By Anran Shao
When we are busy with approaching exams or assignments, we often cannot squeeze in enough time to cook at home. In an effort to save time and money, leftovers and/or prepackaged frozen meals become a first choice for students on-the-go. However, processed foods tend to be less nutrient-dense, and leftovers have the risk of introducing potential toxic substances if not stored correctly. Here are some tips to safely preserve your food and make it last longer!
Choose High-Quality Containers
Before putting food into the refrigerator, proper containers are essential for food safety. It is better to use glass containers or choose bags that are labeled BPA-free. Good bags will keep food’s moisture and nutrients better. Never use plastic shopping bags to directly store food because the toxic substances can leach into food. Start the habit of writing down the date you stored your food in a container if you have trouble remembering when you put the food in the fridge. Inadequate use of containers can easily lead to food contamination or food going bad. Make sure to seal the bag or container tightly!
Controlling the temperature
Freezing and refrigerating will indeed prevent lots of harmful bacteria from growing in the food due to the low temperature. However, keeping control of the temperature is an important step to keeping food fresh. Your refrigerator should be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and the freezer should be at at 0 degree Fahrenheit or below. Without the adequate temperature control, bacteria will grow quicker. This is especially critical for meat, because protein is a nutrient source for bacteria, even if the meat has been cooked well. Be careful about storing hot food in the fridge—it can change the temperature of the refrigerator, and can jeopardize other surrounding foods. Cool off the food by placing it in a thin layer or putting it in an ice bath prior to placing it in the refrigerator. By cooking food ahead of time (i.e. pasta, veggies, chicken, or other foods), you can allow it to cool and store them for on-the-go lunches during the week. When properly stored, food will last for seven days!
Putting Food in Right Places
Although you may have adjusted the temperature of your refrigerator, the overall temperature may not be uniform over all the shelves— temperature will vary in different parts of the fridge depending on how close they are to the cooling element. Doors are the warmest area, so they should be used for foods that are resistant to spoiling like juice and commercially prepared sauces. Upper shelves have the most constant temperature that are best suited for leftover or cooked food such as hummus or precooked pasta. If you want to keep meat and eggs stored for a longer period of time, the lower shelves will be a best choice because they have the coolest temperature. Also, putting raw meats on the lowest shelf will prevent bacteria on them from dripping on to other ready to eat foods.
Saving and storing prepared meals in a proper and safe way will help you enjoy your food even more when you’re on your study break. Here’s to clean and healthy eating!