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At-Home Safety: Store Food Safely to Avoid Food Poisoning

Food may look, smell and even taste fine, but nonetheless can still harbor bacteria that might cause food poisoning. Learn to store food safely to avoid bad bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella.

While diarrhea and vomiting caused by food poisoning usually resolve without treatment, about 325,000 people in the United States are hospitalized every year because of food poisoning – and 5,000 people die. The July issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource provided an overview of food storage safety tips:

  • Observe the “2-hour” rule. Foods requiring refrigeration, including poultry, meat, eggs, cooked seafood, produce, leftovers and takeout food, shouldn’t be at room temperature longer than 2 hours. When the air temperature is above 90 F, perishables should be refrigerated within 1 hour.
  • Store leftovers safely. Hot foods can go straight into the refrigerator or freezer. They shouldn’t be left out to cool on the counter. Cool hot foods rapidly by dipping the bowl or container in ice or a cold-water bath. Leftovers from a large pot will cool more quickly when divided into smaller, shallower containers. In general, leftovers should be used or frozen within 3 to 5 days.
  • Don’t crowd. A refrigerator that is too full will result in blocked air circulation, hampering the cooling process.
  • Know when to toss. An opened package of luncheon meat can be safely stored in the refrigerator 3 to 5 days. Unopened, it will keep for 2 weeks. Three to 5 days is a safe storage time for deli or homemade egg, chicken, ham, tuna or pasta salads. Cooked or uncooked fish should be tossed after 1 to 2 days. The same goes for fresh sausage and uncooked ground beef.
  • Set the temperature. A refrigerator temperature should be at or below 40 F. The freezer should be kept at 0 F.
  • If in doubt, throw it out. Any foods that look or smell suspicious should be tossed.
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