The way you store your food could be the difference between food poisoning and a clean bill of health. Proper storage is how you get 7 days out of leftovers instead of 3. Storing your food correctly ensures safety and reduces food waste by maximizing the period in which we can eat our food. In this 3 part article we will be dividing food storage into two sections: food safety, shelf life, and common items of concern.
All food eventually goes bad and there are a number of things that take food from edible to expired. The deterioration of food can be attributed to two main things: the overgrowth of microorganisms and chemical changes. Most factors either contribute or inhibit these types of spoilage.
Growth of microorganisms
Food- Bacteria need nutrients too. The proteins, carbohydrates and fats in food are the energy source of microorganisms, which means that nutrient rich foods will go bad faster.
Ph- The acid or alkaline environment of a food can either inhibit or enhance the growth of microorganisms. Generally speaking environments that either have a very high pH or a very low pH make it hard for organisms to grow.
Temperature- The majority of microorganisms have trouble growing below 40F and above temperatures of 140F. This is why temperature is so important.
Time- Every food expires in time and the expiration date on any food is affected by the amount of time it stays in a vulnerable space.
Oxygen- Just as we need oxygen to survive so do many microorganisms. Depending on microorganisms the makeup of the atmosphere can mean life or death.
Moisture- The presence or absence of water effects in growth
Atmosphere- The introduction of oxygen can lead to oxidation. During oxidation electrons transfer from one molecule to another. This transfer of electrons can cause changes in flavor, color, and nutritional content, that can be unpleasant in food. .
Light- Light can aid to the discoloration of skin, break down of nutrients, and the oxidation fat
Enzymes- Enzymes are components that naturally occur in food. They cause changes in color, texture, and flavor. In particular, they are the components in fruits and vegetables that are responsible for the ripening process.
Spoilage can be prevented with proper preparation and storage. A good rule of thumb is to store food in the fridge by cooking temperature. The lowest temperature food stays at the top of the fridge and the highest temperature food lives at the bottom of the fridge. Food has different minimum cooking temperatures in order to kill different types of micro-organisms that can grow on that food. The majority of micro-organisms of concern have trouble growing below 40F and above temperatures of 140F. But some can survive extreme temperatures. For example Listeria can grow as low as 34F.
By storing food based off of cooking temperature you always ensure proper cooking in case of any cross-contamination. For example if a cracked egg were to fall on top of a batch of uncooked chicken the potential for exposure to harmful micro-organisms from the egg would be extremely low if not completely eliminated. When cooked, eggs should be brought to a temperature of 145F while chicken should be brought to a temperature of 165F. This means cooking the chicken properly automatically eliminates any micro-organisms that would have been able to survive on the eggs.
Follow these tips to keep yourself healthy and your food longer.
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Written & Edited By:
Zuri Masud. Food scientist, Food waste expert, & founder of Reveal.
We are two food scientists that are all about changing the way we look at our food. We will be diving into all of the research, tips, and tricks on how we can all live a sustainable lifestyle. Join us as we find the most creative and green solutions to saving our food, our bodies, and the environment.