Barring certain foods, most of us randomly refrigerate based on the availability of space rather than on nutrition or hygiene logic. Let’s understand a little bit about what keeps food fresh in refrigerators.
Refrigerators offer us an environment that is much cooler than the ambient temperature. So when we keep food at such low temperatures, the growth of bacteria gets arrested and the enzymes in the food get processed slower. This is what keeps food in the fridge fresh for long—the taste, texture and quality of the food is preserved for more days. However, refrigeration only retards bacterial growth, it doesn’t eliminate it. Hence, it’s important to refrigerate food with awareness because it directly impacts our health.
Using the refrigerator
- Set the temperature of the refrigerator between 4 degrees Celsius to 0 degrees Celsius. This helps preserve the quality of food while also stopping bacterial growth. This range also prevents the formation of ice crystals in the food. It helps to keep a refrigerator thermometer in the fridge to make sure the temperature is low enough for food safety. Also, use the thermometer to check the temperature of the shelves to help proper placing of foods.
- Take care to not place fragile and delicate foods like vegetables and fruits in the coldest part [mostly the upper part] of your fridge.
- Clean your fridge, every 30 days. Don’t miss anything—right from the interior surfaces to the gaskets, clean every part thoroughly. Some people turn off their refrigerators while cleaning, but you can keep it on as it helps reach the recommended temperature faster on keeping the food back after you’ve finished.
Best way to refrigerate foods
- Always cover the food you keep in your fridge, without fail. Leaving food uncovered quickly dries it out as the air inside the fridge is dry. Covering also prevents food from acquiring unwanted odours from other items that have a strong odour such as cabbage, cauliflower and garlic.
- Keep the food in as soon as possible; you don’t have to wait till it cools down. The main purpose of refrigerators is to cool down food, and then maintain the temperature. So, the sooner you place the food in, the quicker the process begins. In case the quantity is large, divide it into smaller portions and then store.
- Don’t overstuff the refrigerator. Allow enough space between foods to maintain an even temperature throughout.
- Place foods in the refrigerator within two hours of making them to limit and prevent bacterial growth.
- For packaged foods, use the required amount and store the rest in the original container. But if you have emptied the entire pack, do not put it back in the original packing. Instead, store in a bowl and cover it with a plastic wrap.
- Store fruits and vegetables separately as the two emit different gases and gases from one damage the other.
- Store fruits that dry easily in perforated or unsealed bags. This helps maintain a moist environment and ensures proper air circulation.
- Never wash fruits and vegetables before keeping them in the fridge as the water makes them rot faster.
- When defrosting foods, always do so in the refrigerator and not at room temperature or in warm water.
Tips for storing specific foods in the fridge
- Ready-to-eat meals: These can be stored till the date mentioned on the pack and must be eaten 3 – 5 days after opening the pack.
- Milk: Always store fresh milk in the fridge. [For packaged milk, follow the instructions mentioned on the pack].
- Eggs: Do not store eggs in the door of the refrigerator as the temperature is not cold enough to maintain their quality.
- Cheese: Tightly wrap it before refrigerating. [Serving tip: Remove it from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for 30 – 45 minutes before serving, for best taste and texture].
- Fresh meats: Wrap the pack in an additional bag and immediately refrigerate it. Do not store meat for long as it deteriorates in quality.
- Fruits: Keep them well-wrapped. Do not store tomatoes in the fridge advises Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking, as refrigerating tomatoes damages the membranes inside the fruit walls, causing them to lose flavour. Instead, buy less and finish them before they go rancid. This rule applies to most fresh produce. Keep fruits in the fridge only if you want to delay their ripening.
- Baked products: Cakes, pies, breads, coffee cakes, and cookies can be stored safely for 2 — 3 days.
- Vegetables: Except for potatoes and onions, all other vegetables can be safely stored in the fridge. According to the National Potato Council [USA], potatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator as the starch in them changes to sugars, making them sweet. Onions stay in good condition at room temperature and hence need not be refrigerated. In case you have to store chopped onion, store it in an air-tight container as the odour easily spreads to other foods.
- Dough: Keep dough refrigerated and take it out only when you are about to use it.
- Butter: Refrigerate in its original packaging and remove it out few minutes before you plan to use it.
- Leafy vegetables: Either wrap them in paper or put them in plastic bags to keep them fresh. Use within a day or two.
- Fish: Fish and shellfish should ideally not be refrigerated and if possible used the same day. In case you have to refrigerate, don’t keep it for more than a day or two.
Did you know?
According to bread.com, freezer is the best place to store bread as it maintains the quality of bread better than the refrigerator. The temperature in the refrigerator is not low enough to stop the growth of moulds. One day in the refrigerator is equivalent to three days at room temperature.
Freeze it right
Check if the freezer temperature is properly set. Freezing foods retards growth of bacteria. But this means that the bacteria are still present. So if the temperature increases, so does the risk of bacterial growth.
Maintaining the correct temperature and packing food properly also prevents freezer burn, which is caused when surfaces of food are exposed to air
and this imparts an unpleasant flavour and texture
Use containers that are freezer safe; don’t settle for plastic bags you get from the supermarket. You can even use ziploc bags. Use multiple packing for any food, especially when using bags. When packing in a bag, remove the air inside the bag after you’ve filled it with food and before keeping it in the freezer to prolong its freshness.
Place raw foods items like meat in the lowest part of your freezer, followed by cooked items, and finally dry goods like breads and nuts. The key is also to divide them in small portions and then store. This gives you the flexibility to use as required while keeping the entire quantity intact. For storing frozen foods, follow the instructions on the package.
Tip: Label everything that goes in the freezer—name of the item and date. Once frozen, you’ll surprised to see how similar the bags look. Also, a full freezer stays colder for longer, thus saving more energy. So make sure that you fill it right and place items properly.