Chefs and business owners strive to provide customers with the most high-quality food possible. Part of delivering on that promise is using ingredients that are at peak freshness. To maintain freshness, it’s critical to follow proper food storage techniques. Storing food safely doesn’t just keep it fresh. It also promotes cash savings by reducing waste. More importantly, it lessens the odds of serving meals that will make people ill.
Fortunately, most food service professionals are familiar with the best food storage techniques and practice them regularly. However, it doesn’t hurt to refresh your memory and double-check to make sure all the best practices are being followed in your kitchen and at your events. Here are some of the storage techniques that will help you keep food fresh.
You can’t keep food fresh if it isn’t fresh from the start. No storage technique can turn a bad ingredient good again. When shopping, check the “best by” and expiration dates to ensure the products are still good and will have a long enough shelf life to last until they will be used up. For fresh products like fruits and vegetables, inspect them closely to make sure they are not bruised or damaged and that they were stored in appropriate conditions (not too hot or too cold).
If products are being delivered to your location, check them to make sure they meet your freshness and quality standards. Any product that does not meet those standards should be returned, and the supplier should be contacted so that they can address the issue and correct it for future deliveries.
Keep Storage Spaces Clean
All storage areas should be clean before food is put into them, and they should be emptied and cleaned frequently to maintain high levels of sanitation. A joint publication by the University of Idaho, Washington State University, and Oregon State University suggests cleaning with disposable paper towels because sponges provide a good environment for bacteria. Dishcloths and kitchen towels also can contain bacteria, so they should be washed in hot water in the washing machine and dried in a clothes dryer often.
Practice First In, First Out
To ensure the freshness of ingredients — especially meats, fruits, and vegetables — and avoid spoilage, the first items placed into food storage areas (presumably the oldest items) should be the first items used. This means placing the newly purchased items in the back of refrigerator or cabinet shelves behind the other items.
Food safety can be compromised if it is stored in an improper location that exposes it to contaminants or extreme temperatures. Products should never be stored on the floor where they are more susceptible to becoming contaminated by dirt, pests, or water. Food should be placed in cabinets, refrigerators, or freezers or stacked on pallets.
Utilize Labeled Containers
Food products that are not in their original containers should be kept in metal, glass, or plastic containers with air-tight lids to keep out contaminants and moisture that could affect freshness and safety. The containers will also help prevent cross-contamination, which is a concern, especially when storing raw meats in the same storage area as other food products. Label all containers so that it’s easy to identify what the item is, when it was purchased, and when it must be used.
Store at Appropriate Temperatures
Storing items at appropriate temperatures will prevent spoilage and keep them safe for consumption. Refrigerated items should be kept at a temperature of 34-40 degrees Fahrenheit, while frozen foods are best stored at -10 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Items stored in cabinets should be kept below 85 degrees Fahrenheit (50-70 degrees Fahrenheit is best). Food that is to be served hot should be kept above 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Leftovers should be discarded if they have been sitting out at room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour on hot days).
Practice Safe Food Handling
Personal hygiene isn’t limited to food preparation and serving. Good food handling should take place even when food is being placed into storage, particularly raw ingredients that need to be put into containers. Prior to handling food, the food handler should wash and dry their hands thoroughly in the kitchen or on-location with a portable sink.
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