Storing food safely

Depending on the type of food, you'll need to store it in the fridge, freezer or in containers you keep in cupboards or on shelves. When storing food, it's important to keep food safe so that's it still safe to eat or cook.

Storing food in the fridge

Some food needs to be kept in the fridge to help stop bacteria from growing on it, such as food with a 'use by' date, cooked food and ready-to-eat food such as desserts and cooked meats.

Make sure your fridge is cold enough

You need to make sure your fridge is cold enough or food poisoning bacteria will still be able to grow. Your fridge should be between 0ºC and 5ºC.

If you’re not sure how the temperature setting or dial works on your fridge, you could use a fridge thermometer to check it’s the right temperature.

To store food safely in the fridge:

  • keep the fridge door closed as much as possible
  • wait for food to cool down before you put it in the fridge
  • turn the temperature down to help keep it cold enough if the fridge is full

Keeping food in the fridge

To help stop bacteria from growing:

  • when the label says 'keep refrigerated', make sure you do keep the food in the fridge - if the food isn't labelled with any storage instructions and it's a type of food that goes off quickly, you should put it in the fridge and eat it within two days
  • some jars and bottles need to be kept in the fridge once they’ve been opened -  check the label and follow storage instructions
  • when you're preparing food, keep it out of the fridge for the shortest time possible, especially when the weather or the room is warm
  • if you have made some food (such as a sandwich or a cold dish) and you're not going to eat it straight away, keep it in the fridge until you're ready to eat it
  • if you're having a party or making a buffet, leave the food in the fridge until people are ready to eat - you shouldn't leave food out of the fridge for more than four hours
  • cool leftovers as quickly as possible (ideally within one to two hours) and then store them in the fridge - eat any leftovers within two days, except for cooked rice, which you should eat within one day to help avoid food poisoning

Storing meat

It's important to store meat safely to stop bacteria from spreading and to avoid food poisoning. You should:

  • store raw meat and poultry in clean, sealed containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge, so they can't touch or drip onto other food
  • follow any storage instructions on the label and don't eat meat after its 'use by' date
  • when you have cooked meat and you're not going to eat it straight away, cool it as quickly as possible and then put it in the fridge or freezer
  • keep cooked meat separate from raw meat

Keeping food in the freezer

You can keep food safely in the freezer for years as long as it stays frozen the whole time. But the taste and texture of food changes if it’s frozen for too long, so you might well find that it’s not very nice to eat.

You can check any instructions on food labels or in your freezer’s handbook (if you don’t have this anymore, you might be able to find it online) to see how long food should be frozen.

It's safe to freeze most raw or cooked foods providing you:

  • freeze it before the 'use by' date
  • follow any freezing or thawing instructions on the label
  • thaw it in the fridge so that it doesn't get too warm, or, if you plan on cooking it as soon as it's defrosted, you could defrost it in a microwave
  • try to use it within one to two days after it’s been defrosted – it will go off in the same way as if it were fresh
  • cook food until it's steaming hot all the way through

When frozen meat and fish (and some other foods) thaw, lots of liquid can come out of them. If you’re defrosting raw meat or fish, this liquid will spread bacteria to any food, plates or surfaces that it touches. Keep the meat and fish in a sealed container at the bottom of the fridge, so that it can't touch or drip onto other foods.

Always clean plates, utensils, surfaces and hands thoroughly, after they have touched raw or thawing meat, to stop bacteria from spreading.

If you defrost raw meat or fish and then cook it thoroughly, you can freeze it again, but remember never reheat foods more than once.

Storing dry food in containers

Many types of food don't need to be kept in the fridge to keep them safe to eat, for example dry foods such as rice, pasta and flour, many types of drinks, tinned foods, and unopened jars. But it's still important to take care how you store them.

To store dry food safely:

  • keep food in sealed bags or containers - this helps keep food fresh and stops anything falling into the food by accident
  • don't store food or drinks near cleaning products or other chemicals
  • don't use old food containers to store household chemicals, and don't store food in containers that have been used for other purposes
  • only reuse undamaged plastic water bottles that you can clean 
  • don't store food on the floor, because this can encourage mice, ants and other pests
  • keep the storage area dry and not too warm

Tin cans

When you open a can of food and you're not going to use all the food straight away, empty the food into a bowl, or another container, and put it in the fridge.

Don't store food in an opened tin can, or re-use empty cans to cook or store food. This is because when a can has been opened and the food is open to the air, the tin from the can might transfer more quickly to the can's contents.

This advice doesn't apply to foods sold in cans that have resealable lids, such as golden syrup and cocoa, because these types of food don’t react with the can.

Covering food with cling film 

Cling film is useful for protecting food but, like many things, it needs to be used correctly.

Not every type of cling film is suitable for using with all foods. Check the description on the box to see what foods it can be used with.

There are three main points to remember when using cling film:

  • don't use cling film if it could melt into the food, such as in the oven or on pots and pans on the hob
  • you can use cling film in the microwave (in line with the manufacturer’s instructions), but make sure the cling film doesn't touch the food
  • cling film should only touch high-fat foods, such as some types of cheese, raw meats with a layer of fat, fried meats, pies and pastries, and cakes with butter icing or chocolate coatings, when the description on the box says the cling film is suitable

Covering food with kitchen foil

Kitchen foil, which is made from aluminium, can be useful for wrapping and covering foods. But it's best not to use foil or containers made from aluminium to store foods that are highly acidic, such as:

  • tomatoes
  • rhubarb
  • cabbage
  • soft fruit

Aluminium can affect the taste of these foods.

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