The techniques used to clean, store, and prepare food not only affect its taste, texture, and nutritional value, but are also instrumental in preventing spoilage and foodborne illness. By using the proper methods to prepare and store foods, you can keep them wholesome and nutritious; preserve their appetizing appearance, taste, and texture; and use them economically, helping keep your food expenses low.
Protecting yourself starts when you buy your food. Refrigerate or freeze all perishables within 2 hours of purchase. If the weather is hot, reduce that time to 1 hour and use a cooler for high-risk foods, which include meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, mayonnaise mixtures, and moist foods such as poultry stuffing.
- Heat and humidity greatly increase the risk of food spoilage, so store nonrefrigerated and nonfrozen foods away from moisture in a 50°F to 70°F (10° to 21°C) temperature range.
- Keep grains and flours in plastic, metal, or glass containers with tight-fitting lids so that insects can’t get to them.
- Whole grain flours and nuts can quickly turn rancid at room temperature, so store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Store tightly sealed oils in a dark cupboard or the refrigerator. Exposure to light and warm temperatures robs oils of vitamins A and E. The cloudiness that forms in some refrigerated oils clears at room temperature.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Raw fruits and vegetables often slowly lose their vitamins when kept at room temperature, but tropical fruits deteriorate rapidly if stored in the cold.
- Most produce is best stored at about 50°F (10°C); if refrigerated, put it in the crisper section; the restricted space slows down moisture loss.
- Avoid storing fruits and vegetables for long periods in sealed plastic bags; they cut off the air supply, causing the produce to rot. Paper and cellophane are better storage materials because they are permeable.
- Leave the stems on berries until you’re ready to use them, and refrigerate peas and beans in their pods. Cut the green tops off root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, parsnips, and turnips, or they will continue to draw nourishment from the roots.
- Frozen vegetables should be cooked straight from the freezer; thawing encourages the destructive activity of residual enzymes and microorganisms. Do not refreeze foods that have been thawed.
Meat and sea food
- Store meats and fish in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Wrap meat for freezing in freezer paper. Avoid using gas-permeable plastic wrap; it allows moisture to evaporate and causes freezer burn.
- Shellfish cannot be kept more than a few hours at refrigerator temperature, but they last 2or 3days on ice or at a temperature below 32°F (0°C).
- Never defrost meat, poultry, or fish at room temperature. Defrost on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. If using the microwave to defrost, cook immediately.
Herbs and spices
- Exposure to air, light, moisture, and heat increase how fast herbs and spices lose flavor and color so store them in tightly covered containers in a dark place away from sunlight, such as inside a cupboard or drawer.
- To store fresh herbs, wash them and stand them upright in a glass containing 1or 2in (2.5or 5cm) of cold water. Cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate.