• Foods vary in the temperature and moisture they need to retain quality in storage.
• Stock only the kind and amount of food you can store properly to retain high quality and nutritive value.
• Use a thermometer to check that the refrigerator is at 35 to 40 degrees F and the freezer at 0 degrees or below.
Use fresh, perishable foods soon after harvest or purchase. If they are stored, maintain the proper temperature and humidity. Even under proper storage conditions, foods lose freshness and nutritive value if they are stored too long.
Signs of spoilage that make food unpalatable but not a bacterial hazard are the rancid odor and flavor of fats caused by oxidation, slime on the surface of meat, and the fermentation of fruit juices due to yeast growth. Off-odors in foods and a sour taste in bland foods can indicate dangerous bacterial spoilage. However, food can be high in bacteria count even without such signals.
Buy food from reputable dealers, with a known record for safe handling. Select dated products only if the "sell by" or "use by" date has not expired. While these dates are helpful, they are reliable only if the food has been kept at the proper temperature during storage and handling. Although many products bear "sell by" or "use by" dates, product dating is not a federal requirement.
Select products labeled "keep refrigerated" only if they are stored in a refrigerated case and are cold to the touch. Frozen products should be solidly frozen. Packages of precooked foods should not be torn or damaged.
Avoid cross-contamination when purchasing foods. Place raw meat and poultry in individual plastic bags to prevent meat from contaminating foods that will be eaten without further cooking. Put packages of raw meat and poultry in your shopping cart where juices cannot drip on other foods.
Shop for perishables last. Keep refrigerated and frozen items together so they will remain cold. Place perishables in the coolest part of your car during the trip home. If the time from store to home refrigerator is more than one hour, pack them in an insulated container with ice or an ice pack.
To retain quality and nutritive value, stock only the kinds and amounts of food you can store properly. Proper storage means maintaining a clean refrigerator and freezer. Avoid overcrowding the refrigerator. Arrange items so cold air can circulate freely. To reduce dehydration and quality loss, use freezer wrap, freezer-quality plastic bags, or aluminum foil over commercial wrap on meat and poultry that will be stored in the freezer for more than two months.
Table 1 gives short but safe time limits that will help keep refrigerated food from spoiling or becoming dangerous to eat. The time limits for frozen foods are to maintain flavor and texture. It is still safe to eat frozen foods that have been stored longer. This table is adapted from Refrigerator/Freezer - Approximate Storage Times, Karen Penner, Kansas State University Extension Service, 1990, and USDA publications.
Safe food storage guidelines...
Keep refrigerator between...(35-40 degrees F) and the freezer under (5 degrees F).