Organize your fridge for food safety


Organize your fridge for food safety

Imagine you gather all the food in your kitchen into one big pile. Now divvy up one-fourth, cram it into trash bags, and throw it out. That’s right, just dump it straight into the garbage. This horrifying scenario is happening right now in most American households, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an international nonprofit environmental organization.

We may not pile and sort, but we’re certainly tossing. In fact, the average family of four throws away between $1,300 and almost $2,300 in food and drinks every year — mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish, and poultry. Why? Because it’s either spoiled or, since we don’t understand the label dates on food, we think it might be.


Don’t compromise your food safety

Foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, will hit 1 in 6 people this year. And it’s not a pretty picture. The symptoms are so devastating, each year thousands die and more than 100,000 are hospitalized. A variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites cause most of the 250 different foodborne diseases.

Besides purchasing safe food and preparing it properly, you control your home’s food safety in two ways:

  • Know how long you should keep food
  • Learn how best to store food

Whether it’s a package of deli meat or a container of Friday night’s chili, where, how, and for how long you keep food in your refrigerator could determine whether or not you get up-close and personal with Salmonella or E.coli, two of the most common foodborne pathogens. Click here for more information from the Food and Drug Administration on the top foodborne pathogens.

You may be surprised to learn that a food “gone bad” doesn’t always sport furry growth, a funky odor, or even a nasty taste.


The dating game — let food labels be your guide

Except for infant formula, there are no federal regulations saying food products have to be date stamped. However, many states do have dating requirements. That said, all expiration dates aren’t created equal. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) lists four types of food product dating:

  • Sell-By. This tells the store how long to display the product for sale. Try to buy the product before this date expires.
  • Best if Used By. For the best flavor or quality, use a product before this date.
  • Use-By. The manufacturer recommends you eat the food before this date for peak quality.
  • Closed or coded dates. These are packing numbers used by the manufacturer.

It can be a confusing exercise decoding the different recommendations, but the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service suggests you follow sell-by and use-by dates at least on dairy and meat products.


When in doubt throw it out

The list below tells how many days each food should last in a refrigerator set below 40℉.


Does your fridge need a makeover?

Set the temperature in your fridge to 40℉, then follow these tips to keep your chilled foods as safe as possible.

  • Don’t crowd. Cold air must circulate freely to keep everything the proper temp.
  • Clean it up. Wipe up spills immediately — especially drips from thawing meats — to prevent bacteria from one food spreading to another.
  • Keep ’em covered. Store leftovers, meats, fish, and poultry in covered containers or sealed storage bags. Check daily for spoilage.

Before you make your grocery list, organize your fridge and freezer. Find the oldest items and move them to the front. Throw out anything that has been in there longer than recommended. Then plan how to use the older items. Incorporate the food you have into this week’s menus and you’ll waste less food and save more money.

Since fruits, vegetables, and dairy items are some of the most frequently wasted foods, learn how to store them for best flavor and longest shelf life.


In the freezer (box?)

Technically, you can freeze anything — except canned items and eggs in their shell. And the USDA says foods will stay safe in the freezer indefinitely. That means recommended storage times are only about quality. The real issue, then, is how good will a food taste once it is thawed.


3 free smartphone apps — health and savings at your fingertips

Let these phone apps help you reduce your risk of food poisoning, find out when it’s time to toss that leftover, learn how to keep foods fresh, get tips on safe food handling and preparation, and reduce waste.


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  • FC&A Staff Writer