Food storage and preservation

Storing food for later keeping it edible is easy today.

Not so many years ago people starved because they did not have the means to store food in large enough quantities to see them through the long winters. Storing food to have it later while keeping it safe to eat is such a common task that we don't realize how important it is. We do not worry much about how to store food the right way. Even freezing, our favorite way to preserve food, has its rules. Find here some basic food handling and storage guidelines.

Keeping food safe during storing and thawing

Did you know that thawing meat the wrong way could cause harmful bacterial growth? We all know the rules about cooking meat to the correct temperature, but few understand the importance of thawing. Storing meat is another area of concern and the way meat is stored, can actually aid in the thawing process. Following some simple storing and thawing rules will make your meat last longer and taste better when it is time to cook.

Meat

Meat has different rules than poultry and fish, but the basic principles are the same. Depending on when you plan to use the meat, your storage techniques should vary and the storage time makes a difference in the best ways to thaw. Here are some storage and thawing rules to follow for safe meat handling.

Storage – It is important to keep meat chilled to at least 40 degrees. This will help maintain the safe temperature of the meat so no bacteria can grow. Once you get home from the store, immediately put the meat away. Double check the temperature in your refrigerator to ensure it is between 35 and 40 degrees and that your freezer is at zero degrees or a little below.

If you plan on storing large amounts of meat, break them down into smaller portion sizes before freezing because this will make thawing easier for individual servings. Keep the meat in the original packaging, if possible, and make sure there are no holes or perforations in the packaging. Most typical meats can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days at the proper temperature. If you are not planning to use the meat before this time, consider freezing and then thawing. If you do not plan on using the meat within two months, over-wrap the meat with a heavy-duty plastic wrap or put it into an acceptable freezer bag.

Thawing – The best way for meat to thaw is in the refrigerator. This does mean there is some prior planning on your part before cooking, but meat defrosted in the refrigerator can be refrozen before cooking; thawing any other way, make sure you cook the meat before freezing.

Meat can also be defrosted faster by putting it in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerging it in cold tap water. Do not use warm or hot water because this will cause the meat to start the bacterial growth before the cooking process begins. Thawing in the microwave is another acceptable way because, unlike soaking in warm water, the microwave thawing process happens quickly enough that no bacterial growth will occur.

Poultry

Poultry follows the same basic guidelines as meat, except for the maximum storage time. Uncooked chicken, turkey or fowl can be stored in the freezer for up to nine months if broken down, and to a year if intact. For thawing, the best way to thaw is in the refrigerator or under cold tap water. It is not recommended to thaw poultry in the microwave due to salmonella growth.

Fish

Fish is a difficult item to store and still retain the freshness. If not stored properly, fish will develop that “fishy” smell which will overpower the other foods and seasoning when cooking. To properly store fish, keep it in the original wrapper and give it plenty of room in the refrigerator to allow the air to circulate freely around it. This will allow the fish to age properly without getting smelly. If you are not planning on cooking the fish within two days, wrap it tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper before storing in the freezer.

Live shellfish should be refrigerated in lightly covered containers – not airtight. Inspect all live shellfish before cooking to make sure they are not damaged or dead. Here is a little hint, if the shell is tapped with your finger, a live shellfish should close up. Discard any shellfish if they die during the storage process or if their shells crack or break.

Meat stored and thawed properly will ultimately yield the best tasting results and you will avoid the dreaded food poisoning. If you have any questions about the safety of meat after storage, discard the meat and get something fresh. Be sure to check the guidelines for other storage and thawing techniques listed on the USDA website and enjoy the best meat you have ever tasted.

Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Nothing beats a well-developed strawberry, with all of the juices flowing and the sweet taste running down your chin. Perhaps you are not a big fruit fan, but a full crown of broccoli really gets you going. Either way, whether you like fruits or vegetables, or a combination of both, there are different ways to store them so they retain their freshness. Here are a couple of ways to store your delectable delights:

Open Spaces

Some fruits and vegetables are not supposed to be chilled. Bananas, for instance, are best left to their own devices, on the counter. Avocados are another fruit, believe it or not, that are usually left to ripen out in the open. The best judgement call to make is, however you find the fruit and vegetable in the grocery store, is probably the best way to store them at your house.

Refrigerator

While some fruits and veggies are best left in the open air, others need to be refrigerated in order to maintain their vibrant color and great taste. Again, use the rule of thumb, wherever you find them in the store, keep them the same way at home. Leafy greens and vegetables with stalks or stems usually do best in the refrigerator, which slows down their ripening process.

Freezing

A great way to store fruits and vegetables for the long haul is by freezing them. This takes them at the peak of their flavor and color and puts a sudden halt to the ripening process.

Before freezing vegetables, they should be blanched for a few minutes. This allows the colors to come out and the flavors to develop. Once they have been blanched, they should be left to cool to room temperature and then frozen individually before being bagged up. Laying them out on a sheet pan and put into the freezer for three to five hours can do this. Once they have started to freeze, then and only then, should they be bagged together.

Fruits are a little different. Because of the sugar content in most fruits, the cells need to retain the sugar content, so it is advised to freeze the fruits in simple syrup or a sugar compound with a little ascorbic acid to slow down the oxidation process. When oxidation occurs, the fruit turns discolored and brown, making it difficult on the eyes to stomach.

Drying

Another popular storage method for fruits and vegetables is to dry them in a food dehydrator. Dried foods can be stored in an air-tight container in your pantry for extended periods of time without worry of spoiling. Consult your dehydrator for the appropriate drying temperature and length of time for best results.

No matter how you store your fruits and vegetables, make sure you pick them at the peak of their ripeness and during the appropriate season. Once stored properly, you will be able to enjoy the best foods all year long and while others are digging through the grocery store, you can have the juices running down your chin.