THE ART OF REFRIGERATION - STORING FOOD RIGHT
Do you keep milk cartons in refrigerator door?
Are you storing food in the refrigerator wrong?
Read on !
Man & machine have intertwined intricately. Electronic gadgets are indispensable to our lives, with a refrigerator being a lifeline of the kitchen, especially in peak summer with searing temperature. Ayurveda advocates satvik food, but there must be very few, who eat freshly cooked food all the time! With soaring food prices, it is inevitable to cut costs and it is disheartening to waste food. Cooling is a popular and convenient food storage technique and a fridge keeps food safe, at a temperature where bacterial growth is minimized, thus enhancing shelf life of food thereby reducing food spoilage.
Eating from the fridge is not uncommon in today’s scenario. The correct knowledge of food storage is pivotal to ensure safe food. Bacteria can grow even at low temperatures in the refrigerator and can cause food to deteriorate and develop unpleasant odors, tastes and textures. Food left out too long on the counter or even in the fridge ( more than 3-5 days) may deteriorate in quality, but most unlikely will make anyone sick as they do not generally affect the taste, smell, or appearance of a food, thus leaving no clue of contamination.
Proper storage practice can help keep foods fresh and safe for consumption.
Temperature - For safety, it is important to verify the temperature of the refrigerator. Use a food appliance thermometer to verify temperature in your fridge and freezer. Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 5°C (Celsius) or below and freezers at - 18°C (minus). Foods held at room temperature for more than 2 hours should not be consumed. Be sure refrigerator/freezer doors are closed tightly at all times. Do not open refrigerator/freezer doors more often than necessary and close them as soon as possible. Allowing your fridge to get too warm can increase the growth of unhealthy bacteria.
Immediate refrigeration: Put all dairy, meat(wrapped individually to prevent drips and avoid cross contamination) and other perishable items, into your refrigerator immediate on delivery. Left over food must be put into the fridge within one and half hours. The danger zone in which bacteria grows fastest is between 5°C and 60°C. Hot foods can be rapidly chilled in a cold water bath before refrigerating. Cover foods to retain moisture and prevent them from picking up odors from other foods. Divide into small portions and put in shallow containers as larger or deeper containers take longer to cool.
Cooked food: A general rule of thumb for refrigerator storage for cooked leftovers is 3 days. Freeze leftovers that you will not use immediately. Never taste leftover food that looks or smells strange. When in doubt, dispose any contaminated food into the garbage.
FOOD ITEM & SAFE DURATION IN FRIDGE
Cooked food - 2-3 days
Uncooked meat & poultry - 1-2 days
Fruits and vegetables - 7 days
Hygiene: One aspect that cannot be overlooked is the cleanliness of the fridge. Wipe up spills immediately, regularly clean surfaces thoroughly with hot soapy water, then rinse, including trays, racks, sides and bottom of the fridge. Once a week, make it a habit to throw out perishable foods that have gone bad. To keep the refrigerator smelling fresh and help eliminate odors, place an opened box of baking soda on a shelf. Keep uncooked foods, especially meats covered on the lowest rack of the fridge to avoid drips which can cross contaminate. Store all foods individually covered.
Frozen foods: Thaw frozen foods completely. It is unsafe to leave meat to thaw at room temperature. Alternatively use a microwave to defrost for immediate consumption or thaw overnight in a refrigerator, so that it does not get too warm on the exterior and lead to bacterial growth and uneven cooking. Once frozen meat is thawed, never re-freeze unless it has been cooked first.
Correct placement: Vegetables require higher humidity conditions while fruits require lower humidity conditions, hence store them separately. The coldest part of the refrigerator is the bottom shelf (above crisper,2°C). This is the place to put fresh meat and fish. Ensure there is a space between all items to allow airflow as it helps to maintain right temperature. Do not overload your fridge or it will not operate efficiently.
Store eggs, dairy products, leftovers in the middle shelves (4-5°C). The drawers at the bottom (up to 10°C) are intended for vegetables and fruits that can be damaged by lower temperatures. The shelves inside the door are the warmest part of the refrigerator (10-15°C) and are intended for products that need only light refrigeration, drinks and sauces.
Practice FIFO (First-In-First-Out). Rotate your stock diligently. Wrap food tightly to prevent loss of moisture and flavor, either in cling film or foil, but avoid aluminium foil to store foods that are highly acidic - tomatoes, cabbage, many types of soft fruit, as it can affect the taste of food.
Power cuts - If the refrigerator power goes out, foods should be consumed within 1-2 days depending on the contents. Fuller refrigerators generally preserve foods longer than empty ones. Be sure to keep the refrigerator door closed as much as possible until electricity is restored. Cook food until it's steaming hot all the way through, especially meats.
Some foods do not need refrigeration and lose quality. Exotic fruits, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers and zucchini are best stored at room temperature. Bread goes dry and stale more quickly in the refrigerator. Fruits and vegetables that need to ripen should also best left outside.
A clean and well maintained fridge keeps food fresh for longer, thereby saving time and money. It is worth the effort to dish out from the fridge, but rightly!
Published for Stayfit magazine
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