Food Storage 101

Food Storage 101

Most people learn food storage techniques from watching and listening to their parents or guardians. You may have heard your mother say, “Never eat meat after three days,” or watched your father scrub the counter down after fileting fish. But why are these food storage tips necessary?

Food gets stored in a specific way to prevent you from getting sick. As times change, the guidelines for proper food storage change, too. However, the basic principles for food storage are timeless and easy to learn. Follow this food storage guide to learn the essentials so you can avoid food-related illness. 

The Importance of Proper Food Storage 

The Importance of Proper Food Storage

All food is perishable — without some type of human intervention. Temperature changes, oxygen, bacteria and other factors can all cause food to spoil when left at room temperature. Fortunately, proper food storage can help perishables last much longer. Proper food storage:

  • Keeps nutritional quality high.
  • Protects you from food poisoning.
  • Saves the cost of spoiled groceries.

Storing food properly is simple, and there are just a few basic guidelines you should follow for each food group. As you prepare and store food, you’ll discover the best places in your fridge and cellar to store certain items so they stay fresh for longer.

If you want to buy foods that will be safe to eat for a long time, consider fully-cooked frozen products. These won’t go bad until their expiration date and can be warmed up quickly whenever you need them. Frozen products last much longer than fresh food, and they often have a higher nutritional value because they are frozen while in season.

General Guidelines for How to Store Food 

Remember how the characters from “The Boxcar Children” series stored their milk behind a waterfall? Your refrigerator is the modern version of a dark cave kept cool by icy mountain water. Set your refrigerator properly, and it will prevent bacterial growth so that your food lasts longer. Here’s how to store food in the fridge: 

  • Check expiration dates and follow them: They’re a good guideline for preventing food poisoning.
  • Keep raw foods at the bottom of the fridge: That way, any leakage won’t impact food stored below. 
  • Store foods that spoil quickly in the fridge: These foods include meat, dairy, eggs, salads, cooked grains and canned food that’s been opened.
  • Keep raw and cooked foods separate: This helps prevent contamination. 
  • Set your freezer to 0 degrees Fahrenheit: This keeps stored foods fresh for later use.

You might be wondering if you can put hot food in the fridge. Technically, you can. However, it’s better to wait for warm food to cool before placing it in the fridge so that it doesn’t temporarily warm up your fridge’s internal temperature.

Storing Meat, Fish and Poultry 

As far as food safety is concerned, meat is probably the most essential product to consider because it spoils faster than most other foods. Meat is also expensive, so letting it spoil damages your diet and your budget. 

All meat should be stored in your fridge at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In your freezer, meat should be kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, raw meat can be kept for one to two days in the fridge. Once cooked, it can be safely stored for three to four days in the refrigerator.

Storing meat in its original packaging reduces potential exposure to bacteria. You can also put it in a zip-close bag and set it on a plate or in a bowl to catch any leaks. Whatever packaging you store your meat in, ensure it’s sealed to maximize freshness. 

Store raw meat in the bottom of your fridge for best results. If there’s a leak, this protects the rest of your food from being contaminated and ruined. Cooked and raw meat spoils faster than many other foods, so you should scout out the coldest shelf or drawer in your fridge to safely store it.

Freezers can significantly extend the shelf life of fresh meat. However, it’s not recommended to leave meat in the freezer indefinitely. If left too long, freezer burn can ruin the quality of stored meat, and frozen meat can actually spoil. If you’re concerned about meat going bad in your fridge or freezer, consider storing fully cooked frozen meat products.

Storing Dairy 

Dairy products like butter, yogurt, milk and cheese also spoil quickly in warm temperatures and should be kept in the fridge. Although eggs are not technically a dairy product, they can also benefit from refrigeration. 

Most unopened dairy products can be stored for a long period of time. However, after you start using a dairy product, you’ll have between one week and six months before the food starts to spoil. Here’s a quick list of how long you can store opened dairy products in your fridge:

  • Yogurt: One to two weeks.
  • Soft cheeses: One week. 
  • Hard cheeses: Three to four weeks. 
  • Processed cheeses: One to two months. 
  • Milk: One week. 
  • Buttermilk: Two weeks. 
  • Sour cream: One to three weeks. 

A sour taste is a good indicator that a dairy product is going bad and should be thrown away. 

Storing Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables don’t pose the same health risks as meat and dairy products, but they can still spoil if not stored properly. Many produce items — like carrots, onions, broccoli and lettuce — will last much longer if stored in the fridge. Because they have a high liquid content, they don’t tend to freeze well. 

Many people put vegetables in the fridge and store fruit on their counters. However, you may find that fruit needs to be refrigerated, too. Here are some tips for storing fruits and veggies: 

  • Fresh produce: Fresh produce usually lasts about a week in the fridge. 
  • Wet produce: Make sure to fully dry produce after washing it. Wet produce spoils more quickly.
  • Root vegetables: Root vegetables can stay fresh for two weeks in the fridge. 

A unique vegetable to consider is the potato. Potatoes are best stored in a cool, dark place like a root cellar. Once cooked, it’s incredibly important to keep them cold in the fridge. You may have heard the term “botulism” before — this is an illness caused by the bacteria C. botulinum, and it can be deadly. Botulism can result from storing potatoes in aluminum foil at room temperature. 

Storing Leftovers 

Storing whole food is one thing. But how should you store food once it’s been sliced or cooked? How long are leftovers good for? Follow these tips to enjoy your leftovers with confidence. 

  • Rule: Once food is sliced or cooked, it should be stored in the fridge. Food leftovers can be refrigerated for three to four days. 
  • Tip: If you have trouble remembering when you cooked what, try putting labels and dates on the leftovers in your fridge. 
  • Exception: Unless you absolutely have to, avoid putting sliced tomatoes in the fridge. The cold temperature will ruin their texture and flavor!

If you’re not a leftover person, consider freezing excess food and then reheating it later so that it feels like a new meal. Cooked meats can be stored in the freezer for between one and six months, depending on the type of meat. 

To keep leftovers fresh for as long as possible, always store them in a sealed, airtight container, and allow hot foods to cool before storing them. Although you can put hot food in the fridge, this can disrupt the temperature of other foods. You can safely let food cool on the counter before refrigeration for two hours in most cases. However, it’s best to refrigerate cooked food after an hour if it’s above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Stock Your Freezer and Refrigerator With Our Fully-Cooked Meats

Stock Your Freezer and Refrigerator With Our Fully-Cooked Meats

Investing in fully-cooked protein options can simplify your food storage, and John Soules Foods offers delicious frozen and refrigerated options. Fully-cooked chicken and beef products work incredibly well in a variety of recipes and can make your kitchen a more convenient place where storage is easy!

Ready to learn more? Find John Soules Foods at a store local to you