A vital aspect of maintaining health and safety standards in a restaurant or another establishment that serves food is knowing how to store food properly and safely. Even in your own home, it’s also essential to have a good working knowledge of best practices for storing ingredients and how long you can actually keep different types of food.
Here are some tips to help you store these different categories of ingredients correctly.
Meat and fish
Most meat and fish you buy from the butcher’s, fishmonger’s or supermarket will keep for a few days in the fridge. It is essential to keep any raw meat in its original packaging so it cannot come into contact with other things in your fridge. If possible, store it on the bottom shelf to minimise the risk of any juices dripping onto food stored below. Cooked meat does not pose a significant contamination risk but it should be fully wrapped.
You can freeze most things if you need to keep them for longer, typically for up to 4-6 months. Vaccuum packs keep for longer as they are less likely to be damaged by freezing. Cured meat and fresh, fatty fish are the only main things that should never be frozen.
Generally, dairy should be kept refrigerated. Once opened, many dairy products will not keep for longer than two or three days, so it’s essential that you check the individual use-by dates where possible.
Most soft or sliced types of cheese and butter are not suitable for storing in the freezer, except for some solid blocks in their original packaging, or grated cheese. Yogurt can be frozen, however, which extends the length of time you can keep it by around 2 months.
Fresh fruit and vegetables
Although different examples will vary and different factors can be involved (e.g. how ripe a fruit is when you buy it), most fresh fruit and vegetables will keep for around 3-7 days when refrigerated. Many items can also be stored at room temperature, for a little less time.
Usually you should keep fresh produce in its original packaging or wrap it in plastic yourself. Only wash items before bagging if they are particularly dirty, for example vegetables with a lot of soil or dirty marks on the outside.
It is usually best to avoid freezing bread and other items from the bakery if possible, as the results of thawing can be mixed, but if you’re careful it’s possible to keep these items in the freezer for around 3-6 months. Again, dairy should not be frozen in most cases, so any desserts, pies and so on made with cream should be kept only in the fridge.
Be careful when storing bread in sealed bags at room temperature, as an airtight seal can soften up crusts and make them damp over time. Make sure there are air holes in your packaging to maintain a fresh crust.
Condiments, herbs and spices
Many sauces are relatively safe to keep at room temperature but should ideally be stored in the fridge for the most part. Most oils, vinegars and prepared herbs and spices will keep for 12 months in a cupboard at room temperature, and typically a few months once you start using them. Nothing should really be kept for more than a year as the effects of storage start to become unpredictable.