Many of us have been using the same types of containers and wrap to store everything from leftover lasagna to deli meats for years. But wrapping stuff for the fridge or freezer is trickier than it seems, according to ShopSmart, a shopping magazine published by the editors of Consumer Reports.
"We've come up with food storage tricks that will keep everything in your fridge and pantry tasting great - and save you money at the supermarket," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. "In addition to saving money, proper food storage can be a health issue, so it's important to know how to properly wrap items."
ShopSmart recently identified the 11 worst food-storage mistakes:
¢ Sloppy wrapping. Air and moisture - food's worst enemies - can seep in and let food spoilers set up camp. Make sure that lids and caps are on tight. When storing food in a resealable bag, squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing it.
¢ Not removing store wrap. The original plastic may look as if it's on tight, but there may be tiny holes that aren't visible or a loose flap that exposes the contents to air. Rewrap supermarket meat, poultry and cold cuts that come in flimsy wrapping, especially if they'll be stored for a few days before being used. Remove meats from foam trays and clingy wrap before freezing and place them in resealable freezer bags or wrap tightly in heavy-duty foil or freezer paper.
¢ Oversize containers. Too much "headroom" speeds spoilage and freezer burn. Match the size of the container as closely as possible to the contents.
¢ Reusing food containers. Margarine tubs, deli containers, yogurt cartons and other food containers are made for one-time use and may not hold up to wear and tear, freezer temps or dishwashing.
¢ Incorrect fridge temps. If refrigerator or freezer temperatures are too warm, even by just a few degrees, food can spoil faster. Keep the fridge at 37 F and the freezer at 0 F.
¢ Fridge-door storage. In ShopSmart's tests, fridge-door compartments were three to five degrees warmer than the shelves inside, closer to the spoilage danger zone, which starts at 41 F. Keep eggs (leave them in the carton), milk and fresh deli condiments like salsa and pesto in the back of the fridge, where it's colder. It's safe to keep the hardier, vinegar-based stuff like mustard, relish and ketchup on the door.
¢ Refrigerating red-hot leftovers. Hot food in the fridge will warm the food around it, increasing the rate of bacterial growth. Cool hot stuff before refrigerating.
¢ The sniff test. A nasty odor is a good clue that food's spoiled, but food that doesn't smell can still make someone sick. Pay attention to the use-by date on packaging. Also check for spoilage by looking at the food - a change in color or a filmy skin is a tip-off. With cold cuts and meats, if it feels slimy, out it goes. When in doubt, throw it out.
¢ Underwrapping smelly stuff. Some food smells can permeate right through the wrap. ShopSmart's editors say that really strong odors can spread throughout the entire fridge, so butter, milk and even the ice in the freezer can end up tasting like the leftover fish from last night.
¢ Losing track of leftovers. Not keeping track of how long leftovers have been sitting around can lead to eating spoiled food. Label and date containers to know when to throw out what's in them. (Leftovers shouldn't hang around the fridge for more than three to four days, open deli meats for more than three to five days.)
¢ Warehouse overload. That party pack of steaks may have been a great deal, but not if the meat goes bad before it can be used. Repackage food into meal-size packages to avoid waste and freeze what can't be used immediately, especially poultry and meats that should be eaten within one to two days.