By following simple guidelines when storing food in the refrigerator it can help food to store longer and minimise risks of cross-contamination.
It is safe to store all non dripping foods such as packaged milk, cheese and similar products on the top shelf.
Store cooked salads below cooked meat in the middle shelves but always above raw meat and chicken. This reduces chances of drip (juices) from raw meat contaminating the salads. The juices from raw meat are blood and water, but they are normally loaded with some bacteria. Salads are never cooked, therefore, if contaminated they pose a serious health risk.
Salads should always be covered or wrapped with cling film to minimize any chance of contamination and should be washed thoroughly before use.
Uncooked meat and sausages must be stored at the bottom of the fridge and above raw chicken but not the other way round. This is because chicken are normally prone to higher level of bacterial contamination than meat.
Store leafy vegetables such as kales (sukumawiki), cabbages, celery, broccoli in the crisper which is usually at the lowest shelf in the fridge. Crispers are designed to control the amount of humidity for maximum storage of vegetables and fruits.
Effects of power failure to refrigerated food
The refrigerator with food should always be powered on. In case there is a breakdown or prolonged power failure, all the food should be consumed within the shortest time possible. Absence of power to the refrigerator means that the temperature of the food goes up and reaches danger zone (10 – 40 °C).
Danger zone temperatures create conducive environment for the bacteria to reproduce, multiply and grow causing food spoilage or poisoning.
It is an extreme health risk to switch off refrigerator loaded with food at night or any other time to save power. This is because bacteria can grow in the food posing a health risk. Switching off empty refrigerator to save power is a good practice though.
Which foods freeze well?
Most meat products freeze well including beef, pork, chicken, sea foods, some fruits, bread and pastry products.
Before freezing, these products should be packaged in water tight wraps or freezer bags. Otherwise they will lose their texture and quality following removal from the freezer and defrosting.
Which foods should not be frozen?
Never freeze eggs in the shell or they will burst. However, cooked eggs can be frozen.
Also never freeze any canned foods although the canned products can be emptied and frozen.
Mayonnaise and milk should not be frozen as they sometimes curdle.
Fruits and vegetables that contain high water content do not freeze well, and the change in their texture is extremely noticeable on thawing. Examples include lettuce, celery, radishes, strawberries, melon, cucumber, spinach and cabbage. These foods are not usually frozen at all.
Strawberries can be frozen if they will be used in frozen state. This is common in making smoothies.
Is frozen food safe?
Frozen food is safe for human consumption. Freezing puts germs and enzymes that spoil food into dormancy but does not kill them. Once frozen foods are thawed the germs become alive again and multiply spoiling the food or even causing illness.
Why does frozen food develop black marks?
The discoloured spots or marks on frozen food are as a result of freeze injury or freeze burn.
Freezer burns are some greyish-brown spots on frozen foods such as meat or vegetables. Freezer burn is caused by air coming in contact with the surface of the food. They are merely dry spots and they do not render food unsafe.
Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the food.
Freezer burns can be prevented by three ways, either by wrapping foods tightly before freezing, ensuring temperature in the freezer does not go above zero or avoiding storing foods for very long periods.
What should you do if power to the freezer fails?
For some unknown or known reason, there could be power black-out or power failure to the freezer. The first thing to do is keep the door closed. If the door is ajar the food will thaw faster and go bad. If the freezer is full, it can keep food for up to 2 days. However, if it is half-full, food will store for shorter periods. Regroup foods together, especially put meat and poultry products together so that their juice does not contaminate other foods until the power is fixed. Avoid consuming food that has reached room temperatures in a broken freezer.
Which are the best and safest methods for defrosting foods?
Let’s say you have some frozen meat that you want to cook. One of the simplest ways is to cook it directly from the frozen state. This is safe but takes longer time, approximately double the time required to cook unfrozen meat.
Certain foods such as frozen oven chips are supposed to be baked direct from the frozen state.
Other foods require defrosting or thawing before cooking, which is the process of converting ice in the frozen food to water. Safe methods for defrosting frozen foods are;
Defrosting in the refrigerator
This is most recommended defrosting method because at refrigeration temperatures, the possibility of bacteria to reproduce and multiply is reduced. Defrosting in the refrigerator, however, requires considerable amount of time, it might require up to a whole day to defrost half kilogram of beef or chicken.
Foods defrosted in the refrigerators such as poultry, stew meat and minced beef can remain safe for one more day before cooking. Red meat such as steaks and pork chops can remain safe for 2-3 days before cooking.
Foods defrosted in the fridge can be refrozen again immediately if they have not been exposed to room temperature.
Cold water defrosting
This method of defrosting is quicker than in the refrigerator but requires extra care. Food has to be put in water-impermeable and leak-proof packages otherwise the food can get watery or contaminated from the water and atmosphere.
Submerge leak proof plastic bag with food in cold tap water and keep changing the water every half an hour.
Foods defrosted by water should be cooked immediately and if they have to be refrozen, they should be cooked first.
Defrosting half kilo of meat with cold water can take about 1 hour or less.
Defrosting in the microwave
This is the fastest method of thawing food but be prepared to cook the defrosted food immediately. Most of the microwaves come with a defrosting option for different foods on the control panel.
Once food is defrosted in a microwave, it should be cooked immediately since some sections might have reached what is called danger zone temperatures that are favourable for multiplication and growth of bacteria.
Microwave defrosted food should never be refrigerated or refrozen unless after cooking.
Recommended storage times for common foods
Uncooked steaks, pork chops, whole chicken or pieces can store for 3-5 days in the fridge. However minced and diced cubes of meat should not be stored for more than 2 days. Fish can keep for 1-2 days, while packet milk can keep for up to 5 days after opening. It should be noted that fresh milk obtained directly from the cow will keep for shorter period of time if not boiled (pasteurized). Cooked meat and chicken can keep for 3 – 4 days. Steaks and chicken can be frozen for 6-12 months.
Tips to safe storage of foods in the fridge
- Maximum hygiene of the food products and the refrigerator should be observed. Refrigerator does not kill germs!
- Refrigerate and freeze foods immediately to minimize risks of microbial growth and multiplication.
- Keep raw meat away from other foods to avoid cross-contamination.
- Never switch off fridge loaded with food to save power. This may pose a serious health risk. In case of power failure, the food can keep for up to six hours. If more than that, consume the food within the shortest time possible.
- Foods does not store forever in the fridge. Store food for the recommended time only. Food spoils after a given period of time.