How To

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Food storage and safety tips

Buying in bulk can reduce trips to the supermarket and save you money. When buying in bulk, you can cook perishable foods all at once or store foods for later use. When taking the latter approach, there are certain storage and safety tips home cooks can take to ensure their food stays fresh and safe to eat.

Be prepared

Before buying a large amount of food, ensure that your refrigerator and freezer are in good working order. Use a food appliance thermometer to get an accurate reading of the internal temperature of the freezer and refrigerator. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends refrigerators be kept at or below 40 F (5  C), and the freezer at or below zero (-18 C). A refrigerator or freezer that is too warm can cause the growth of unhealthy bacteria in stored foods and decrease the shelf life of stored items.

Purchase freezer-safe plastic storage bags or containers to hold divided food. Also have a permanent marker handy to label containers with the date and type of food enclosed.

Wash later

Wash produce and fresh foods prior to eating. If items are washed before they are stored, the moisture trapped can accelerate spoilage. Lettuce and other leafy vegetables are the exception. Wash these items and drain thoroughly. Afterward, store in a sealed bag with paper towels, which will absorb excess moisture.

Separate meat and poultry

Individual pieces of meat and poultry should be separated before freezing, as this makes it easier to take out the right portions when defrosting for meals.

Small, thin packages will freeze faster and more evenly than other types of containers. They will also defrost  quickly for use later on.

Keep hands clean when handling raw foods by placing one hand in a small plastic sandwich bag to grab the pieces of chicken or meat. Then turn the bag inside out on your hand and the piece of food. Place these wrapped pieces into a freezer-safe bag. The double layer of protection will safeguard against the formation of ice crystals and freezer burn, which can affect flavor.

Bulk ground beef or turkey purchases are another popular buy. Place in a large storage bag and flatten the ground meat as much as possible. Use a spatula to indent the meat almost through to the bottom in a grid pattern. This perforation allows you to access as much of the frozen meat as necessary.

Defrosting

The USDA advises to defrost foods properly to avoid foodborne illnesses. Freezing suspends bacteria trapped in food indefinitely. Improper defrosting practices can cause that bacteria to grow. If the food is not cooked thoroughly, illness can result.

Plan ahead to defrost foods in the refrigerator. It can take up to a day for this method of thawing, so plan meals well in advance.

A cold-water bath also can defrost foods. They should be in a leak-proof package, and the bag should be submerged in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw. Small packages of meat, poultry or seafood — about a pound — may thaw in an hour or less.

Microwaves also have a defrost setting. Just remember to cook foods immediately afterward if you defrost them in a microwave.

Purchasing larger quantities of food can save money and time. Proper storage and food handling afterward ensures meals will be safe and tasty.