Food is the foundation of life. Without healthy nutrition, we cannot possibly hope to have a healthy and active lifestyle. But we all know that, and most of us take very good care of what we eat.
What not so many of us know is that the quality of food goes way beyond its composition and the number of calories. The way we store our food has a tremendous impact on its quality as well.
One of the main issues in this regard lies in the existence of food-based bacteria. Don’t be afraid, though – bacteria exist everywhere. They can be found in air, water, soil, and yes – your food as well. Some of them may even have a positive effect on your health.
What makes bacteria “behave badly” is their surroundings.
If you leave food contaminated with a small number of bacteria in the range of temperatures between 40 and 140 °F (so-called “Danger Zone”), their number will start doubling in as little as 20 minutes and continue to double until they become several million and completely spoil your food.
That leads us to the question – why wouldn’t we simply use a fridge?
The shortest answer would be – a refrigerator can’t be used so simply, at least if you want your food to live up to its expiration date.
Refrigerators are much more sophisticated than we give them credit for, and while they all serve some general purpose (cooling the food, so it lasts longer), each fridge is divided into different compartments and different temperature zones. The quality of the food you’ve stored will largely depend on how familiar you are with your fridge’s layout.
The general rule of thumb for the majority of refrigerators in existence today is that their upper shelves have the most constant temperature, while the lower ones are the coldest.
All professional restaurants use this pattern to organize their supplies to play to the strengths of each area and make up for their weaknesses – food that needs no cooking to be safe to eat goes on the upper shelves, and the lower we go, we’ll find the food that needs higher temperatures to be cooked.
That means that your fridge’s top shelves should be populated by:
- Food leftovers
- Ready-to-eat foods (yogurt, cheese, deli meats, tortillas, etc.)
Keep in mind, however, that dairy products should be kept in their original packaging. If they are, by any chance, moved into another container, leave them be. Just make sure that the new container is tightly sealed. Hard cheese should be wrapped in cellophane.
Also, the food leftovers should be divided into several smaller containers and cooled separately. Some bacteria spores are able to survive cooking. Dividing the meal into smaller portions will help it cool faster and prevent bacteria from growing.
As we already mentioned, the lower shelves are the cooler ones.
That makes them ideal for groceries like:
- Raw meat
- Other fresh ingredients slated for cooked dishes
However, these groceries come with two major problems:
- First – raw meat, fish, and poultry carry a large variety of harmful bacteria. These bacteria can very easily contaminate other groceries.
- The other problem would be that raw meats seldom have secure factory packaging. When we buy them, they are usually wrapped up in nothing but a piece of paper. That is why it is of the utmost importance to prevent the meat from coming into contact with your refrigerator’s surfaces.
The easiest way to do that is to put the wrapped-up meat on a plate. However, you should go a few steps further and keep the meat in closed, airtight containers. Keeping one part of your fridge booked exclusively for raw meats (so you prevent other groceries from coming into contact with them) won’t do you any harm, either.
The door is the warmest part of your fridge, which makes storing only the food that is extremely resistant to spoiling here a fairly obvious move. That wouldn’t be too much of a problem if fridge doors wouldn’t have some very serious design flaws.
- For example, most of the fridge manufacturers think that fridge doors are a good place to store eggs, so they inbuild dedicated egg trays. The truth, on the other hand, is that although fairly resistant, eggs should be put somewhere in the middle of the refrigerator.
The other thing you should keep in mind is that your refrigerator’s door may convey the impression that it is a good idea to put milk bottles there. It’s not.
Milk should be placed in some colder part of the refrigerator (preferably on the upper shelves, together with other dairy products).
That makes fridge doors suitable only for:
Crisper drawers are one of the refrigerators’ most misused areas, and that’s entirely manufacturers’ fault. On the one hand, an enclosed environment that can preserve a certain amount of moisture does seem like a perfect place to store your fruits and veggies.
On the other hand, crisper drawers are always at the bottom of a fridge, which makes them more than suitable for raw meat as well. This problem is very easily addressed if your fridge has two crisper drawers – you put the greenery in the upper one and the meat at the bottom (or side by side if the drawers are side by side).
If you are not that lucky, you will have to make the necessary partitions by yourself.
Just follow these two principles:
- Meat should be at the bottom – We already mentioned the dangerous raw meat bacteria. By placing the meat at the bottom of the fridge, you will prevent them from contaminating any other food.
- Keep fruits and vegetables separate – Many fruits (pears, apples, peaches, plums, etc.) produce ethylene, a chemical compound that helps them to ripen. However, the effects of ethylene are not limited only to the fruit the compound originated from. When in contact with vegetables, ethylene can cause premature spoiling.
One more thing – fruits and vegetables can benefit from a certain amount of moisture in a storage compartment. Too much moisture will make them rot. So, if you plan to wash fruits and vegetables before storing them, give them a good sweeping with a paper towel before you eventually put them in a fridge.
Finally, here are a few useful tips and that will help you to organize your fridge better and preserve your food longer:
- Buy what you need in the next couple of days only – The refrigerator keeps the food cold by circulating the cold air. If you overfill your fridge (fill in more than 3/4), you will obstruct this circulation and put an extra burden on the motor.
- Keep the fridge clean – If you notice any kind of spill, clean the surface with hot, soapy water immediately and then rinse it. Once in a week, do the big cleaning and throw out any perishable food that can’t be eaten anymore.
- Take care of the odor – Odor is one of the easiest ways to identify spoiled food. You can’t do that if your fridge is already troubled with odors. Wipe the inside of the fridge with water and vinegar (it will destroy the existing mildew), wash it with baking soda and water, keep the unit stuffed with rolled newspapers for a couple of days and then repeat the water and vinegar treatment. Keep the future odors away by placing an opened box of baking soda on one of the shelves.
- Follow the “two-hour rule” – Any food out of the fridge needs to be cooked and served within the next two hours. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to eat all of your food leftovers within the next two days, either.
- Customize the fridge – All current refrigerators feature removable shelves and other smaller compartments. Customize your fridge, so it suits your eating habits. If you need more places for dairy products, you can easily make them. The same goes for raw meat. Just be sure to throw out the egg trays because they serve no purpose whatsoever.
- Follow the package instruction – Some products require special attention while storing. This is the only way to find that out.
Most people look at the fridge as a box where they can store their food to save it from spoiling. A rather simple task. Simple, but not without its rules. If we want our refrigerators to do their job efficiently, we have to abide by those rules.
Keeping track of our nutrition, counting the calories, trying to make a healthy eating plate, and all other moves concerned only with the “bigger picture” are fine, but they will all go to waste if we can’t save our food from spoiling.
Have this guide and tips in mind and enhance the way you use your fridge and store your food!
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