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How to store food safely

Proper storage of food reduces the risk of food poisoning. Follow these tips to ensure your food is always safe to eat.

Fridge storage

Some foods need to be kept in the fridge to help stop bacteria growing. These include foods with a "use by" date, cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods such as desserts and cooked meats.

Here's how to prevent bacteria from growing:

  • Keep your fridge temperature below 5C.
  • When preparing food, keep it out of the fridge for the shortest time possible.
  • If you’re having a buffet, keep the food refrigerated until you’re ready to serve it.
  • Cool leftovers as quickly as possible (within 90 minutes) and store them in the fridge. Eat them within two days.
  • Store eggs in their box in the fridge.
  • Never put open cans in the fridge as the metal of the can may transfer to the can's contents. Transfer the contents into a storage container or covered bowl.

“Make sure food has cooled down before you put it in the fridge,” says Philippa Hudson, senior lecturer in food safety at Bournemouth University.

“If the food is still hot it will raise the temperature in the fridge, which isn’t safe as it can promote bacterial growth.”

To ensure your fridge remains hygienic and in good working condition, clean it regularly.

“Food debris accumulates over time and can increase the risk of cross-contamination,” says Hudson.

'Best before' and 'use by'

  • Food with a 'use by' date goes off quite quickly. It can be dangerous to eat after this date.
  • Food with a 'best before' date is longer-lasting. It should be safe to eat but may not be at its best quality after this date.

'Use by' dates

No food lasts forever, however well it is stored. Most pre-packed foods carry either a 'use by' or 'best before' date.

  • 'Use by' dates appear on foods that go off quite quickly. It can be dangerous to eat foods past this date.
  • 'Best before' dates are for foods with a longer life. They show how long the food will be at its best quality.

“Food can look and smell fine even after its use-by date,” says Hudson. “But that doesn’t mean that it's safe to eat. It could still be contaminated.”

Storing meat

It's especially important to store meat safely in the fridge to stop bacteria from spreading and avoid food poisoning.

  • Store raw meat and poultry in clean, sealed containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge, so they can't touch or drip onto other food.
  • Follow any storage instructions on the label and don't eat meat after its use-by date.
  • Keep cooked meat separate from raw meat.

Freezing and defrosting

It’s safe to freeze meat and fish as long as you:

  • Freeze it before the use-by date.
  • Defrost meat and fish thoroughly before cooking. Lots of liquid will come out as meat thaws, so stand it in a bowl to stop bacteria in the juice spreading to other things.
  • Defrost in a microwave if you intend to cook straightaway. Otherwise, put it in the fridge to thaw so that it doesn't get too warm.
  • Cook food until it's piping hot all the way through.

“Make sure the meat is properly wrapped in the freezer or it might get freezer burn, which will make it tough and inedible,” says Hudson.

“Date and label meat in the freezer and eat it within 24 hours of defrosting. Don't keep food in a freezer indefinitely. Always have a good idea of what’s in your fridge and freezer.”

Food hygiene

A dietitian gives practical advice on keeping your kitchen and food free of germs.

Last reviewed: 28/11/2010

Next review due: 28/11/2012


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Aaaarrrrrgh said on 01 July 2011

No mention is made about re-freezing frozen food which has defrosted.

All in all a pretty poor effort as the ratings show.

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Food Standards Agency said on 29 June 2011

It is estimated that each year in the UK there are about a million people who suffer a foodborne illness, of which 20,000 receive hospital treatment and there are 500 deaths. It is important that everyone do what they can to reduce these risks.

Food allergy can develop at any point in one’s life and there is no strong evidence it is caused by people being too clean. Food allergy is often associated with Westernised society and there are clear differences in levels of food allergy reported in urban and rural areas. The Agency is currently investigating various risk factors that may affect the development of food allergy such as when solid foods are introduced and when allergens are introduced into the infant diet, the outcomes from these studies will help inform advice to parents on infant feeding.

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devoted husband said on 19 December 2010

I ended up leaving care work, got OCD with stuff around food hygiene... If we kill off the good bacteria as well, where is that gonna leave us?
I have a bag of frozen chicken portions in the freezer. Can I return the opened, half-empty bag to the freezer? I guess not, as bacteria from the bag will get on other things... So I'll cook it all to be on the safe time...
I'm sorry... But we have to allow ourselves to come into contact with bacteria, so we can build up an immunity...
Otherwise, tha bacteria will become superbugs, and kill us all anyway...
The paranoia is everywhere now... Killing 99.9% of germs, is good and bad germs... we need them both!
Good germs to protect us, and bad, for the good to strengthen themselves on...
When are we gonna stop washing our hands til they bleed?
It is said that the onset of allergies is largely due to the amount of ant-bacterial stuff we use...
This is a time bomb for our children and grandchildren...
When do we stop?
When do we stop?

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