With the price of food these days, we can’t afford to waste anything. Storing your food properly can help make the most of your food dollar by preventing spoilage, as well as preserving the quality and nutrition in the foods you buy.
With the price of food these days, we can’t afford to waste anything. Storing your food properly can help make the most of your food dollar by preventing spoilage, as well as preserving the quality and nutrition in the foods you buy. Most people probably store their food wherever it is convenient in their homes or perhaps follow the examples from childhood. But to keep foods at their optimal quality and to prevent food poisoning, certain foods need to be kept in specific areas of the kitchen.
Ideally, your refrigerator temperature should be less than 40 degrees. Keep the fridge clean to prevent bacterial growth. Cold temperatures can slow bacterial growth, but it won’t kill them. Don’t overcrowd your refrigerator; keep some space to allow for good air circulation. Keep perishable foods, like meats, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, in the coldest sections of the refrigerator. This is usually the bottom drawers or top shelf. The door is the warmest and should be used for condiments, not milk or eggs.
Organize your refrigerator for food safety, as well. Store foods like breads, juices, milk, fruits and vegetables on the top shelf because they are least likely to contaminate other foods. Leave eggs in the carton, and not in the door, to help keep them fresh. Keep foods that may drip, like meats, on the bottom shelf so they won’t contaminate other foods. Foods stored in the fridge should be covered or in airtight containers to prevent dehydration, loss of flavor and possible contamination.
Your pantry should be cool and dry, with the ideal temperature of between 50 and 70 degrees. If you don’t have a separate pantry, store foods in the coolest cabinets furthest away from the stove or oven, water heater, dishwasher, or hot water pipes. Store open food in metal, glass or plastic containers, and regularly check for pests.
Freezers need to be at 0 degrees or lower. Freeze food in moisture- and vapor-proof packaging, such as freezer paper or thick plastic bags, to prevent freezer burn and absorption of odd odors. For best quality when freezing meat bought in the supermarket, re-wrap it in freezer paper.
The following foods have specific, ideal storage requirements.
Potatoes: Store in a cool, dry place. Avoid storing under the sink where they might get dripped on or exposed to heat from pipes. Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator; exposing potatoes to cold temperatures will turn their starch into sugar, making them taste sweet.
Onions and garlic: Store in a cool, dry place, not under the sink or in the refrigerator. Store potatoes, onions and garlic separately. Onions and garlic can make potatoes soft.
Tomatoes: Best kept at room temperature. Refrigeration makes tomatoes lose flavor and makes the texture mealy.
Cantaloupe or honeydew melons: Keep at room temperature until you cut into them. These melons will continue to ripen at room temperature. If you refrigerate a whole melon, it will lose flavor and may become rubbery. Once cut, store in the refrigerator.
Lemons and limes: Best stored at room temperature because they can absorb fridge odors.
Pineapple: Pineapples won’t ripen any more once picked, so you can store them either at room temperature or in the refrigerator until used. A neat trick is to store them upside down for 1 or 2 days. This helps the sugar, which is stored in the base, redistribute throughout the whole pineapple before you cut it.
Bananas: Store at room temperature. If they are ripening too fast for you, you can halt the ripening by putting them in the refrigerator. The skin will turn black, but the inside will stay the same ripeness with perhaps a slight texture change. Or peel them, put them in a freezer bag and freeze for use in smoothies or banana breads later.
Apples: Keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 months. But keep them away from other foods. Apples give off ethylene gas that can wilt or spoil other foods.
Asparagus or artichokes: Wrap the base in a damp paper towel, wrap in plastic and store in the refrigerator until used.
Mushrooms: Don’t wash them until you are ready to use them. Store them in the refrigerator, ideally in a paper bag instead of the plastic wrapped container they come in.
Fresh Herbs: Wash and dry well, and put them in a glass of water, like a flower bouquet, and cover loosely with plastic wrap
Oils: Store in a cool place and away from any heat source. You can store oils in the refrigerators, but they may solidify until brought back to room temperature.
Coffee/ Coffee Beans: Refrigerate or freeze after opening to keep fresh
Spices: Store in a dark, cool place, like the pantry. Spices lose their zip quickly, so ground spices need to be replaced every six months. Whole spices can last as long as two years.
Yeast: Exposure to heat or light can kill yeast, so store it in the freezer or refrigerator.
Condiments: Catsup, sauces, jellies, mustards and dressings all should be refrigerated once opened. These can safely be stored in the refrigerator door.
Should you lose power this summer, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed. Food should be safe in the fridge for about four hours without power and up to 48 hours in a full freezer. Discard any food that has been exposed to temperatures greater than 40 degrees for more than two hours. It’s OK to refreeze or cook frozen food that has been thawed as long as there are still some ice crystals or it has not been above 40 degrees.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.