Why Does Food Spoil in the Refrigerator?

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Food spoils in the refrigerator for any number of reasons. Food spoilage is indicated by mold growing on the surface, fresh foods that have wilted and an unappetizing texture forming, and is the root cause of many food-borne illnesses. Keeping food safe while still tasting good depends largely on how the food was prepared before cooking, and how it was stored after cooking. Food temperatures for unprepared ingredients as well as leftovers are important factors.

Refrigerator Temperatures

  • Keep food out of the danger zones by ensuring that the refrigerator is at the correct temperature for food storage. The USDA has listed the temperature range of 40 to 140 degrees F as the food "danger zone," where harmful bacteria optimally grow. Check the refrigerator's temperature by placing a properly calibrated refrigerator thermometer inside and checking the temperature after an hour. If the temperature of the refrigerator is over 40 degrees F, adjust the cooling setting to cool down the interior.

Package Expiration Dates

  • Commercially prepared food in individual packaging will contain a date that will either be a recommended peak time for flavor, or a date that the product should be used by. A "use by" date is a date set by the manufacturer to indicate peak quality. A "sell by" date is the time allowable for the product to be on display, and not an indication of quality. Once an item is brought home, and kept under 40 degrees F, the unopened item can be safely stored until the "use by" date has been reached.

Proper Food Preparation Methods

  • Safe food handling techniques during preparation are as important as proper storage after cooking. Refrigerate dairy products and prevent cross-contamination. Keep poultry items away from fresh vegetable and fruit preparation areas, and clean cutting boards before preparing the next food. After purchasing, store raw meats in the refrigerator for one to three days if ground up, or up to five days for all other cuts.

Leftover Food Safety

  • Food can be safely stored in the refrigerator following proper procedures. After cooking the food, and if it will not be consumed immediately, place it in shallow containers so that it cools quickly. Once it has cooled off, but within two hours from the finish cook time, cover with a lid or plastic wrap so that odors and food flavors are kept separate. Label and date the item. Heat leftovers until the internal temperatures reach at least 165 degrees F.

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References

  • Photo Credit Kühlschrank image by Elisabeth Bilewicz from Fotolia.com Frau im Supermarket image by Dron from Fotolia.com knife and cutting board image by R MACKAY from Fotolia.com Cooking image by Alexey Stiop from Fotolia.com
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