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Food and Health -- > Are You Storing Food Safely?
For informational purposes only. Consult your Doctor.
Are You Storing Food Safely?
from the US Food and Drug Administration
Whether putting food in the
refrigerator, the freezer, or the cupboard, you have plenty of
opportunities to prevent food borne illnesses.
The goal is to keep yourself and others from being sickened by
microorganisms such as
Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and C. botulinum, which causes botulism. Keeping foods chilled at
proper temperatures is one of the best ways to prevent or slow
the growth of these bacteria.
These food storage tips can help you steer clear of foodborne
Refrigerate or freeze perishables right away. Foods that
require refrigeration should be put in the refrigerator as
soon as you get them home. Stick to the "two-hour rule" for
leaving items needing refrigeration out at room temperature.
Never allow meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or produce or other
foods that require refrigeration to sit at room temperature
for more than two hours—one hour if the air temperature is
above 90° F. This also applies to items such as leftovers,
"doggie bags," and take-out foods. Also, when putting food
away, don't crowd the refrigerator or freezer so tightly that
air can't circulate.
Keep your appliances at the proper temperatures. Keep the
refrigerator temperature at or below 40° F (4° C). The freezer
temperature should be 0° F (-18° C). Check temperatures
periodically. Appliance thermometers are the best way of
knowing these temperatures and are generally inexpensive.
Check storage directions on labels. Many items other than
meats, vegetables, and dairy products need to be kept cold.
For instance, mayonnaise and ketchup should go in the
refrigerator after opening. If you've neglected to properly
refrigerate something, it's usually best to throw it out.
Use ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible. Refrigerated
ready-to-eat foods such as luncheon meats should be used as
soon as possible. The longer they're stored in the
refrigerator, the more chance Listeria, a bacterium that
causes foodborne illness, can grow, especially if the
refrigerator temperature is above 40° F (4° C).
Be alert for spoiled food. Anything that looks or smells
suspicious should be thrown out. Mold is a sign of spoilage.
It can grow even under refrigeration. Mold is not a major
health threat, but it can make food unappetizing. The safest
practice is to discard food that is moldy.
Marinate food in the refrigerator. Bacteria can multiply
rapidly in foods left to marinate at room temperature.
Also, never reuse marinating liquid as a sauce unless you
bring it to a rapid boil first.
Clean the refrigerator regularly and wipe spills
immediately. This helps reduce the growth of Listeria
bacteria and prevents drips from thawing meat that can
allow bacteria from one food to spread to another. Clean
the fridge out frequently.
Keep foods covered. Store refrigerated foods in covered
containers or sealed storage bags, and check leftovers
daily for spoilage. Store eggs in their carton in the
refrigerator itself rather than on the door, where the
temperature is warmer.
Check expiration dates. If food is past its "use by" date,
discard it. If you're not sure or if the food looks
questionable, throw it out.
Food that is properly frozen and cooked is safe. Food that
is properly handled and stored in the freezer at 0° F
(-18° C) will remain safe. While freezing does not kill
most bacteria, it does stop bacteria from growing. Though
food will be safe indefinitely at 0° F, quality will
decrease the longer the food is in the freezer.
Tenderness, flavor, aroma, juiciness, and color can all be
affected. Leftovers should be stored in tight containers.
With commercially frozen foods, it's important to follow
the cooking instructions on the package to assure safety.
Freezing does not reduce nutrients. There is little change
in a food's protein value during freezing.
Freezer burn does not mean food is unsafe. Freezer burn is
a food-quality issue, not a food safety issue. It appears
as grayish-brown leathery spots on frozen food. It can
occur when food is not securely wrapped in air-tight
packaging, and causes dry spots in foods.
Refrigerator/freezer thermometers should be monitored.
Refrigerator/freezer thermometers may be purchased in the
housewares section of department, appliance, culinary, and
grocery stores. Place one in your refrigerator and one in
your freezer, in the front in an easy-to-read location.
Check the temperature regularly—at least once a week.
If You Lose Electricity
If you lose electricity, keep refrigerator and freezer
doors closed as much as possible. Your refrigerator will
keep food cold for about four hours if it's unopened. A
full freezer will keep an adequate temperature for about
48 hours if the door remains closed.
Tips for Non-Refrigerated Items
Check canned goods for damage. Can damage is shown by
swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive
deep rusting, or crushing or denting severe enough to
prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual,
wheel-type can opener. Stickiness on the outside of cans
may indicate a leak. Newly purchased cans that appear to
be leaking should be returned to the store for a refund or
exchange. Otherwise, throw the cans away.
Don't store food, such as potatoes and onions, under the
sink. Leakage from the pipes can damage the food. Store
potatoes and onions in a cool, dry place.
Keep food away from poisons. Don't store non-perishable
foods near household cleaning products and chemicals.
This article appears on FDA's Consumer Health Information
Web page (www.fda.gov/consumer), which features the latest
updates on FDA-regulated products. Sign up for free e-mail
subscriptions at www.fda.gov/consumer/consumerenews.html.
For More Information
Protect Your Health
Joint FDA/WebMD resource
Start at the Store: 7 Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illness
Prepare for Hurricanes and Floods: Advice from FDA
Food and Water Safety During Hurricanes, Power Outages,
FDA's Foodborne Illness Web Page
Date Posted: July 21, 2008