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For Quality and Safety, Store Foods Properly

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist in Barton County University of Missouri Extension


Storing foods properly has an impact on the eventual safety and quality of that food. It is important to know how to store foods properly so you can prevent foodborne illness in your household as well as get the best value for your money.

One of the first questions you may ask about food storage is what do the dates on the package mean? If the package sells “sell by” before the date, that means that the store should sell the product by the printed date but it is still safe to eat after that date. The term “best if used by” means that the product will be at it’s best quality by the date listed but is most likely still be safe to eat after that date. “Use by” or “Expires” means you should use or discard the food by that date because quality and safety will be compromised.

Once you get your food home, it’s important to handle and store the food properly to assure the safety of your food. Whether food is stored in the freezer, refrigerator or on the pantry shelf, there are precautions that need to be taken.

Shelf stable foods need to be kept in a cool dry place. Heat, which can come from appliances, can speed up the deterioration of some foods so place foods in cabinets farthest from heat sources. When purchasing shelf-stable food, make sure the package is clean and cans are free of dents and bulges. When placing them in your pantry, rotate older cans to the front so they are used first.

For refrigerator storage, use plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or any other airtight food-safe container. Remember that refrigerated leftovers need to be used quickly. Most leftovers need to be used within three to four days. Cooked greens and cooked gravy, stuffing, nuggets, broth and seafood need to be used in one to two days. Un-cooked meats are another food that usually need to be used within one to two days.

Freezing foods increases the amount of time you can safely store a food. It is important to keep the freezer temperature at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Always make sure to freeze foods in containers or wraps that are safe for freezer storage. Freezer burn, that white, dry looking patch you sometimes see on frozen meat occurs when moisture evaporates from the product. Proper packaging with a tight seal and the proper length of storage can help prevent freezer burn. Freezer burn does not make a food unsafe to eat but the quality of the food is not as high. You can cut away the freezer burn before or after cooking it.



Last Updated 10/25/2007










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