Is there anything better than crashing on the couch on Friday night with a big bag of potato chips, settling in to watch a movie with friends or family? When the evening is over, chances are you’ve got half a bag of chips left over when the movie is finished, and no real idea how to store them so they stay fresh and still taste great the next day. What to do?
Storing food properly doesn’t just keep your food fresh. It means you’re not constantly wasting food by throwing out stale leftovers, and that’s good for your budget and the environment. Furthermore, storing it correctly avoids the potential problem of food spoilage, which can (and often does) lead to food poisoning – a nasty and uncomfortable bout of gastrointestinal distress that leaves you feeling drained and terrible for days on end.
In this post, we offer some insights into how you should store everything from apples to raw meat properly. We will explain the most common food storage mistakes lots of folks make and how to avoid them.
Not sealing the container tightly
Not using airtight containers is one of the most common food storage mistakes! Using a well-sealed jar or other container keeps air out, which can make food either soggy and soft or hard and dry. Think about how cookies taste best – when they’re stored in a cookie jar, a container with a snug-fitting lid that keeps air and moisture at bay. If you’re storing foods made with oil, it can go rancid if air gets at it, and rancid oil tastes even worse than dried-out cookies! Is that one of the storage mistakes you catch yourself making?
The oxygen that penetrates improperly stored food causes microorganisms to flourish, along with bacteria. And too much moisture causes mold to grow, and the chemicals in your food start breaking down.
Different foods demand different types of storage containers, but they should be airtight. Storing meat, for example, is often done best in vacuum-sealed bags – the moisture of the meat is preserved, and you can even toss these into the freezer without worrying the meat will dry out. When storing items like pasta, cereal, and other foodstuffs that don’t go in the fridge, using an airtight container helps the food last longer. Wrapping an elastic around a bag of chips gives limited protection to your snack, so it’s best to pop the bag in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
It’s important to keep air and moisture out by storing them in an airtight container. Use one large container for several bags of snacks, if you like, which saves room on your pantry shelf.
Reusing every type of plastic wrap or container
For maximizing the resources we have, we might reuse food packaging to store food before relegating them to the bin. But are you doing this in the right way?
Well, you shouldn’t reuse some of the wrappings or the containers food comes in when you buy it, at least not most of the time. The smartest way to store food is by putting it into glass jars once you’ve opened the package. Glass is easily sterilized and cleaned, and because it is non-porous, nothing sneaks in! Just be sure you clean the containers and dry them thoroughly between uses. As for plastic – well, most plastic isn’t ideal for food storage. Every plastic container is made for a unique purpose, and each one is graded for its purpose. Think twice before putting leftovers into a plastic bowl or other container. You might be better off recycling it, which many plastics are designed for.
The recycling symbol with a graded number is labeled on all plastic products, so check it first. According to the Sierra Club’s plastic guide, several types of plastic, including #1, #3, #6, and #7, should not be reused. For example, the one labeled #1, or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which you shouldn’t reuse. Some plastic labeled #7, which contains BPAs – scientists agree are potentially harmful to people – shouldn’t be in your home at all, let alone your kitchen. And never reuse Styrofoam – in fact, avoid buying it in the first place, if you can. In many countries, Styrofoam is no longer permitted in recycle bins, so it’s not good for the environment, or for you.
On the other hand, You can use plastics with grades 2, 4, or 5. These are safe for storing food, but once they begin discoloring or losing their shape, toss them into recycling – you don’t want them leaking toxic substances into your food, right? Better to be safe than sorry, as the old saying goes!
That’s a common food storage mistake – reusing a container that should be tossed out, or reusing one that’s past its durability level.
Glass is always the best choice
Glass containers are always the wisest choice for storing food. They work really well for dry foods, like pasta and cereals, but they can also hold leftovers from supper that need to be tucked into the fridge. Glass is free of all the potentially harmful elements that plastics often contain, and it’s convenient, too. You can pull a glass bowl or plate from the fridge and pop it into the oven to warm, and voila! Dinner is served in no time!
Acrylic works too.
Acrylic containers and jars are a good bet for storing food in a cupboard or pantry. They are clear, so you can see what’s inside them, and just as importantly, they don’t break. So if your son’s best friend goes hunting around for more chips while they’re watching television, and he knocks a stack of them off the shelf, there’s no harm done. Naturally, as great as glass is for storing food, it shatters easily and makes a dangerous mess when it breaks all over the floor. Acrylic containers are safe, lightweight, and easy to stack.
Whether you choose glass or acrylic storage containers for food and leftovers depends entirely on how much room you have, the kind of food you’re storing, and which type you prefer.
If you would like more information on comparing glass and acrylic, please check out our earlier blog: Acrylic vs Glass: Which Food Canister Is Best?
Storing raw and cooked meat together
Never, ever store raw meat and cooked meat in the same container. Furthermore, never let raw seafood, poultry, or red meats anywhere near cooked meat, or even near store-bought, ready to serve meats like bologna or salami. If they do come into contact, contamination can quickly occur, and germs, bacteria, and pathogens can pass between what is already cooked and what’s raw. Always use separate containers – this is a must for every fridge!
Letting raw and cooked meat come into contact is a common food storage mistake and one that’s potentially very dangerous.
In most of these situations, it is raw meat that’s the culprit, contaminating cooked meat which you rid of germs when you prepared it. Heat kills germs, which is why meat must be cooked at certain temperatures; doing so eliminates the risk of bacteria surviving. Letting cooked meat come into contact with raw meat is a dangerous practice, and can give you food poisoning and other ailments. Remember: use separate containers, and put the cooked meat away promptly when supper is over.
Another important point: make sure you use separate cutting boards for slicing raw meat and vegetables. For example: Never chop veggies on an unwashed cutting board which you just used for slicing up flank steak – that’s just asking for trouble!
Cooked food and raw food should be kept separate in the fridge. Store raw meat in a container in the meat drawer, which many fridges have, or designate a bottom drawer or shelf for it. You don’t want blood and bacteria from a package of pork chops dripping down onto the apples in the crisper, right?
Other foods, like cheese and vegetables, should be stored as far away from raw meat as you can manage.
Use improper guidelines to store food
It’s best to listen to experts when it comes to storing food, rather than just – for example – tossing leftover pizza slices still in the box into the fridge, onto the top shelf closing the door. Being casual about food storage is a very common mistake.
Consider the effects of light and temperature on food before putting it away. Both of these factors affect food and can make it spoil much more quickly. According to scientific experts, exposure to natural or artificial light can ruin food, causing it to spoil faster than necessary. Ask yourself: when you carve an apple and leave the slices on the counter, in the air and light, what happens to them? They turn brown and start to dry out, right? That kind of damage occurs to virtually all food if it isn’t stored properly, and yet it’s a very common food storage mistake.
Even spices degrade, in color, flavor, and strength, if they are left sitting out and sunlight penetrates them.
To solve the problem of light getting into food that you don’t put in the fridge, why not use stainless steel canisters to store dry goods that go on your pantry shelf? Stainless steel blocks light completely, so pasta, spices, and other products aren’t at risk, even if they’re sitting on the kitchen counter. And there’s another food storage mistake quickly and easily corrected!
Temperature is another enemy of fresh food. Heat creates bacteria, which exists even in the cleanest kitchen. When bacteria thrive – and it quickly does in warm places – before you know it you’ve got the risk of illness magnifying. Believe it or not, within 20 minutes in a place that’s between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F (or 4.5 C to 60 C) the threat of getting sick from food contaminated with bacteria is very real – it’s not called the “Danger Zone” for nothing! That’s why you must never leave meat or poultry out of the fridge for more than two hours, tops. Not all foods should go in the fridge, of course. (To learn more about what should and what shouldn’t be refrigerated, check out our blog: “10 Surprising Foods You Should – And Shouldn’t – Refrigerate.”
Storing foods in dark, dry, chilly places maximizes their lifespan. Keep dry goods in a pantry, certain products like milk, cheese, and meat in the fridge, and everything out of direct, natural, or artificial light – that’s how you’ll make everything from onions to apples, eggs to steaks and potatoes last as long as they possibly can.
Storing food properly, and not making the common mistakes we’ve listed here, helps the environment, helps your budget, and helps you serve your family the finest, freshest food possible.
Why not test yourself to see if you’re making any of these common food storage mistakes? If you are, be sure to buy the right containers, put your food away properly, and protect the cooked food already in the fridge.
And by the way, if you have some creative solutions for food storage mistakes you would like to share with us, by all means, let us know in the comments section!