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Since bacteria grow most rapidly between the temperatures of 40° F and 140° F, it's very important to keep foods out of this temperature range. Cold temperatures keep many harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying, so refrigerate unused or leftover foods promptly to avoid potential foodborne illness.
Four Golden Rules to Remember
The NSF ShopFresh™ Program recommends that consumers use the following guidelines to ensure food products are stored at the proper temperatures.
- Make sure to refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods, and leftovers within 2 hours of purchase or preparation. If the temperature is above 90° F, reduce the time frame to 1 hour. When marinating, store the foods in the refrigerator.
- Set the refrigerator temperature at 40° F to discourage the growth of foodborne bacteria. Use a refrigerator or freezer thermometer to check the temperature of your refrigerator.
- Never place frozen foods on the counter and attempt to defrost them at room temperature. To safely thaw food, place it in the refrigerator the night before. For quick thawing, submerge food in cold water in airtight packaging. You can also use a microwave to thaw food if it will be cooked immediately.
- When packaging leftovers for cold storage, it's important to reduce the internal temperature quickly to discourage bacterial growth. Hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator, but make sure to divide large quantities of food into shallow containers for quicker cooling.
Additional Food Storage Tips
If not properly handled, stored, and prepared, food products can harbor many different organisms that can cause
foodborne illnesses. Below are some general tips that consumers should keep in mind when preparing and storing food.
- Canned/Vacuum Packed Foods: Botulism can grow in canned and vacuum packed foods. If cans or packages are swollen, do not open them. If one end of a can pops when the other end is pushed, or if there are signs of moisture or leakage, do not attempt to use the product.
- Dry Foods: Dry food products include flour, cereal, and sugar. These products should be kept at least six inches off the floor and stored in clean, dry areas. Do not purchase packages that appear to be damaged, i.e. packages with rips, tears, or punctures.
- Fresh Foods: Meats, poultry, seafood, dairy products, egg products, fruits and vegetables requiring refrigeration should be stored at or below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Frozen Foods: Frozen food should be stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Frozen foods should be thawed carefully to avoid spoilage or contamination. They should be thawed either in a refrigerator or as part of the cooking process. Frozen food products should not be thawed at room temperature. Freezing does not kill bacteria.