Your refrigerator could make you sick. Used correctly, it will keep food safe from spoilage and bacteria. Used incorrectly, it could cause big trouble. Essentially, no food benefits from storage. You want to eat everything as fresh as you can. But since we can't all tromp out to the garden to harvest for each meal, here are some guidelines for making your fridge function its best.
Cold and ColderSome parts of your refrigerator are colder than others. The meat compartment at the bottom is designed to store meat — so put meat there. Not only is this the coldest area, but if the package leaks, it won't contaminate other foods.
Check the TemperatureTo keep food from spoiling in the refrigerator, the temperature needs to be between 34 and 40 degrees F. You can't depend on the little gauge used to set the amount of cold provided (e.g., 1-5) in the refrigerator. You need to buy a refrigerator thermometer. Ditto for the freezer, which should be kept at 0 to 5 degrees.
- Don't put hot food in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature before refrigerating it. Hot food can play havoc with refrigerator temperatures.
- On the other hand, don't leave food out too long either. Refrigerate prepared food within two hours of cooking (one hour in the summer).
- Don't overload the refrigerator. Parties are a dangerous time because you cram a lot of stuff into the refrigerator and then you're continually opening the door. Turn the temperature down during these occasions.
- Cover foods tightly.
- Leave meats in their original packaging to prevent spreading bacteria.
- Don't store breads, cookies or most cakes in the refrigerator; they will become stale.
- Tell your family not to stand gazing slack jawed into the open refrigerator while they decide what they want to eat.
- If you lose power, do not open your refrigerator or freezer. If the door is not opened, food should keep eight hours in the refrigerator and 48 hours in the freezer.
Freezing food will keep it from spoiling, but quality will still deteriorate over time. Use frozen foods as soon as possible, and follow these guidelines:
- Don't refreeze foods.
- Mark the date on foods when you put them in the freezer.
- Only freeze fresh foods.
- Wrap foods tightly.
Wipe up any spills in your refrigerator immediately to keep bacteria from growing. Wash first with warm, soapy water, then disinfect with a solution of 1 teaspoon bleach in 1 quart water.
Clean your refrigerator once a week and toss out old foods.
How Long Do Foods Keep?Refrigerating foods helps keep them fresh, but they still won't last forever. Here are a few examples of how long it's safe to keep some foods.
- Cooked vegetables: 3 to 4 days
- Fresh vegetables: Ranges from 2 days for soft veggies like asparagus or okra to 2 weeks for hard vegetables like radishes or carrots.
- Poultry, fish or ground meats: 2 days (cooked); 1 to 2 days (uncooked)
- Other meats: 3 to 5 days
- Deli meats: 5 days
- Prepackaged deli meats: 3 to 5 days (once opened)
- Hot dogs: 1 week (opened); 2 weeks (unopened)
- Milk: 5 to 7 days
- Sour cream: 4 weeks
- Fresh eggs: 3 weeks
- Pies: 1 to 2 days
Best advice: When in doubt, throw it away. A little thriftiness is not worth a tummy ache.