The festive season is in full swing now, and before long you’re going to be stuck with leftover food from the parties you’ve attended, or from events you’ve hosted at home. If you’re still to host a gathering check out my Hosting a Gathering Framework in Holiday Helper 1, and there’s some budget tips for hosting a party in Holiday Helper 2. Need a gift for someone too? Check out my post on Top Gifts to Buy a New Cook.
In today’s final Holiday Helper post I’m setting out storage tips that are most useful at this time of the year when there’s plenty of food being bought for special occasions. But these are also the rules for storing foods that you should follow all year round. After all, no one wants to find bad food in their fridge, so take the time now to do a good job and you’ll be rewarded for it later – both in terms of your health and your wallet will thank you too.
Follow these tips, and like me, you won’t have any trouble with soiled foods these holidays.
1. When you open a packet, no matter the best buy date, the product will only be good for 3-7 days.
Exceptions are spreads (honey, jam, vegemite, etc) and dry goods (like rice and flour). Dairy is the most susceptible to going bad fast so be the most vigilant with this.
2. Don’t keep foods in their open packets in the fridge, freezer or pantry.
Where it suits, close the packet with a tie or clip or transfer the contents to another container. For example, frozen peas are okay stored in their packet, but I clip the ends over to keep them fresh. An open packet of cheese though, it needs to be moved to another container or bag to keep it fresh.
3. Never keep food in tins in the fridge.
Once you open a tin you need to move the food to another container to store it. If you have ever done this then you will know that a black line appears on the tin (caused by oxidization I believe) and that’s not good for you. Also, the food is open to getting bugs and bacteria in it, so always keep foods in a container with a tight lid or bag with a strong closer and throw the tin away.
4. Put food in bags or boxes in the fridge, freezer and pantry.
Buy boxes that fit in the fridge (plastic or glass – try not to reheat in the plastic ones). Or buy clip/zip lock bags that can be thrown out when you’ve finished with them. Boxes that fit into a drawer is great for dry goods too. My family often recycled ice cream boxes for this purpose too (so you don’t need to spend a lot on boxes if you can’t spare the money right now).
5. Get as much air out of bags and boxes as you can (but don’t go crazy).
Trapped air can make certain foods go off faster. Seen an avocado turn black when it was stored nicely? That’s cause there was too much air in the bag, and avocados are very susceptible to air.
6. Don’t store foods with extra water or moisture in the bag or box.
Like air water can also make foods go bad faster – especially veggies and fruit like lettuce and berries. Any delicate vegetables like zucchinis and cucumbers, and lettuce and spinach especially, will go off faster when they’re around moisture. The tip is not to wash your veggies and fruits until you’re about to eat them, and store them in a box with a couple of pieces of paper towel at the bottom. This keeps the moisture on the paper and not the food, but don’t forget to change the paper every 2 days or so.
7. Label everything clearly.When food is in the back of the fridge or freezer you won’t be able to remember what it was so label it.
This is a good tip for organisation as pasta bake, bolognaise sauce, minestrone soup and beef casserole all look the same when frozen, but it’s also good to put the date on them so you also know when they’re ready to be thrown out (fridge foods throw after 3-5 days and freezer meals are good for 3-4 months). Unless, of course, you want to make a tradition of lucky dip nights for using up leftovers at your place.
8. Use most foods within 2-3 days.
This applies to food you’ve just taken out of a packet as well as leftovers. Anything preserved in oil, brine (a water and salt mix) or dried can last up to or just over a week (such as feta marinated in oil or something similar), and foods canned in oil (like olives and sun-dried tomatoes can last 2-3 weeks. What is most important is if you make dinner and put it in the fridge, use that within 2-3 days. If you opened a packet of ham from the deli, likewise you it within 2-3 days.
9. Decide whether it was out for too long.
If it was at a party and got too warm or had the potential for bugs to get on it (flies are a nuisance in summer so cover food plates when they’re outside with plastic wrap, foil or buy a food umbrella that keeps the flies away but still lets you see the food). Toss the food if it’s been out in the heat or around the flies, otherwise store the food in the fridge as soon as possible after everyone is finished (i.e. before the main meals come out, put the snacks in the fridge and get them out again after dinner if you want people to eat them again).
10. Don’t leave hot foods to cool on the bench.
This is an especially important rule with cooked rice, as it is one of the worst foods for growing bacteria if its at the wrong temperature. Put rice and other cooked foods in the fridge as soon as dinner is over or freeze them straight away so you can use them for work lunches later in the week or when you go back to work next year.
11. Fresh and frozen meats have different storage needs.
If you have cooked something from fresh meat then freeze it straight after dinner and it’s safe to eat at a later date. If it was made from frozen meat then you need to store it in the fridge and use it within 3 days. This is because you shouldn’t freeze, cook, then refreeze the same piece of meat. You’ll need to factor this into your planning if you’re hosting the party (otherwise you’ll have beef casserole to eat for days after the event – and yes, I’ve been there and done that!).
12. Bread or other bread products are not best stored in the fridge as they get soggy and stale.
Freeze breads to keep them fresh (and defrost on the bench for a few hours when you need them again). Put leftover crackers and other biscuit products into an air tight container in the pantry to keep them fresher. They can last up to a week like this, maybe more depending on the type of biscuit.
13. Give leftovers to people as they go home.
If you know you’ve got more food than you can possibly eat over the next few days then give each guest something to take home so that you don’t need to store it that way. If Aunty Jean loved your sponge cake, let her take it to her bowls club meeting tomorrow. And if cousin Sally loved the potato salad, gift it to her so she can enjoy it all week. Don’t be pushy, but try your best to convince a few people to take things and you’ll feel better because the food won’t be wasted. And if you can’t give it away to friends and family see if there is a local charity that could use the food to feed those in need over the holidays too.
14. Read my post on food hygiene.
It’s important to stack the fridge in the right way when you’re storing foods so read this article for more tipsabout storage and food hygiene.
And if you need some more help on kitchen issues during the holidays check out the other holiday helper posts in this series.
Happy holidays everyone. I hope you’re enjoying the warmer weather (for those of us in the southern hemisphere) or that you’re enjoying the time you spend with friends and family who you might not have seen all year.