Mayo Clinic Offers Food Storage Safety Tips

Foods may look, smell, and even taste fine can still harbor bacteria that can cause food poisoning. The July issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource provides an overview of food storage safety and how to avoid bad bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella.

Safe food storage matters. While diarrhea and vomiting caused by food poisoning usually resolve without treatment, about 325,000 people in the United States are hospitalized every year because of food poisoning, and 5,000 people die.

Consider these food safety reminders:

  • Observe the "two-hour" rule. Foods requiring refrigeration, including poultry, meat, eggs, cooked seafood, produce, leftovers, and takeout food, shouldn't be at room temperature longer than two hours. When the air temperature is above 90 degrees F, perishables should be refrigerated within one hour.
  • Store leftovers safely. Hot foods can go straight into the refrigerator or freezer. They shouldn't be left out to cool on the counter. Hot foods can be rapidly cooled by dipping the bowl or container in ice or a cold-water bath. Leftovers from a large pot will cool more quickly when divided into smaller, shallower containers. In general, leftovers should be used or frozen within three to five days.
  • Don't crowd. A refrigerator that is too full blocks air circulation and hampers the cooling process.
  • Know when to toss. An opened package of luncheon meat can be safely stored in the refrigerator three to five days. Unopened, it will keep for two weeks. Three to five days is a safe storage time for deli or homemade egg, chicken, ham, tuna, or pasta salads. Cooked or uncooked fish should be tossed after one to two days. The same goes for fresh sausage and uncooked ground beef.
  • Set the temperature. A refrigerator temperature should be at or below 40 degrees F. The freezer should be kept at 0 degrees F.
  • If in doubt, throw it out. Any foods that look or smell suspicious should be tossed.

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