Safe Holidays Series: Keeping Foods Fresh

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With winter months and holidays comes more food and more meals in our refrigerator. In order to make sure your food stays as fresh and free of pathogens that can spread foodborne illness, it’s important to make sure everything is out of the danger zone temperatures (41°F to 140°F) that were previously discussed in an earlier piece in our series. So, it is important to make sure your refrigerator is running optimally, and that you’re a checking on your food for freshness frequently and the space allotted. Below are a few tips to maximize on keeping your food fresh during the winter months provided by the Food and Drug Administration and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Image of an Appliance Thermometer

An Appliance Thermometer

  • Make sure that your refrigerator’s temperature is constantly at 40°F or below. Use an appliance thermometer to help check the temperature of the refrigerator periodically.
  • Make sure you’re checking the expiration dates on products. Some foods may have “used by” dates, which is the date before the quality of the food may change and not be as fresh.
  • If foods don’t look fresh or have sat in the refrigerator for a long time, don’t be afraid to throw it away. “When in doubt, throw it out!”
  • Consume “Ready-to-eat” soon after purchase. Keeping ready-to-eat foods in the fridge for a long period of time has the potential of producing bacteria like Listeria, that can cause foodborne illness.
  • Meats should be kept on the lowest shelf in the fridge, to prevent any juices from seeping onto other foods. Make sure raw meats are packaged in plastic bags or wrapped containers.
  • Cool foods as quickly as possible after preparation. Do not leave prepared food outside the refrigerator for longer than 2 hours.
  • Leftovers, even when still warm, should be stored back in the refrigerator as soon as possible.
  • If you have a big dish you are saving as leftovers, condense portions into smaller shallow containers for proper cooling.
  • Give your refrigerator enough space for the cool air to circulate around to help keep foods fresh. Don’t overpack the fridge!

For more food safety tips, make sure to check out the NC State Extension Food Safety portal, and as always, have a Happy Holidays!

References:

FDA Consumer Updates: “Are You Storing Your Food Safely?”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – Eatright.org – “Refrigerate – The Basics”