Hacks for safe food storage and handling

Hacks for safe food storage and handling

Keeping your meals fresh and healthy by handling and storing them well

Food isn't just a necessity for our survival; it's also one of life's greatest pleasures. We all enjoy delicious meals, snacks, and treats. But you've heard about disasters when foods and formulas aren't stored properly to keep us safe and healthy. It really, really matters. And we can help you understand the basics of food storage and safety, and give you hacks on how to make sure your meals are fresh and free from harmful bacteria. We also have a series of articles by Lucille Beseler of Nutrition4Kids Advisory Board on baby food safety, including freezing / reheating and microwaving baby food, and others on sterilizing bottles and formula storage. 

Preventing food poisoning

Food storage and safety are crucial because they help prevent food poisoning. Food poisoning happens when we eat food or drink fluids contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals. It can lead to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and in severe cases, it can be life-threatening.

Foodborne illnesses are not fun, and they can be avoided by following proper food storage and handling practices. These practices not only protect your health but also ensure that your food stays fresh and tasty longer.

Basic food safety guidelines

  • Cleanliness: The foundation of food safety is cleanliness. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling food. Wash cutting boards, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water before and after preparing food.
  • Separation: Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods like fruits and vegetables. This prevents cross-contamination, where harmful bacteria from one food item spread to another.
  • Cooking temperatures: Cooking food to the right temperature kills harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer to be sure that meat, poultry, and seafood reach safe internal temperatures.
ProductMinimum Internal Temperature & Rest Time
Beef, Pork, Veal & Lamb Steaks, chops, roasts145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Ground Meats160 °F (71.1 °C)
Ground Poultry165 °F
Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked)145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Fully Cooked Ham (to reheat)Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140 °F (60 °C) and all others to 165 °F (73.9 °C).
All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing)165 °F (73.9 °C)
Eggs160 °F (71.1 °C)
Fish & Shellfish145 °F (62.8 °C)
Leftovers165 °F (73.9 °C)
Casseroles165 °F (73.9 °C)
  • Chilling: Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly. Bacteria multiply quickly at room temperature, so it's important to keep these foods cold. Your refrigerator should be set at 40°F (4.4°C) or lower.
  • Use-By Dates: Pay attention to "use-by" or "best before" dates on food packaging. These dates indicate how long a product is safe to eat. If a food item is past its use-by date, it's better to discard it, though there are some exceptions.

Food storage in the pantry

The pantry, where you keep non-perishable items like canned goods, pasta, rice, and cereal, needs some simple attention.

  1. Keep it dry: Store food in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Moisture can cause items like flour or sugar to clump together or spoil.
  2. Check for pests: Inspect your pantry regularly for signs of pests like ants, weevils, or mice. Keep food items tightly sealed in airtight containers to prevent infestations.
  3. Rotate stock: When you buy groceries, put newer items at the back of the shelf and older items at the front. This way, you use older products first and reduce waste.

Food Storage in the Refrigerator

The refrigerator is where you should keep most of your perishable items, such as dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, and leftovers.

  1. Proper organization: Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood on the bottom shelf to prevent any drips from contaminating other foods. Place ready-to-eat items like cheese and leftovers on the upper shelves.
  2. Use refrigerator drawers: Use the designated drawers for fruits and vegetables. They are designed to help maintain the right humidity levels for these items.
  3. Cover and wrap: Cover or wrap food items before storing them in the fridge. This prevents odors from spreading and helps maintain freshness.
  4. Leftovers: Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking. Use shallow containers to allow for faster cooling. Label containers with the date so you know when to use them.
  5. Regular cleaning: Clean your refrigerator regularly. Remove expired items, wipe spills, and sanitize shelves and drawers to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Food storage in the freezer

The freezer is where you can store food for longer periods. It's an excellent way to reduce waste and have ingredients ready when you need them.

  1. Packaging: Use airtight containers, freezer bags, or aluminum foil to wrap and protect food from freezer burn. Freezer burn occurs when food is exposed to air, leading to dehydration and taste changes.
  2. Label and date: Always label freezer containers with the contents and the date you froze them. This helps you identify items and use them before they lose quality.
  3. Organization: Keep your freezer organized, so you can easily access items. Place older items in front and newer ones in the back to use items in a first-in, first-out manner.
  4. Thawing: When you're ready to use frozen food, thaw it safely. The best methods are in the refrigerator, in cold water, or using the microwave. Avoid leaving food on the counter to thaw, as it can promote bacterial growth.

Safe Food Handling

Safe food handling during meal preparation is just as important.

  1. Handwashing: Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before you start cooking and after touching raw meat, eggs, or other potential contaminants.
  2. Thawing: As mentioned earlier, thaw frozen items in the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave. Never leave them on the counter.
  3. Cooking: Use a food thermometer to ensure meats reach their safe internal temperatures. Don't guess; checking the temperature is the best way to be sure.
  4. Tasting: If you need to taste the food to be sure it's seasoned correctly, use that spoon only once and put it aside to be washed after the meal.  
  5. Leftovers: When reheating leftovers, make sure they reach 165°F (73.9°C) to kill any bacteria that might have developed.
  6. Cross-Contamination: Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and vegetables. Clean and sanitize them thoroughly between uses.


Food storage and safety are essential aspects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and enjoying delicious meals. By following proper guidelines for storing, handling, and preparing food, you can reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses and make sure your food stays fresh and tasty. Remember to always prioritize cleanliness, proper organization, and safe cooking practices in your kitchen. By doing so, you'll not only protect your health but also enjoy every bite of your favorite dishes with confidence.

Sources and resources









University of Minnesota