Learn how to store foods safely. Food safety and the storing foods in a fridge or in a dry store forms part of the food safety pillars. Meaning it is a fundamental area in the kitchen that can help prevent contamination from happening. The fourth pillar (Food Storage) can be categorised into two areas:
- Perishable foods (Cold storage)
- Dry goods
How To Store Foods Safely
Foods must be separated in a manner that prevents contamination from three sources:
- Biological (eg. Bacteria)
- Chemical (eg. Concentrated chemicals)
- Physical (eg. Wood splinters)
These are the three main sources of contamination and all aspects of food storage will relate back to these main factors for both cold and dry storage.
You will see from the below sections that storage principles are in many ways the same.
Cold Food Storage
The first requirement regarding the storage of food in fridges and freezers is that all raw foods should be separated from ready-to-eat-foods (RTE).
“Ready-to-eat food” means food that is in a form that is edible without additional preparation to achieve food safety,
This means raw foods must be stored below and RTE food stored above.
How should foods be stored in a fridge?
In all cases, it is most ideal to have separate storage units for the various food groups. However, in most kitchens it is impossible to do so.
In such cases we advocate the following:
- Any food that has been cut or prepared and will not undergo any cooking, as some items used to make salads should be stored in the upper most shelves.
- Fruits & vegetables that have not been cut or prepared (we expect raw vegetables to contain bacteria from the soil) can be stored below RTE-foods.
- Following theses, raw meats and fish should be stored below the above items, as these have the highest amount of bacteria present and are therefore most likely to cause harm should cross-contamination take place. It is also recommended that shell fish be stored separately from all else, due to the severity of allergic reactions
- All foods should also be covered, date coded and labeled, in order to ensure that a good stock rotation system is in place.
- Using the first in first out (FIFO) rule should always apply.
What is FIFO?
First In First Out is the basic rule of stock rotation and simply means any delivered/purchased foods that are the first to enter the fridge or dry store (usually also meaning having been opened) must be stored in the front most part of the shelf and used before any other items. Thus, you rotate your stock so that no foods end up expired, which adds unnecessarily to your food costs.
FIFO also assumes that first purchased products have an earlier expiry date than products that are purchased later.
Colour-coded containers make the process a lot easier to quickly identify where foods should be stored.
Ultimately, best practice recommendations should be designed to streamline compliance to Food Safety, and the above example is a perfect illustration of how to keep good practice that will work when busy or during quiet kitchen conditions.
Dry Food Storage
Much like the principles used for cold storage, all dry goods should have a date code or expiry date in order to ensure a First In First Out policy. Dry storage areas are more likely to encounter chances of chemical and physical contamination than cold storage, yet still have the possibility of biological contamination.
The dry store is often overlooked in terms of food safety, because of the long shelf-life of the products. Yet for example a weevil infestation could contaminate all your dry stock in a matter of days. Therefore, all goods should be covered, in order to ensure quality is maintained, and to prevent harbourage of insects and pests. Foods should be stored separately from equipment and chemicals. Reseal opened containers or transfer to resealable containers. All decanted items should be given a date code and include the expire date.
What equipment can be used to ensure you store foods safely?
- Plastic sealable containers of various sizes
- Labels / marker pen
- Cling film
All foods should also be covered, date coded and labeled, to ensure that a good stock rotation system is in place.
It is also important to note that the use of cardboard boxes should also be eliminated once the process of delivery has occurred.
This will assist in the food safety by:
- Limiting exposure of foods to the open environment
- Prevent pest harbourage
- Prevent bacteria from surviving in dampened cardboard
Food Storage In The Fridge Could Be Your Biggest Risk In Food Safety
Food storage in the fridge is one of the most important principles in food safety. Perishable foods by its very nature does not last as long as we would like. This is why we need to keep foods in the fridge. To prolong the time it takes for food to go off.
But keeping foods in the fridge is not just about temperature and keeping to the cold chain. It is also about storing foods in a way that prevents contamination and food poisoning. One of the biggest problems in the kitchen is storage space in fridges. The fridge is probably one of the most cramped spaces you’ll find. Everything from ready to eat meals, raw meats and veg to dairy and sauces all need to be stored in a fridge to ensure that foods do not expire before the use by date.
Check out our article on best before vs use by dates.
That leaves us with a large group of foods that need refrigeration and very little space to store them. The most ideal case would be to separate the food groups into their own fridges. That means raw meats should have its own fridge. Fruits and vegetables should be stored separately from dairy products. And ready to eat meals should be separated from each of the above.
The reality is, that most kitchens don’t have the luxury of separating their foods in this manner. One of the biggest mistakes kitchen still make today is that they store raw foods with ready to eat foods. Usually due to restricted space. So what is the safest alternative?
Store foods safely according to the risks
The most efficient way to use your space effectively is to understand the risks of causing food poisoning. This means knowing what the risks of the various food groups are.
We know that raw meats and vegetables are risky because they have a high amount of bacteria that are naturally present in these foods. These foods are considered to have a high bacterial load. Collectively we will consider these uncooked foods. Notice that I didn’t mention fruits. Although fruits should be washed before use, they are not considered raw products because they are ready to eat. Meaning no further processing needs to happen before you can eat these foods.
The next category of foods are those that do not require any cooking or processing before food can be consumed. This includes salads, cooked foods, dairy and processed foods. These are the foods that should not have any bacteria present because they have a direct risk of causing food poisoning.
Red meats, poultry and seafood are the main culprits when it comes to high bacteria load. We expect that these foods will have dangerous bacteria in them. So it seems logical that we want to keep these away from foods that should not have bacteria in them.
Vegetables, due to the farming process could contain bacteria in them. And are in the next risk category. We should never keep raw vegetables with salad ingredients and prepared foods. Vegetables especially those farmed organically, are not always washed and cleaned, removing the soil, chemicals and manure. These could contain bacteria seriously dangerous to our health.
Ready to eat foods
All prepared foods, cooked foods and dairy should be treated as ready to eat and should always be stored separately from raw foods.
So now we understand the risks of the food categories. And we know that we need to separate raw and ready to eat. How do we do this?
Raw meats should be stored on the lowest possible shelf
Red meats and poultry should be stored separately. This is because chicken is notorious for having Salmonella, Campylobacter and Listeria monocytogenes. More so than any other raw meat. However, if your space is limited, these products will be cooked and will kill these bacteria.
Fish and seafood should be stored on the same line, but separately from raw meats.
Seafood carries less dangerous bacteria and certainly different bacteria from the common food poisoning bacteria. However many people are prone to seafood allergies, especially shellfish such as prawns. You’d do well to keep these away from any other foods.
Vegetables should be stored on the next lowest shelf, above the raw meats.
Most bacteria living on fruits and vegetables can easily be washed off with soapy water and a suitable vegetable sanitiser. These carry less bacteria and do not leak blood. Raw meats will always have some blood spillage, carry millions of bacterial cells. Usually fruits and vegetables are stored separately from meats because they require different holding temperatures. Fruits and vegetables tend to change colour or lose their quality at cooler temperatures. Especially at temperatures that are required to keep meats fresh. The ideal operating temperature for a vegetable fridge is 5 – 7 ºC (41 – 45 ºF).
Salad ingredients and cooked foods should be stored above all else and can be stored with dairy.
In ideal circumstances, the above foods should be stored separately from each other. But there is no risk if ingredients are correctly washed. Cooked foods can be kept for up to 3 days before the natural bacteria in these start to grow to high numbers causing foods to go off. Dairy products such as milk, cream, yoghurt and cheese are very low risk and do not harbour dangerous bacteria.
This seems fairly simple. And it can be if you store foods neatly and have sufficient space.
Let’s consider leftovers, defrosting foods and foods that need cooling.
As mentioned, leftovers or cooked foods, if they were handled correctly and would be reheated, can be kept for a maximum of 3 days. Defrosting foods, carry a high risk in the fridge, this is because, during the defrosting process, juices and blood will collect and build up which can leak out and onto foods below.
Foods that are cooked and will only be needed or eat later should never be left out in the kitchen. This is because temperatures ranging from 20 – 45 ºC (68 – 113 ºF) are directly within the range at which bacteria rapidly multiply.
Check out our article on cooling foods safely.
This means that cooling foods need to be placed in the fridge in an uncovered manner until cooled to the fridge temperature. This is a high-risk time when anything falling into these foods can cause contamination. This means that the topmost shelf should be kept for the cooling process.
So we now know where to store foods.
How do we store foods in the safest possible way?
The next step in safe food storage is to further ensure no cross-contamination can occur. We do this by using sealable containers. Storing each food group into clear, sealable containers locks in freshness and prevents any outside contamination. This practice also ensures the longevity of your foods by limiting exposure to the outside environment. This prevents odours as well. Keeping a record of when food was prepared will help minimise expired foods and will help with the FIFO policy (First In First Out). This is achieved by the use of date codes.
Raw meats can either be left in their original containers until fully defrosted or prepared. Whole fruits and vegetables should be transferred from any boxes, washed, rinsed and placed into plastic containers. These do not have to be covered but should be fully dried before storing.
Any foods that undergo preparation. This can mean cutting, cooking, peeling etc. need to be placed in a sealable container and appropriately covered.
Sauces, milk, cream and any liquids that come with a re-usable lid should be kept in the original container. Cartons that cannot be closed should be transferred to sealable containers.
Food poisoning is caused by bacteria in foods that have been incorrectly stored, prepared, handled or cooked. Food contaminated with food-poisoning bacteria may look, smell and taste normal. If food is not stored properly, the bacteria can multiply to serious levels.
Additional tips for the Dry Store
- Keep dry storage areas clean with good ventilation to control humidity and prevent the growth of mould and bacteria.
- Store dry foods below 18 °C (46° F) for maximum shelf life.
- Place a thermometer on the wall in the dry storage area.
- Check the temperature of the storeroom daily.
- Always cover and seal opened goods.
Eggs In The Fridge or Not?
There is a lot of debate around this issue and experts are split on the decision.
We agree that for optimum freshness and food safety, eggs should be kept at a constant temperature below 20 °C (68° F). Most modern supermarkets are kept below 20 °C so it is not necessary for retailers to store them in a fridge.
We know a lot of people like to throw away the egg carton when they get home and store their eggs in the little egg caddy that comes with your fridge or in a separate bowl. This may look pretty, but we recommend always storing your eggs in their original carton.
Why? Firstly, the carton protects the eggs and prevents them from absorbing strong odours and flavours of other foods in your fridge through the thousands of tiny pores in the eggshell. Secondly, the Best Before Date is always visible to you so you can guarantee freshness. Lastly, eggs should always be stored with the large end up, the same way they are packaged in the carton. This helps the yolk remain centred. – eggs.ca
The FDA in the US says :
- Buy eggs only if sold from a refrigerator or refrigerated case.
- Open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked.
- Store promptly in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 7° C (40° F) or below. Use a refrigerator thermometer to check.
- Store eggs in their original carton and use them within 3 weeks for best quality.
Other experts suggest the below:
- After the shell eggs are delivered or reach home, it is critical to refrigerate them at a temperature of 7°C (45 °F) or below.
- Keep the eggs in their carton and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door.
- Storing eggs in the refrigerator door could lead to temperature fluctuations that can lead to bacteria growth.
- Eggs may be refrigerated 3 to 5 weeks from the day they are placed in the refrigerator.
- The sell-by date will usually expire during that length of time, but the eggs are perfectly safe to use.
- Liquid egg products should be kept refrigerated at all times and consumed within two to six days from the date of purchase.
- Once liquid egg products are opened, they should be used immediately.
These issues really depend on, country to country. Meaning the general food safety of the egg farming processes. We suggest using a combination of each piece of advice:
- Refrigerate once purchased.
- Store eggs in their original carton and use them within 3 weeks for best quality.
- Don’t store them in the door panel.