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Storage of Food

Correct storage of will protect food against contamination, deterioration and damage. In the UK we end up throwing away 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink every year and most of this could have been eaten. There are simple things you can do to reduce waste, save money and still make sure food is safe. The simplest thing is to try to make sure you don't buy or cook more food than you want to eat.

Storing food in a refrigerator

Some food needs to be kept in the fridge to help stop bacteria from growing on it, such as food with a 'use by' date, cooked food and ready-to-eat food such as desserts and cooked meats

  • Keep food covered to protect it from contamination from raw foods and physical objects
  • Always store “cooked” food above “raw” meat in the refrigerator this will eliminate the risk of contamination from bacteria and blood through spillage.
  • Do not store food in open cans because when a can has been opened and the food is open to the air, the tin from the can might transfer more quickly to the can's contents.
  • Do not overstock the refrigerator as this will affect the airflow around the food.
  • Do not put hot food into a refrigerator as this will raise the internal temperature of the fridge and place other foods at risk from poor temperature control.

Storing food in a freezer

You can keep food safely in the freezer as long as it has stayed frozen the whole time; however, the taste and texture of food changes if it’s frozen for too long. Check instructions on food labels or in the freezer’s handbook to see how long food should be frozen.

It should be alright to freeze most raw or cooked foods providing you do the following things:

  • freeze it before the 'use by' date
  • follow any freezing or thawing instructions on the label
  • defrost it in the fridge so that it doesn't get too warm.
  • try to use it within one to two days after it’s been defrosted - it will go off in the same way as if it were fresh
  • ensure food is thoroughly defrosted before cooking food

When defrosting frozen meat & fish (and some other foods), lit can produce lots of liquid. If you’re defrosting raw meat or fish, this liquid can spread bacteria to food, plates or surfaces that it touches. Keep the meat & fish in a sealed container at the bottom of the fridge, so that it can't touch or drip onto other foods. If you defrost raw meat or fish and then cook it thoroughly, you can freeze it again.

Storage of dry goods

Many types of food don't need to be kept in the fridge to keep them safe to eat, for example dry foods such as rice, pasta and flour, many types of drinks, tinned foods, and unopened jars. But it's still important to take care how you store them. Here are some tips:

  • Try to keep food in sealed bags or containers. This helps to keep them fresh and stops anything falling into the food by accident.
  • Don't store food or drinks near cleaning products or other chemicals.
  • Don't use old food containers to store household chemicals, and don't store food in containers that have been used for other purposes.
  • Only reuse plastic water bottles if they’re not damaged and you can clean them.
  • Don't store food on the floor, because this can encourage mice, ants and other pests.
  • Remember that some types of food might need to be kept in the fridge once you’ve opened them - follow any storage instructions on the label.

Tin cans; when you open a can of food and you're not going to use all the food straight away, empty the food into a bowl, or other container, and put it in the fridge. Don't store food in an opened tin can, or re-use empty cans to cook or store food. This is because when a can has been opened and the food is open to the air, the tin from the can might transfer more quickly to the can's contents. This advice doesn't apply to foods sold in cans that have re-sealable lids, such as golden syrup and cocoa, because these types of food don’t react with the can.

Shelf-life of food

“Use by” dates; are found on food that goes off quickly, for example; smoked fish, meat products and ready-prepared salads. Don't use any food or drink after the end of the 'use by' date on the label, even if it looks and smells fine. This is because using it after this date could put your health at risk. For the 'use by' date to be a valid guide, you must follow carefully storage instructions such as 'keep in a refrigerator'. If you don't follow these instructions, the food will spoil more quickly. 'Use by' does not always mean 'eat by'. If a food can be frozen its life can be extended beyond the 'use by' date.

'Best before' dates; are found on a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods. The 'best before' dates are more about quality than safety, except for eggs. So when the date runs out it doesn't mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture. However, you shouldn't eat eggs after the 'best before' date. This is because eggs can contain salmonella bacteria, which could start to multiply after this date. Remember, the 'best before' date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label, such as 'store in a cool dry place' or 'keep in the fridge once opened'.

  • Check “use-by” dates on a regular basis and throw out food that has expired.