You make the effort to buy good-for-you eats: lots of fruits and veggies, lean meats, dairy, and whole grains. So why not make sure that you’re keeping your food as fresh—and safe—as possible? Read on for tips on how to store, prep, and cook foods to stay always healthy:
Keep Produce Super Fresh
When you come home from the grocery store or farmer’s market, what do you do to make your tasty loot last? Not everything has to be stored in the fridge, but perishable produce does (like berries, grapes, asparagus, leafy greens, mushrooms, and summer squash), as well as pre-cut or peeled fruits and vegetables. Look at your fridge temp—it should be 40 degrees F or below. Not everything has to take up precious fridge real estate—apples, bananas, citrus, melons, and tomatoes can be safely stored at room temp. Stash potatoes and onions in your pantry.
The crisper bins in your fridge can become germ-ridden from dirt and bacteria that clings to fruits and vegetables. Clean crisper drawers monthly with soap and water, and wipe dry with a clean towel, suggests the public health and safety organization NSF International.
Safely Store Dairy
Milk, cheese, and yogurt provide an ideal environment for make-you-sick microbes to grow, so always keep these refrigerated. (In fact, many experts recommend shopping the dairy aisle last to keep the amount of time kept at room temp to a minimum.) Cheese is best kept at 35 to 45 degrees F, and the American Cheese Society recommends storing these in one of the crisper bins for an ideal humidity/temperature range. As for yogurt, don’t toss just because the “sell by” date has come and gone. Containers stay good for 7 to 10 days after this date—so eat and enjoy. (Just if it looks curdled or has an “off” sour smell, by all means use your smarts and toss. Ick.)
Milk should be stashed on the fridge shelves (as opposed to the door; continual opening and closing—you know, when you want to take a peek to know what you have—speeds up spoilage). And get this, you can drink it up to one week past the sell-by date, as long as your fridge stayed cooler than 40 degrees F.
The old way to store butter was covered on the counter—and bonus, it always stays soft that way! But you’ll decrease bacterial contamination risk if you keep it in the fridge. Just take it out before you need it to make it spreadable.
Eggs Belong in the Fridge
Yes, you’re totally right that many Europeans don’t refrigerate their eggs—they sit pretty on the counter. But that’s because of the differences in practices to safeguard eggs from salmonella between Europe and the US. In the US, they treat eggs to destroy salmonella via pasteurization; in Europe, this happens by vaccinating poultry, among other hygiene measures. For that reason, in the US you’ve got to store in the fridge asap. Keep them on the shelves (not in the door) and scramble, poach, fry, or cook with ‘em within three to five weeks.
Prep Everything Well
Rinse all fruits and vegetables (yep, organic, too!) thoroughly under running tap water—scrub with a brush if you need to get in all the nooks and crannies. No need for fancy fruit and veggie cleaners, either. That goes for produce you’re going to eat whole (like apples and berries) and those you’re going to take the skin or rind off (like cantaloupe and kiwi). That’s because when you cut through the skin, you can easily transfer bacteria from the skin into the flesh via your knife.
You might have one main cutting board you love. If that’s the case, it’s time to find at least one more. (Score one in a cool color or get a wooden one engraved with your name from Etsy if you need fun shopping incentive.) Reserve one cutting board for ready-to-eat bites, like produce and bread, says the USDA, and another for raw meat and seafood. For easy-breezy clean up, throw plastic, acrylic, and wood boards in the dishwasher. (Best to be totally sure, so read the care instructions first.)
Cook Meat Right
Your first move is to pay attention to the date on your meat—even meat you buy at the butcher’s counter in grocery stores will list a sell-by date on it. Ground meat and poultry can only hang out for 1 to 2 days, while steaks/chops/roasts last 3 to 5 days. And you’ve got a meat bin for a reason (it keeps things all cool), so use it. Oh, and never, ever wash poultry. It just leaves your sink teeming with possible salmonella and other nasty microbes.
The next step is to thoroughly cook it. Luckily, that doesn’t mean you have to heat it to submission (until taste is nada). Because safely cooked meat can range in color (for example, chicken that’s cooked right can still look pink, or brown hamburger meat can still be undercooked), you want to use a thermometer to take the protein’s internal temp. You can find a handy chart of the proper temp to cook meat (and more) to at Foodsafety.gov, but for a sneak peak: ground meat (160 degrees F), steak/roast (145 degrees F), chicken and turkey (165 degrees F), and pork (145 degrees F). Get a fresh new plate to put the gloriously done burgers or just-right juicy chicken on rather than re-using the same plate. (Hey, it happens!)
The final word on washing. Research shows that most of us make the critical misstep of washing our hands all wrong. (You know, the quick rinse, the speedy suds up, the don’t-wash-at-all move.) The CDC recommends washing with soap and water for 20 seconds, and you want to do this throughout cooking. (Before you start, after you cut chicken, when you’re done.) That super-important step will help prevent cross-contamination. Now, it’s time to get eating!