You want to improve your health by eating better. With the best of intentions, you load up your shopping cart each week with lots of colorful fruits and veggies. Unfortunately for many of us, life gets in the way, and instead of cooking up those beauties, they sit in the fridge until they’re no longer good to eat. Into the trash they go. It’s sad, but Americans throw out about 19 billion pounds of fresh fruits and veggies every year. Then there’s the other stuff in the refrigerator – some have expiration dates (like, milk, yogurt, cheese, and hummus) while others don’t (think about those leftovers). Food that’s past-it’s-prime or improperly handled is usually teeming with bacteria, like e.coli or salmonella, and eating it is just a recipe for a nasty viral infection. How do you keep yourself safe without wasting too much food?
FOOD STORAGE 101
Do you know how to properly store your fruits and veggies? Not everything has to go straight into the refrigerator. Some fruits, especially berries, actually taste better at room temperature. Here’s a quick lesson on where to store your food:
- dairy, meats, nuts, seeds
- berries, unwashed (bring to room temp before eating)
- ripe fruit, cut-up fruit
- greens, onions (helps to decrease crying when cutting), most veggies
- whole grains – brown rice, quinoa
- fresh herbs – remove from package and wrap in a damp paper towel. For herbs like parsley and cilantro, trim the bottom with a kitchen scissor and place into a cup of water
Store at Room Temp until ripe, then refrigerate
- pineapple, mango, pears, peaches, avocado, apricots, apples, bananas, kiwi, citrus fruit, watermelon, cantaloupe, papaya
Store at room temp
- potatoes, sweet potatoes, ginger, garlic
- bread (refrigerate or freeze if not going to use a whole loaf)
- meat, poultry, fish – wrap in a freezer-safe zip top bag and try to remove as much air as possible. Date the package and try to use within 6 months
- cooked beans and grains – after you make a big batch, drain them well and divide up into smaller portions and place into freezer zip-top baggies. Flatten them out so you can store them stacked in the freezer
- bananas – when they become super-ripe, peel them and freeze in zip-top bags. Great for making smoothies.
- fresh herbs – extra herbs should be washed and dried before being placed into zip-top bags. Pull them out for future recipes, such as soups, stews, and sauces.
- bread crumbs – grind up leftover bread in the food processor and place into zip-top bags. Use in recipes such as turkey meatloaf or to create a crumb coating on chicken or turkey cutlets or fish fillets.
FOOD SAFETY 101
When people experience gastrointestinal distress (vomiting, diarrhea), they usually think they have the stomach flu. There’s actually no such thing. What they really have is some form of food poisoning brought on by improper food handling. To prevent falling victim to these bugs, you need to know how to handle and store your food.
- Wash your hands with warm-hot soapy water for at least 30 seconds and dry thoroughly.
- Don’t cross-contaminate – use separate cutting boards for produce and proteins and of course, a completely other board for raw meats. Wash your knife with hot, soapy water when switching between different foods and wash your hands after handling raw meat.
- Cook meat to the proper internal temperature (use a food thermometer).
- Do not let cooked food sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Get it stored in sealed containers as soon as possible and into the refrigerator. The bacterial “hot zone” is between 40 and 140 degrees- it multiplies quickly at those temperatures.
- When packaging up hot food, like soup and stews, it’s better to package it into multiple, smaller containers, rather than one large container, so that it cools down faster.
- Reheat leftovers so that they reach a temperature (over 140F) that will kill any bacteria.
- The “sniff” test is not accurate at determining what is safe to eat. General rule: throw out any cooked proteins after 3 days in the fridge and and dairy that’s been open for more than 1 week.