Food Safety and Storage
Storing food correctly is one of the most important things that food handlers can do, whether, in the home environment or in the food work space.
The classification of food and where it should be stored can be confusing for many people. This month we aim to de-junk the definitions and also ensure that they are stored in the safest possible way, in particular we are referring to food that should be kept in a refrigerator.
Before we focus on food itself, we should consider where the refrigerator and freezer are sited, they should be in well-ventilated areas away from heat sources for example the oven and the rays of the sun.
It is best practice to ensure that the refrigerator is kept at a temperature of between 1°C and 4°C, this ensures that the food is out of the danger zone. Freezers should be kept at a temperature of -18°C. in a workplace food preparation area it is important that the display temperatures are checked each time the refrigerator is used. The temperatures should be recorded twice a day.
Ensuring that food is stored in the refrigerator correctly, is key to ensuring that the risk of food poisoning is reduced, ensuring the food is outside of the danger zone also helps to ensure that the risk is minimised.
What is the Danger zone for food?
The danger zone, sometimes called the risk zone, is between 5 and 63°C. We have a ‘Germ-o-meter’ on our dedicated Food Safety course pages, view it here.
Effective Chilled Storage
There are 4 definitions of food, 3 of which belong in the refrigerator and 1 that does not. We are going to explore these categories from the top of the fridge down.
High-Risk food is food which is ready-to-eat. These foods support the multiplication of harmful bacteria and include most cooked foods. Examples of High-risk foods include:
- Cooked meat and poultry,
- Cold cooked meats,
- Fresh cream cakes,
- Cold cooked rice, and
The reason that high-risk foods should be stored at the top of the fridge is because it avoids any juices of raw meat or other contaminants from dripping on to this type of food that will not go through any further cooking processes.
Next, down in the refrigerator is food which is classed as ready-to-eat. These foods are defined as foods that are to be eaten without any treatment to destroy any pathogens within them. They include all high-risk foods. Examples of ready-to-eat-raw food includes:
- Bean sprouts,
- Cut melons,
- Spinach, and
Raw-food for cooking
The final food types that should be stored in a refrigerator is food that is raw and needs cooking. These foods should be kept at the bottom of the refrigerator avoiding any cross-contamination of the raw juices and blood contaminating the other types of food. Examples of this type of food include:
- Uncooked sausages,
- Uncooked meat,
- Uncooked poultry, and
- Raw seafood.
Low Risk food
Low risk food does not belong in the refrigerator. This type of food can usually be stored at ambient/room temperature. Examples of this type of food include:
- Breakfast cereal,
- Tinned fruit,
- Sweets, and
- Tea bags.
Thought does need to be taken though around how and where these are stored. Storage of these ambient temperature foods need to be kept in a clean, cool, dry and well-ventilated area/cupboard. The food should be stored off the floor and in date order following the ‘First-in-First-out (FIFO)’ rule.
Lastly, we thought we should clear up the difference between Use by and Best Before dates that we all see on packets of food, especially as some supermarkets are now beginning to remove these from certain foods to reduce waste.
What does ‘Use by’ mean?
Use by is a matter of food safety. The food MUST be used by the date on the label, and must not be sold beyond this date. Food that is beyond the Use by date must be thrown away.
What does ‘Best Before’ mean?
Best Before is a matter of food quality!
Food that is beyond is best before date, may be eaten and in most cases will be perfectly fine to consume, it just may not be as good as it was when it was made, or within the window from production to the best before dates. Having said this, food that is clearly beyond its best and is showing the signs of going off MUST not be consumed!
We hope that this month we have de-bunked the myths of the most commonly used labelling of dates on food as well as the categories of food and refrigerator storage.
What to learn more about food safety? Then why not book one of our Food Safety qualifications.