Whether you’re storing food in the freezer or refrigerator, you must take steps to ensure you do so safely. Your ultimate goal is to prevent the growth of harmful foodborne microorganisms. Chilling foods at the appropriate temperature is one of the most effective ways of stopping or slowing the growth of potentially detrimental bacteria.
Here are some key steps to maintaining food safety standards when storing food:
Foods that need to be refrigerated must be stored in the refrigerator or walk-in as soon as possible. Never allow meats (including poultry), seafood, eggs, or other foods that need refrigeration to sit out for longer than 2 hours (or 1 hour during warm weather). Also, never pack the refrigerator too tightly; always allow air to circulate around all chilled items.
Maintain correct temperature
Ensure that your refrigerator is set to 4°C or below. Freezers should maintain a temperature of -18°C. A refrigerator or freezer thermometer is the best way to check that your appliances are running at the optimal temperature.
In addition to meats and dairy, many other items require refrigeration. Some packaged items may only be good for a period of several days after opening. Check the label of any items you’re unsure of and throw out anything that hasn’t been stored correctly.
Stored food should be checked frequently and anything with a suspicious odour should be disposed of immediately. Mould is one sign that food is spoiled and can grow under or around refrigeration.
Food doesn’t need to smell bad to be harmful
Even if something doesn’t smell ‘off’, it may still be harbouring harmful bacteria. Foodborne illness can result from bacteria that differ from the type that makes food appear and smell bad. Following food safety practices, such as refrigerating meat, seafood, poultry, and dairy items is crucial to slowing the growth of bacteria.
Also ensure that your hands, utensils, and working surfaces are scrupulously clean at all times.
Tips on refrigeration:
Bacteria can grow rapidly in food marinating at room temperature, so marinate food in the refrigerator. It’s best to dispose of marinating liquid once it’s been used.
Regularly clean the refrigerator
Listeria can grow in refrigeration appliances and regular cleaning can drastically reduce its growth. Prevent thawing or marinating meats from dripping liquid onto other foodstuffs in the refrigerator by packaging stored items securely and cleaning up any spills as soon as you see them. Conduct a complete and thorough clean-out of the entire refrigerator regularly.
Cover food items
Store foods to be refrigerated in storage bags or containers with covers and check them regularly for spoilage. Eggs are best stored in their carton in the main part of the refrigerator and not the door where the temperature is higher.
Regularly check expiration or use-by dates on food packaging. The use-by date is a manufacturer’s recommendation on when the food item may cease being at its optimum. Sometimes, food may be safe after this date, but it’s best not to take risks. Stick to the use-by date and dispose of anything you’re unsure about.
Tips on freezing:
Food that has been prepared and handled according to food safety standards and frozen at below -18°C is safe for consumption. Freezing stops the growth of bacteria, though the quality may reduce over time. Flavour, texture, appearance, and aroma can decline the longer the item stays frozen.
Freezer burn may result in dry, discoloured areas on frozen food. It usually happens where food has not been stored in an air-tight container. It can affect the quality of the food, though the food may still be safe for consumption.
Check freezer temperature often
A freezer thermometer is the best way of checking your freezer’s temperature. Check the temperature regularly (once a week at least) to ensure that foods are stored safely.
During an electrical outage, keep freezer and refrigerator doors shut as much as physically possible. Refrigerators should maintain their temperature for roughly 4 hours when unopened. Freezers can maintain their temperature for around 48 hours if the door stays closed.
When electricity is restored, you’ll need to ascertain whether stored food items are still safe. Check refrigerator and freezer thermometers. If the temperature in either appliance has not exceeded 4°C, the food should be safe and freezer items may be refrozen. Refrigerator items should still be safe as long as the outage was not more than 4 hours in duration and the door remained closed.
Dispose of foods such as meats, seafood, and dairy, if the temperature exceeded 4°C for more than 2 hours.
If you want to enter the food industry and need to learn more about food safety, The Australian Institute of Accreditation can provide you with the right certification. Check out our food handling and safety courses today, or get in touch with us to find out more.