Chef Mark Horton shares practical tips on how to store food safely and wisely to make food last for longer and reduce trips to the supermarket.
Food packaging sometimes has two dates, a best before and a use by. The difference between these is that food after a best before date is still safe to eat, whereas food past its use by can be dangerous. Some supermarkets do not put dates at all on things like fruit and vegetables in an attempt to stop food wastage. The best thing to do with these items is to use your senses. Does the item look, smell or taste unusual?
Food Dry items should be stored at room temperature in a cool, dark dry place such as a cupboard. Check dates on these products to make sure they get used. Chilled items should be stored at between +0C and +5C. Your fridge should have a gauge which displays this temperature. Check dates on items, and once something is cooked it should be cooled and stored for no longer than 5 days. Frozen items should be stored at -23C to -18C. This ensures it stays frozen and doesn’t defrost. Freezers should be checked to make sure ice doesn’t build up too thickly. It can be helpful to put a sticker or label on frozen items so you know how long they have been in there and can be safely used.
The freezer can be a great ally in stopping food waste. Almost all food can be frozen, with a few exceptions. Dairy items do not freeze well, such as eggs, blue cheese, mayo based food and meringue based desserts. Things that have been fried can go soggy and not great to eat after defrosting. Things can be stored in the freezer safely for up to 3 months but check food for freezer burn particularly in the bottom or back of freezers.
The best way to defrost food is to place it in the fridge for 24 hours before cooking. Really big items like whole chickens etc will need 48 hours to fully defrost. This ensures that the core temperature does not go above +5C. Once something has been frozen and defrosted, it cannot go back into the freezer. The exception to this is if the food has changed state, for example a chicken breast can be frozen, defrosted and cooked, then cooled and frozen again.
Cooking Frozen Food
Some food can be cooked straight from the freezer, such as chips or pizza. The best way to tell if something can be cooked from the freezer is to check the cooking instructions. If it has instructions to cook from frozen, then it can be. If it does not, then it shouldn’t. Simple! When cooking defrosted food, be careful that you check the internal part of the food is cooked, as the centre might not have quite defrosted and check as if you were cooking any dish.