Prevent waste, keep foods fresh and protect against food-borne illnesses by avoiding these top food storage mistakes.
Did the strawberries you bought on sale go bad (again) before you could use them all? And the party package of chicken breasts you remembered to freeze before its use-by date: Is it now covered with undesirable ice crystals?
Despite our best efforts to ‘waste not, want not’, we still throw out a lot of food. In fact, a typical North American family throws out up to a third of the food they buy at the grocery store, costing consumers thousands of dollars each year.
One way to prevent waste, keep foods fresher longer and protect against food-borne illnesses is to practice better habits when it comes to storing food. Here are some of the most common food storage mistakes, according to Consumer Reports.
Mistake #1: Sloppy Wrapping
If food isn’t wrapped properly air and moisture — food’s worst enemies — can seep in and cause food to spoil more quickly.
Mistake #3: Storing in Oversized Containers
Leaving too much space at the top of the container can speed up spoilage and freezer burn.
The Fix: Match the size of your container as closely as possible to the contents. There should be a minimum amount of ‘headroom’, or air, between the food and the lid. The same rule also applies to plastic bags. (Note: If you’re storing sauce or soup, be sure to keep a small amount of room at the top of the container for expansion of the liquid.)
Mistake #4: Incorrect Fridge Temperature
Even a few degrees can make a big difference to food spoilage if your refrigerator or freezer temperatures are too warm. Signs your temperatures might be off? Look for soft ice cream or milk that sours before the sell-by date.
The Fix: Keep the fridge set at 4ºC (40ºF) or lower, and the freezer at -18°C (0°F) or below. To verify your temperatures are at appropriate levels, use a thermometer to check each compartment.
Mistake #6: Refrigerating Hot Leftovers
If you place piping hot food in the fridge, it can warm the food around it and increase the rate of bacterial growth.
The Fix: It’s best to allow hot foods to cool before refrigerating. So what to do with that big pot of soup or chili? Plunge it into a sink filled with ice water — or transfer to smaller containers. To prevent bacteria growth, however, be sure to get leftovers into the fridge within two hours.
Mistake #7: Relying on the Sniff Test
A bad odour can indeed be an indication that a food has spoiled – but food that doesn’t smell can still make you sick. Foods that are contaminated with Listeria, for example, look, smell and taste normal.
The Fix: Pay close attention to ‘use-by’ or ‘best-before’ dates on packaging. A few general rules: An opened package of luncheon meat can be safely stored in the fridge three to five days. (Once a package is opened the best-before date no longer applies.) Deli or homemade egg, chicken, ham, tuna or pasta salads can also be stored safely for 3-5 days. Cooked or uncooked fish needs to be tossed after only one to two days, and the same goes for uncooked ground beef and fresh sausage.
Mistake #9: Not Repackaging Large Quantities of Food
You may have gotten a great deal on that club pack of steak, but if it goes bad before you can use it, you’re throwing money away.
The Fix: Repackage food into meal-size packages and freeze what you can’t use immediately. (This is especially true for poultry and meats that, generally, should be eaten within one to two days.) Other items that can be frozen include most fruits, some vegetables, bread, nuts, whole grains, butter, and even flour.
Mistake #10: Reusing Inappropriate Food Containers