the fridge door is detrimental to their shelf life? This is the because the door is the warmest part of the fridge due to the inconsistent temperatures. These fluctuations cause milk and eggs to go off quicker, so rather opt for storage space on the shelves.
Read our blog How often do you need to clean the office fridge for tips on how to keep your fridge food fresh and safe to eat at work.
Any plastic container that does not contain the hazardous chemical Bisphenol A, otherwise known as BPA, is considered safe to use for food storage. BPA can imitate the body's hormones, and interfere with the production, secretion, transport, action, function, and elimination of natural hormones. Ensure that the plastic containers in which you store your food are BPA-free. Furthermore, ensure that all containers are properly washed before use. Additionally, limiting the amount of air present in the container helps reduce the speed at which food goes off, therefore I would recommend using containers that are the right size for the food that you are trying to store.
Freezing meat as soon as it is purchased is the way to go, refreezing is not. Any thawing that occurs after the first freeze changes the quality of the product and increases the growth of bacteria. The best practice - and one I’ve used for a number of years - is to pre-pack your meat, subdivided by day, immediately after your trip from the grocery store. That way you won't compromise your food by defrosting meat that you won’t cook on the day.
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables should not be stored together because some fruits release a natural gas called Ethylene which speeds up ripening and which could spoil any other vegetables which are in close proximity. Try keeping ‘fridge’ fruits and veggies in separate compartments, and ‘counter’ fruit and veggies in the same fashion. Additionally, try to check them regularly and throw away items that are going off, as well as cleaning the fridge compartments regularly to limit bacterial growth.
Aside from washing our hands before we start preparing a meal, we don’t often think about hygiene in the broader sense, but it is equally important to apply good hygiene practices to food storage. Doing so will not only save you the financial cost of wasted, spoiled food, but will also minimise the chances of putting our families at risk of food-borne illnesses.
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