Proper storage in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer is essential for preserving the freshness and quality of food.
*The best shelf and pantry storage areas are dark, dry and within a temperature range of 50 to 70°F. Avoid areas near heat sources and water pipes.
*Discourage insects by keeping storage areas free of dust and food particles.
*Protect food from air, moisture and insects by using plastic, glass or metal containers with tight-fitting lids. Rewrap packaged foods that have torn or damaged wrappers.
*Date foods not already marked by the manufacturer and use older items first.
*Dispose of cans with bulges or leaks. Use contents of dented cans promptly.
*Store all food items away from household cleaning products and other potentially hazardous substances to avoid any possibility of mix-up or contamination.
*Maintain refrigerator temperature between 34 and 40°F. Check periodically by placing a thermometer inside.
*After shopping, refrigerate perishable items promptly.
*To allow proper air circulation for even cooling, do not overcrowd shelves.
*Store foods wrapped in plastic or in covered containers to prevent the food from drying out and to keep odors from spreading.
*Check expiration dates to use products before quality is jeopardized.
*Cover and refrigerate leftovers promptly. All high-moisture foods or those with meats, fish, poultry, eggs, custard and cream cheese fillings, cream sauces or cheeses are especially prone to bacteria growth at room temperature.
*Use cooked meats and poultry within two days.
When preparing foods to freeze, allow them to cool so their warmth does not raise the freezer temperature above 0°F. Then freeze them promptly. Season lightly because flavors can intensify during storage. After wrapping, label each package with contents, date by which it should be used and number of servings or intended use.
In general, food that has thawed should not be refrozen unless it is cooked first. (Baked goods are an exception.) If partially thawed goods still have ice crystals, they can often be refrozen safely however, the quality may suffer. Thawed dishes containing a mixture of ingredients (stews, soups, pies, casseroles, etc.) cannot safely be refrozen.
*Keep your freezer at 0°F. or colder.
*Use well-made containers and wraps designed for freezing. Refer to "Fruit Freezing Chart" and "Vegetable Freezing Chart," for more information. To protect foods from cold air deterioration, use only moisture and vaporproof materials such as plastic containers with tight-fitting lids, freezer paper and heavy-duty plastic bags, wraps and foil.
*Leave room in containers for expansion. When wrapping foods, press out the air and wrap tightly.
*A wide variety of foods freeze well, but some do not: salad greens, bananas, potatoes, custard, mayonnaise and sour cream mixtures, fried meat, hard-cooked egg whites and boiled frosting.
Here are some packaging techniques for freezing various foods:
*Liquids such as broth, beverages, uncooked egg whites and puree can be frozen in ice cube trays until firm, then removed and stored in plastic bags to use individual cubes as necessary.
*Ground meat can be divided into portions and frozen as is or formed into meatballs or patties.
*To freeze small items, such as berries and vegetables, in individual pieces rather than a solid block, spread them on a tray, freeze them until firm and then package them in bags or containers.
*Make your own "TV dinners" by arranging cooked foods on divided foil trays. Fill air spaces with gravies and sauces, seal trays tightly with foil and freeze immediately.
Place waxed paper or parchment paper between layers of flat foods such as pancakes, chops, fish fillets, chicken pieces and steaks to allow them to separate easily for thawing. Freeze soups, stews and casseroles in foil-lined dishes. When mixture is solid, remove the dish so you can continue to use it. To thaw and serve the food, unwrap and return it to the dish.
Safely Holding or Transporting Food
*Safe temperatures for holding foods are 140°F. or above for hot foods and 40°F. or below for cold foods, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
*For safe transport, use proper equipment such as thermal containers, ice chests and insulated coolers so that hot foods will stay hot and cold foods will remain chilled.
*Take extra precaution with any foods that are highly susceptible to bacterial growth, such as dairy products, eggs and mayonnaise, creamed and custard mixtures, meats, poultry, seafood and stuffing.
*Pack food separately from nonfood items and in the order you will need them. Pack heated and chilled foods in separate containers.
*Pack liquids in tightly sealed containers and surround the containers with other items to keep them upright.
*Do not leave any food sitting in the hot sun. Even food that might not spoil may deteriorate in quality. At a picnic, store the ice chest in the shade and cover it with a blanket or thick folded towel.
*Take only as much food as you think will be eaten. Leftovers are best discarded after sitting out.
*Food spoilage happens quickly and with no obvious signs. It takes only 15 to 30 minutes for bacteria to grow in warm, moist conditions. This may not alter the taste, odor or appearance of most foods at the time they are served.
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