August 24, 2020
We all know what it’s like to open up a container of leftovers only to be let down by the sight of mold or a foul odor. But not all foods exhibit the telltale signs of spoilage. Some illness-causing bacteria, like E. coli, cannot be smelled, tasted, or seen on food.
The agonizing symptoms of food poisoning, an illness that often results from poor food storage, are tough to endure. Fortunately, you can significantly reduce your risk of contracting a foodborne illness by being smart about storage.
When it comes to storage, the most important rule is to keep raw foods (especially meat) away from foods that are ready to be eaten to avoid the spread of bacteria.
Placing perishables in the refrigerator promptly also can make a big difference. It’s important to not allow perishable foods to stay at room temperature for more than two hours. If you’re not sure if something is perishable, refer to the label to determine whether the food needs to be refrigerated and for any other storage instructions.
Most foods only last in the refrigerator for three to four days. If the leftovers aren’t going to be eaten in that period of time, it’s best to freeze them immediately. Freezing doesn’t change the nutritional content of food, and food stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit is usually safe indefinitely (although quality decreases over time).
In the case of both frozen and refrigerated foods, be sure to use clean, airtight containers. These will not only keep food fresher, but also prevent the spread of bacteria if one type of stored food goes bad. Always be sure to wash storage containers with soap and water after each use.
Our pantries are full of shelf-stable foods: non-perishable food that can remain at room temperature safely. Although these foods have been prepared for storage, it’s important to read the labels to familiarize yourself with expiration dates and other care instructions.
Canning and bottling are common ways to prepare food for storage (the products are heated to kill bacteria). Dried foods, including freeze dried foods, also can be safely stored at room temperature. Keeping these foods stored safely means keeping them in an area free of tampering at a normal room temperature—freezing or extremely high (over 120 degrees) temperatures can impact shelf-stable food storage.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to foodborne illness. Following these easy storage tips while practicing other food safety precautions – like washing your hands, rinsing produce, and cooking foods thoroughly – can protect you and your family from the world’s worst stomachache.
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.