HEALTHPLAN MAGAZINE

The Best Ways To Store Food, Leftovers And Reduce Shopping Trips To A Minimum Health Tips

The coronavirus has not yet “peaked” and we are all feeling the strain of social distancing and being cooped up at home. In these times, it is important to know how to store food correctly. This may sound obvious, but most of us make big mistakes when storing fruit, vegetables and meat. No food will last forever, but making groceries last longer not only saves money, but it also reduces waste and unnecessary shopping trips.

Many foods we buy in the supermarket are marked with dates. But what do these different terms actually mean?

Use by” dates appear on foods which go bad quite quickly. Eating such foods after this date could be dangerous, as food can still look and smell fine even after its "Use by" date. It could, however, contain bugs that might make you ill.

Best before” dates are for foods with a longer storage life. The date shows how long the food will be at its best for. Eating food past its “Best before” date is not dangerous, but the food quality may have deteriorated.

To cool or not to cool?

Whilst it may seem logical to store as many of our fresh groceries in the fridge as possible, this is not
always correct. Items which should not be stored in the fridge include:

  • bread (it dries out in the fridge)
  • herbs (they wilt in the fridge – better to store them in a jar with water on the worktop)
  • potatoes (fridge-storing adversely affects the flavour; storage in paper bags works best)
  • avocados, apples, bananas, citrus fruits, berries, peaches, apricots and nectarines should not be stored in the fridge. Refrigerating these fruits results in a loss of flavours and textures.
  • onions (they go soft in the fridge; storage in paper bags in a cool, dry place is best – away from potatoes!)

Despite the fact that we like things to be clean: Items which are to be stored in the fridge must not be washed first! Moisture on the surface promotes and accelerates the decay process. Wash fruit and vegetables immediately before eating/preparing them.

One important thing to remember is fridge maintenance. The fridge temperature should be kept at 5°C or below. If your fridge has a digital temperature display, it may be worth checking it against an internal fridge thermometer every now and then just to ensure that it is accurate. Clean and inspect your fridge at regular intervals to make sure it remains hygienic and in good working order.

Storing meat and fish in the fridge

It is very important to store meat safely in the fridge, in order to prevent bacteria from spreading.

Food poisoning, caused by bacteria, can be extremely dangerous. Raw meat and poultry must be stored in clean, sealed containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Make sure to follow any storage instructions on the food-packaging label. Do not eat meat after its “Use by” date. Always keep cooked meat separate from raw meat and ready-to-eat foods.

Storing leftovers

Leftovers should be cooled as quickly as possible (within 2 hours) prior to storing in the fridge. They should be consumed within 2 days.

Avoid putting open tin cans in the fridge; the food inside can develop a metallic taste. Use an airtight container instead.

When reheating leftovers, ensure that the food is heated until it reaches a temperature of 70°C for 2 minutes, so that the entire portion is steaming hot all the way through.

Many leftovers can be frozen: divide them into individual portions and freeze. Always defrost leftovers completely, either in the fridge or in the microwave.

Once defrosted, food should be reheated only once. The more times the food is cooled and re-heated,
the higher the risk of food poisoning.

Freezing food

If you have room in your freezer, many types of food can be safely frozen for months at a time. If using freezer bags, it is important to expel as much air as possible before sealing the bag, as air in the bag will dry the food out. If using hard containers, these need to be freezer-proof, i.e. they will not crack (or even explode!) when frozen.

It may surprise you to learn that almost all types of food can be frozen: not only things like meat and fish but also yoghurt, cheese (except soft cheese, as the texture is adversely affected by the freezing process), milk, eggs (including boiled eggs), bread, other baked goods...

Provided they are correctly prepared, fruits and vegetables can last from 8 to 12 months in the freezer. It is important to remove seeds and stems prior to freezing. The varieties with high water content, such as strawberries and tomatoes, become pulpy when frozen but are still perfectly good to cook with.

Even bananas can be frozen: They must, however, be peeled and placed in an airtight container prior to freezing.

According to experts, eggs do not need to be kept in the fridge. Most of us store them there, though, which is fine, as in the fridge, they are kept at a constant temperature. Eggs can, however, also be frozen. There are 2 methods for freezing eggs:

  1. Crack the eggs, separating yolks and whites into separate plastic containers or food bags then freeze – this is handy for baking purposes
  2. Crack the eggs into a plastic bowl and beat before freezing – this is a great option for omelettes and scrambled eggs

A boiled egg can be safely stored in the fridge for a couple of days - and can also be frozen.

Freezing and defrosting meat and fish

Meat and fish can be safely frozen, provided a few “rules” are observed:

  • meat and fish can be frozen at any time prior to their “Use by” date
  • meat and fish must be completely defrosted prior to cooking. A lot of liquid will come out as
  • meat thaws, so it should be placed in a bowl or open container in order to prevent bacteria in the liquid from spreading to other items
  • meat and fish can be defrosted in a microwave if you intend to cook them straight away. If not, defrost in the fridge overnight to prevent the meat/fish from becoming warm
  • cook the meat/fish until it is steaming hot all the way through
  • ensure that meat is correctly wrapped in the freezer otherwise, it might suffer from freezer burn, which can make it tough and inedible
  • date and label meat/fish in the freezer (it is easy to forget what has been frozen!)
  • eat meat/fish within 24 hours of defrosting

Refreezing meat and fish

Never refreeze raw meat (including poultry) or fish that has already been defrosted.

Defrosted meat and fish can be cooked and then re-frozen. Allow to cool before freezing.

One last little tip: To avoid both bacterial problems and wastage, only take enough out of the freezer
to cover your needs for the next 24 hours.