Kitchen Essentials is a series at Foodsided designed to give the home cook some of the basics of making great meals at home. This series is like food 101; from what utensil’s are a must have, to what spices are even for, Kitchen Essentials is for foodies in training. Besides what to own, and how to use all your kitchen gadgets, proper food storage is essential to being successful in the kitchen and preventing illness, or worse.
I recently took a position as a chef in a local upscale restaurant. I have worked in chains before, but never for a place like I work now. Instead of packaged food, we make everything from scratch. Instead of having someone thousands of miles away create a menu, we design the specials around what the local farms have fresh that day. It is an amazing thing, actually. Farm fresh food, exciting recipes, and great people.
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This job made me realize that most of us don’t really thing about food poisoning, cross contamination, or proper food storage at home. Sure we know enough to not cut vegetables on the same cutting board we just cut raw chicken on, but besides that, we probably don’t give much thought to food born illness. Of course a restaurant can’t afford to be so blasé about food poisoning. They have figured out proper food storage. It can only take one person getting sick to ruin a restaurants reputation, or worse. My restaurant takes a lot of precautions to make sure people don’t get sick, food doesn’t rot, and raw meat never touches anything, ever.
You don’t have to be a professional kitchen or have a huge walk in refrigerator to be safe at home, though. With a little foresight, some time spent prepping your food, and some pro tips, you can have a healthier, cleaner kitchen and make your food last longer than it ever has in the past. Proper food storage is not hard, it just takes a little forethought.
1. Use Containers
Everything in a restaurant is inside a container. EVERYTHING. These containers are labeled and dated. Why? The label tells you how long it is has been in the refrigerator as well as what it is supposed to be. There is no guessing. If the peppers don’t look like peppers anymore, you know it is time to eighty-six them.
More than this, having everything in its own container helps stop cross contamination. If your chicken is in one container, and your veggies in another, even if the chicken juice somehow leaks out, it hits a lid instead of raw food. Putting everything in a container is a little more time-consuming, and it will make your fridge look more full than it actually is, but it is worth it. Having your fridge seem more full than it might otherwise appear isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. It means you have less food in there, and so less of a chance of not using food before it goes bad. Ideally you use all the food you buy every week, and having less food in the fridge will help accomplish this goal.
Some foods, like greens, need a little extra love when putting them inside a sealed plastic box. They can go bad sooner if not prepped properly. Luckily there is an easy fix for this problem. Simply place a clean towel on the bottom of the container and over the top of the greens before sealing the lid. These towels will absorb any extra moisture, keep the greens fresh and crisp, and stop them from rotting prematurely.
Invest in some good food containers, masking tape, and a sharpie. Your food will thank you.
“With a little foresight, some time spent prepping your food, and some pro tips, you can have a healthier, cleaner kitchen and make your food last longer than it ever has in the past.”
2. Shelf Smart
When placing the containers in the fridge, it is worth thinking about what foods are most likely to contaminate what. Things like cheese and tofu were invented to stop food from perishing. Even when cheese gets moldy it is still edible (and sometimes delicious). Veggies do go bad in the fridge, but it takes a while. Meat juice on the other hand can be deadly if not cooked properly. Cooked food should always be separated from raw food, for a myriad of reasons. With all that in mind, shelf your food accordingly. We only keep raw meat on the bottom shelf at both my restaurant and at my house. If the juices from the meat do somehow leak out of the container, I know for certain they will not drip down onto other food. Cooked food and cheese go on the top shelf. Fruits and veggies on the middle shelf or in the crisper. Sauces on the top door self. Dairy on the bottom door shelf. This system will ensure the lowest probability of cross contamination in your kitchen.
3. Use Your Food
Now that you have a neat organized refrigerator with clearly labeled and dated containers, use them as a guide for dinner. Before you decide what to cook, check your current stock and figure out what is going to go bad soon. Cooking food gives you a few extra days of shelf life because it kills all the microbes that were threatening to spoil whatever it is you are cooking. Get into the practice of letting your kitchen dictate your meals. If a container of veggies is a week old, use them in dinner that night. If the meat is a few days old, cook it. Work at making your food containers rotate constantly. Stock up on what you need only after it is gone. This will save you the pain of finding a rotten or semi-rotten food like substance in your kitchen.
Having well labeled containers organized properly will cut down on food waste, lower your food budget, and keep the possibility for food borne illness at a minimum.
What other food tricks or tips would you add to this list?