Food takes a journey before hitting your plate – Going from the shelves to your cart, to your cupboard. It is essential to take extra steps in preventing foodborne illnesses, especially in today’s world.
Learning how to prepare and store food properly and when to throw it away will help keep you and your family safe. Use the tips and tricks throughout this article to become a meal prep pro while keeping your food safe to eat.
Most raw foods can stay in your refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. These foods include salads, chops, roasts, soups, stews, pizza, and cooked meat and poultry. Ground meat (hamburger, meatloaf), raw chicken, and raw turkey are best cooked or frozen within 1-2 days. Here are a few tips to keep you safe from raw food:
- Wash any produce before use, as well as utensils, counters, and cooking tools
- Always keep raw meat and poultry away from other foods in your shopping cart, bag, and fridge
- Never use leftover marinade used on raw meat unless brought to a boil
- Have a cutting board only used for raw foods
Freezing food and meals can be a real timesaver. A great tip is to put a piece of tape with the date frozen on the container before freezing. Chicken and turkey can be kept in the freezer for almost a year, while ground meat, steaks, and chops can only stay good for about 3-6 months. Even less, soups and stews with meat and vegetables are usually only good for up to 2 months. Meats like chicken and turkey may also lose shelf life in the freezer when cut into parts or ground.
You may find freezer burn on your frozen foods left in the freezer for a while. Freezer-burner occurs when air gets in contact with the food, which causes food to lose moisture. Although food with freezer burn is safe to eat, the food may lack quality. You can help prevent freezer burn by ensuring your food is tightly wrapped in freezer-safe containers.
Foods that do not freeze well:
-raw veggies (salad, cabbage, celery, watercress) – plain cooked pasta – cooked egg whites – milk-based sauces – cheese or crumb toppings on a casserole – mayonnaise – salad dressing – fried foods
Before defrosting a meal, be sure to check the date! The safest way to defrost is to plan and move the meat from the freezer to the fridge the night before cooking. A faster way to defrost is to put the food in an airtight plastic bag and submerge it in cold water for a couple of hours until dethawed. This method requires changing the water about every 30 minutes as the meat begins to thaw. Lastly, remember that it is okay to cook frozen meat! Cooking frozen meat will take about 50% longer than it would have, but it is still a safe way to cook.
Follow these temperature guidelines for cooking meat:
- Beef, pork, and lamb – 145 degrees
- Fish – 145 degrees
- Ground beef, pork, duck – 160 degrees
- Turkey, chicken, duck – 165 degrees
Finally, refrigerate any cooked food within 2 hours of making it.
Happy meal prepping!
Amidor, T. MS, RD, CDN. (2017). The Health Meal Prep Cookbook. Emeryville, CA: Rockridge Press.
About the Author: Talia Schwalb is the Wellness and Fitness Program Manager with BaySport at SRI in Menlo Park, CA. Talia fell in love with exercise at a young age and received her B.S. in Kinesiology from Cal Poly, SLO, in 2016 and has been working in corporate wellness ever since. She is a certified personal trainer and loves staying active by lifting, doing HIIT, and hiking with her dog, Nala!