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Food storage for safety and quality

October 29, 2008|By LYNN LITTLE

Foods vary in the required temperature and moisture they need to retain quality in storage. To retain quality and nutritive value, stock only the kinds and amounts of food you can store properly.

o Begin by purchasing food from reputable dealers, with a known record for safe handling. Select dated products only if the sell-by or use-by date has not expired. While these dates are helpful, they are reliable only if the food has been kept at the proper temperature during storage and handling. Although many products display sell-by or use-by dates, product dating is not a federal requirement.

o Select products labeled "keep refrigerated" only if they are stored in a refrigerated case and are cold to the touch. Frozen products should be solidly frozen. Packages of precooked foods should not be torn or damaged.

o Avoid crosscontamination when purchasing foods. Place raw meat and poultry in individual plastic bags to prevent meat from contaminating foods that will be eaten without further cooking. Put packages of raw meat and poultry in your shopping cart where juices cannot drip onto other foods.

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o Shop for perishables last. Keep refrigerated and frozen items together so they will remain cold. Place perishables in the coolest part of your car during the trip home. If the time from store to home refrigerator is more than one hour, pack them in an insulated container with ice or an ice pack.

o Proper storage means maintaining a clean refrigerator and freezer at the recommended temperatures. Use a thermometer to check that the refrigerator is at 35 to 40 degrees and the freezer at 0 degrees or below.

o Avoid overcrowding the refrigerator. Arrange items so cold air can circulate freely. To reduce dehydration and quality loss, use freezer wrap, freezer-quality plastic bags or aluminum foil to overwrap the original wrap on meat and poultry that will be stored in the freezer for more than two months.

o Use fresh, perishable foods soon after harvest or purchase. If foods are stored, maintain the proper temperature and humidity. Even under proper storage conditions, foods lose freshness and nutritive value if they are stored too long.

o For a refrigerator and freezer storage chart, you can visit www.foodsafety.gov and click on consumer advice or you can send an e-mail to Lynn Little (LLittle@umd.edu) with "storage chart" in the subject line.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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