Guidelines for Storing Foods in the Refrigerator

Food safety depends on proper refrigeration of perishable items to avoid threats to health from bacteria, mold and deterioration. Running your refrigerator at between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit in its refrigerated compartment and zero degrees Fahrenheit in the freezer keeps your food properly chilled. Along with maintaining safe cooling levels, organize your refrigerator for convenience, ease of use and peace of mind. Use sensible guidelines for what you store and where you store it.

Raw Vs. Cooked

When you bring home fresh meats, write the date on the packaging and refrigerate them immediately to keep them fresh and safe. Place raw ingredients on lower shelves or in lower drawers to prevent their drippings from contaminating other foods. Keep everything wrapped and covered to maintain flavor, prevent the smell of one item from invading another and keep moisture in. When you thaw frozen meat, cook it as soon as you thaw it to keep bacteria from growing. If you plan to marinate raw meat before you cook it, place the meat and the marinade in a covered dish and place it inside the refrigerator.

Produce

Fruits and vegetables emit gases as they ripen. That's the reason you can ripen bananas by putting them in a bag with an apple. To keep these gases from having an adverse effect, use them outside the refrigerator to help fruits ripen and then chill related or similar items together. Moisture can be both your friend and your enemy inside a refrigerator. Washing produce before you cool it introduces too much moisture and can cause your fresh items to mold or rot. To preserve lettuce and other delicate vegetables that need moisture to stay fresh, store them in vented bags to keep the mostly dry refrigerated air from dehumidifying them.

Leftovers

If you haven't put leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking them, throw them away. In hot weather or a house that is not air-conditioned, cut that safety margin to one hour. Bacterial growth occurs too quickly to risk eating unsafe food. To avoid forcing your refrigerator to dissipate the heat of still-warm items, break up large items into small storage containers. For example, separate your holiday turkey and its stuffing or dressing so these items cool safely and quickly.

Other Considerations

Keep the difference between "use-by" and "best-by" dates in mind for optimal food safety. "Use-by" dates give you serious guidelines for how long a fresh item remains safe to eat. "Best-by" dates simply indicate how long an item retains optimal flavor and don't indicate a safety margin. When you come home from the grocery store, remember that some of the items you buy from unrefrigerated displays belong in the refrigerator. Real maple syrup needs refrigeration because it contains no preservatives. Store natural nut butters in the refrigerator to keep them from going rancid prematurely. Even some nonfood items benefit from staying in the cold. When you refrigerate candles, they burn cleaner and longer.

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