Food Storage Guidelines

Food storage guidelines: tips on how to safely store food in your home, including purchasing items for long term storage, and how to use storage units properly.

It is important when purchasing both fresh and canned goods from a store that the proper storage techniques are in place at your home. These techniques help to preserve the food's freshness and to make sure that you will only be eating foods that are healthy and that are not contaminated by any germs or bacteria. Therefore, in order to ensure the well being of the foods that your family will eat, a few guidelines should be followed when you go shopping and when you have brought your foods home.

While at the supermarket, when selecting canned goods, make sure that the cans are neither dented on their rims or around any seams nor that they are bloated or misshaped. Unusual shaped cans can indicate that the inside contents are spoiled. You should also look to see if any "coded" dates are stamped on the cans. Coded dates are used by manufacturers to trace their product's distribution. Additionally, should a recall of a product be necessary, manufacturers use the coded date to tell consumers and stores about the specific product being recalled. You should also look to see if any "Best if Used By" or "Use By" dates exist on the cans. These dates are stamped on the cans by their manufacturers in order for consumers to know when the product should be used for maximum quality purposes.

Once you have purchased your canned goods you can safely store them in your home at room temperature as long as they are stored in a cool, dry location such as a pantry or storage cabinet. In general, canned goods can be stored in your home for quite some time depending on the type of canned good purchased. For example, canned meats, soups (except tomato soup) and most vegetables can be stored up to 5 years in your home. Meanwhile, other more acidic canned goods, including tomato soup and tomato-based products, canned fruits, and foods saturated in a vinegar-based sauce can only be stored for up to a maximum of 18 months. Thus, it is important to know how long you plan on keeping an item in storage. If unsure, it is best to use the item before its label's expiration date.

When purchasing fresh meats, eggs, and dairy products at your grocer, try to buy those items last, just before exiting the store, in order for the products to retain their refrigerated coolness as long as possible. Additionally, when purchasing these types of goods, take them home immediately and place them directly into your refrigerator. For meats that are frozen and need to be thawed for use within the day or two, defrost by placing the meat in your refrigerator or by running the meat under cold water or by placing it in a microwave under proper settings. Never leave meat on a counter to defrost at room temperature because bacteria can grow on the meat at a rapid pace. Additionally, never leave any meat, both raw or cooked, out in a room for more than 2 hours without refrigeration as bacteria can develop on the meat at temperatures of between 40"ža -135"ža F causing it to spoil. Therefore, always keep meats stored in the refrigerator until ready to cook or to use.

Eggs are also food items that should be stored in your refrigerator until you want to use them. Additionally, they should be stored on a shelf in their original packaging, not on a refrigerator door, as opening the door constantly causes temperature fluctuations to occur, which can cause the eggs to turn rotten. When using eggs, never uses cracked or damaged eggs and never eat raw eggs, as bacteria may be present. You should also always wash your cooking utensils and your hands well under hot water with soap to avoid spreading any contamination that could be present. Once eggs have been cooked, do not leave them out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Similar to meat products, extensive time left outside of the refrigerator could cause the eggs to spoil.

With milk and other dairy products, it is also wise to take them directly home once purchased and to place them in your refrigerator. It is also recommended that you purchase only pasteurized dairy products with a clearly readable "Sell By" date stamped on the carton. Sell By dates indicate how long the store can sell the product. Additionally, based on this information you should purchase the product well in advance of the date stamped on the carton to ensure that the product possesses the ultimate in freshness and quality. You should also store dairy and other refrigerated products at a temperature of approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Also make sure that dairy and other refrigerated items have enough empty space around them so that air can circulate among the products and within the refrigerator. You should also clean your refrigerator on a regular basis so that any spilled foods do not contaminate other items.

For dry goods, such as breads purchased at a market or baked fresh at home, you can safely store these items for a few days in your home at room temperature provided that the bread is sealed properly in an airtight container or in its original packaging. To keep breads longer in your home, you can freeze the bread. To do this, wrap the bread tightly in plastic wrap and place in your freezer. When ready to use, defrost the bread at room temperature or in a microwave. Note that breads that contain more moisture in them, such as a rye bread, last longer and will freeze better than dryer breads, such as white.

Storing foods at home can be an easy task to do once you know how long foods can be kept in your home and where and how you should store them. More importantly, storing foods at home in the proper way ensures that the foods you serve will not only be fresh, but will be healthy as well.

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