Refrigeration is one of the most common methods of food storage in North America. In fact, like many families we have two refrigerators, one dedicated to beverages and extra space for refrigeration needed when entertaining larger gatherings. Unlike most though, both of our refrigerators are fairly new, just barely over five years old and both are Energy Star certified. I spent most of January and February sick. March was up and down. What this translated into was what many folk face on a fairly regular basis. Food spoilage increase because I was not following my normal routine. I have my refrigerator fairly organized, usually have a left-over shelf and always go through the refrigerator before shopping to make sure I buy only what I need. The bottom line is foods put in the refrigerator require attention and monitoring combined with regular rotation to prevent food spoilage.
The refrigerator in improperly named! It should be called the food morgue, the science lab, Sir Waste-a-Lot, and the I don't know if I will use it so will put it in here just in case box. Refrigerators should come with a built-in waste disposal. At any rate, without following some type of refrigerator routine and organization, there is going to be food spoilage.
Foods spoil under refrigeration for the following reasons but there are ways to prevent this from happening:
- improper compartment temperature - The ideal refrigerator temperature zone is 32°F to 40°F, ideally within that zone not right at either end. Too cold of a temperature will cause delicate foods (eg. eggs, celery, lettuces, some meats) to start freezing reducing their quality. Too warm of refrigerator temperatures will cause foods to spoil quickly. Do not rely on your refrigerator settings. Use a refrigerator thermometer to monitor the inside compartment temperature and adjust your refrigerator settings accordingly to maintain the inside compartment withing the safe temperature zone.
- open door syndrome - Every time the refrigerator door is open, the refrigerator loses cold air costing you money and leading to food spoilage. The refrigerator door should be opened only when necessary and then for the briefest time possible.
- improper food placement - Delicate foods that spoil quickly (eg. milk, eggs) should not be stored in the refrigerator door compartments as that is the warmest zone in the refrigerator. Store these items on shelves in the interior of the refrigerator. Cheeses should be stored in the cheese compartment or on shelves if you don't have a cheese compartment. Meats should be stored in the meat keeper and produce in the vegetable keeper where humidity is controlled.
- air exposure - The air in the refrigerator is dry so it will dry out foods that are improperly stored.
- trapped moisture - Some foods (eg. mushrooms, certain vegetables) are very susceptible to trapped moisture that will cause them to spoil quickly. Always store these foods with paper towels to absorb excess moisture and in the case of mushrooms, store in a paper bag. Place paper towels on the bottom of the crisper to absorb excess moisture
- contamination - Foods that are placed in the refrigerator without a lid, unwashed fruits and vegetables, spoiled foods, leaking meat package and food packaging all can contaminate other foods stored in the refrigerator. Any foods that can spill should be securely sealed in spill proof containers. Place meats thawing on a plate to prevent any leakage. Fresh bought meats should be place in containers to prevent leakage. Molds produce spores which are very, very difficult to destroy and the presence of spores can contaminate other foods causing them to spoil as well. If you want to see what spores look like, take a mushroom and place it gill side down on a piece of white paper. Leave like that for 24 hours then lift the mushroom off the paper. You will see the gill pattern from what looks like tan coloured dust. This is the spores and each very tiny spore has the ability to contaminate other foods producing more mold which produces more spores. Wash all fruits and vegetables with a vinegar and water solution to kill nasties on the surface. Jars and other containers should be wiped down with a vinegar and water solution before putting into the refrigerator as well. Of special note, all cans including soda cans should be washed as it is common for them to have been contaminated by rodents during warehouse storage prior to distribution.
- food storage containers - Food storage containers should be transparent or semi-transparent so you can see what is in them at a quick glance. While plastic dairy containers may seem like a frugal choice of refrigerator container, foods stored in them often get pushed to the back or forgotten because you can't see what is in them. Sliced deli meats or cheeses, and meats package in plastic wrapped foam trays should be removed from that packaging and be re-packaged in see through containers for use within a few days or in the case of meats, re-packaged for the freezer if longer term storage is desired.
- overcrowding - Refrigerators are notoriously overcrowded which reduces the air circulation necessary to keep foods from spoiling. There are only two ways to deal with this problem. First, clean out the refrigerator. Remove everything past its expiry date, any spoiled food and any food aside of condiments and pickles that will not be used within a week. Of the food not to be used within a week, freeze what you can then if at all possible use the remainder first. Set it aside on a shelf by itself to serve as a reminder to use it up immediately. Do not add any new food to the refrigerator during this purging phase. Once the refrigerator has been purged, remove everything and give it a good cleaning. Replace the food, organizing as you replace it. Keep one shelf reserved for left-overs. The food turnover on this shelf should be no more than two or three days so incorporate the left-overs into each meal. Avoid overstocking the refrigerator when doing your groceries and buy only what you can use within a reasonable amount of time.