“Good storage in the fridge and dry store is one of the most important principles of food safety.”
Perishable foods by its very nature do not last as long as we would like. This is why we need to keep foods in the fridge to prolong the time it takes for the food to go off. But keeping foods in the fridge is not just about temperature and keeping the cold chain. It is also about storing foods in a way that prevents cross-contamination and food poisoning.
One of the biggest problems in the kitchen is storage space in the fridges. The fridge is most probably one of the most cramped spaces you will find. Everything from ready to eat meals, raw meats, veg to dairy and sauces need to be stored in a fridge to ensure that foods do not expire before the use-by date.
That leaves us with a very large group of foods that need refrigeration and very little space to store them in. The reality is that most kitchens don’t have the luxury of separating these foods into their own fridges. One of the biggest mistakes kitchens still make today is that they store raw foods with ready to eat foods. Usually due to restricted space.
So, what is the safest alternative?
The most efficient way to use storage space effectively is to understand the risks of causing food poisoning. This means knowing what the risks of the various food groups are. We know that raw meats and vegetables are riskier because they have a high number of bacteria that are naturally present in these foods.
Raw meats, poultry and seafood are the main culprits when it comes to high bacterial load (the number of bacteria these foods contain). We expect that these foods will have dangerous bacteria in them, so it seems logical that we want to keep these away from foods that do not have bacteria in them.
Food storage in the fridge
- Raw meats should be stored on the lowest possible shelf.
- Red meats and poultry should be stored separately.
- This is because chicken is notorious for having Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and L. monocytogenes more so than any other raw meat.
- Fish and seafood should be stored on the same line but separately from raw meats.
- Seafood carries less dangerous bacteria and certainly different bacteria from the common food poisoning bacteria.
- However, many people are prone to seafood allergies especially shellfish such as prawns.
- You would do well to keep these away from many other foods.
Fruits and vegetables
- Vegetables should be stored on the next lower shelf above the raw meats.
- Most bacteria live on fruits and vegetables can easily be washed off with water and a treatable vegetable sanitiser.
- These carry fewer bacteria and do not leak blood. Raw meats will always have blood spillage which carries millions of bacterial cells.
- Usually, fruit and vegetables are stored separately from meats because they require different holding temperatures.
Ready-to-eat foods (RTE Foods)
Prepared salad ingredients and cooked foods should always be stored above all else and can be stored with dairy.
- Food that is undergoing the cooling process needs to be placed in the fridge in an uncovered manner until cooled to fridge temperature.
- This is a high-risk time when anything falling into these foods can cause contamination.
- This means that the topmost shelf should be kept for the cooling process.
The next step in safe food storage is to further ensure no cross-contamination can occur. We do this by using sealable containers. Storing each food group into clear sealable containers, locks in freshness and prevents any outside contamination. This practice should also ensure the longevity of your foods by limiting exposure to the outside environment. This prevents odours as well.
Using date codes
Keeping a record of when food was prepared will help minimise expired foods and will help with the first in first out policy. This is achieved by the use of date codes.
Food storage in the dry storage
Most of the principals used for cold storage are the same for dry goods.
Dry goods should have a date code, or an expiry date in order to ensure that the first-in-first-out (FIFO) policy applies. Dry storage areas are more likely to encourage chances of chemical and physical contamination than cold storage. It will still have the possibility of biological contamination.
The dry store is often overlooked in terms of food safety because of the long shelf life of the products. Yet for example, a weevil infestation could contaminate all dry stock in a matter of days.
Therefore, all dry goods should be:
- Covered in order to ensure quality is maintained and to prevent pest harbourage of pests and insects.
- Foods should be stored separately from equipment and chemicals.
- Reusable open containers or transferred to resealable containers.
- All decanted items should be given a date code and include the expiry date.
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