Perishable foods are foods that spoil quickly and need to be stored properly to stay fresh and keep germs from multiplying. Fruits, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, and seafood are perishable foods. We tend to waste perishable foods because they go bad before we eat them. Food is a large part of a family’s budget, so wasted food is wasted money. Let’s talk about how to store perishable foods so they have the longest shelf life, stay safe to eat, and limits food waste.
In the Right Zone in the Fridge
Most perishable foods need to be stored in the refrigerator. (There are some fruits and veggies that should be stored at room temperature instead.) The temperature of your fridge should be between 32°F – 40°F. Use a refrigerator thermometer to check the temperature of your fridge. Keep the fridge clean and evenly space the contents so air can move around easily.
Arrange your fridge so that ready to eat foods are at the top, and foods that might cross-contaminate other items (raw meat, poultry, or seafood) are at the bottom. It’s a good idea to store raw meats in a bowl or tray to catch any leaks, especially if your veggie and fruit bins are underneath the bottom shelf. This is my biggest pet peeve of refrigerator design!
Condiments should go on the door shelves since this is the warmest part of the fridge. Even if there’s a spot for them in the door, keep milk and eggs inside the main part of the fridge where the temperatures are cooler and they’ll last longer.
Track Storage Times
Even after storing perishable food in the right zone in the fridge, they will only last so long before they start to lose freshness and become unsafe to eat. Here’s a complete list of storage times for different foods. And here’s a printable list if you prefer.
You can also use a standard 4 Day Throw Away rule to keep things simple. In general, you should eat perishable foods within 4 days of opening, cooking, or thawing. Condiments last a little longer, usually 1-3 months after opening.
Make cleaning out the fridge part of your meal planning routine. Throw away old or spoiled food. Take a few minutes to wipe it down. Make a note of foods that need to be used quickly and plan your menu around those.
How do you keep track of all the different dates? Here are a few options. Pick whatever matches your lifestyle best, or find a system that works for you.
- Label containers with the date you made them or the date to use by.
- Keep a list on your fridge of foods to use first.
- Note on your meal plan the date to use leftovers.
- Use the FoodKeeper app’s notification system or your phone’s calendar to remind you.
Once you master safe storage for perishable foods, you’ll be cutting down on the amount of food that gets wasted in your home. This helps you get the most bang for your food buck. If you have any questions about how to store specific foods, ask in the comments!