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Domestic Practice

Food Storage

Q. What is the correct temperature for my fridge?

The temperature of all fridges and chill storage cabinets should be between 0°C and 5°C degrees (ideally 4°C).

To find out the exact temperature of the fridge, a non-mercury thermometer can be purchased from department stores and supermarkets. A mercury thermometer should not be used as it may break and contaminate the food. If the fridge is not at the correct temperature the thermostat inside the fridge can be used to reduce/increase temperature. Consult your manufacturer’s handbook for more information on this.

Q. How long can I keep food in the fridge?

The storage instructions on the labels of food products should be followed and food that needs to be refrigerated should be put in the fridge as soon as possible after purchasing. Leftovers should be kept covered in the fridge and used within 2-3 days. In addition, it is good practice to clear out the fridge on a regular basis to ensure that any out of date foods are discarded.

Q. How long can cooked food be kept at room temperature before refrigerating?

Following cooking, food which will not be consumed immediately should be cooled as quickly as possible and refrigerated. After cooking, once the steam has evaporated from the food, it should be covered and stored in the fridge. Food should not be left out of the fridge to cool down completely. To speed up the cooling process large quantities of food, such as stews and roast joints of meat, should be portioned into smaller lots.

Do not overload the fridge with warm food as this will raise the overall temperature of the fridge which increases the possibility of bacteria growing in the food.

Q. Can I store open food tins in the fridge?

No. Remove the contents of the food tin, place them in a suitable container and cover before placing in the fridge.

Q. What happens if there is a power cut or my fridge door is left open by mistake?

If there has been a power cut and the door of your fridge remained closed during this time, it is possible that the foods within are still safe to eat. If the temperature was above 5°C for a substantial time (use fridge thermometer), then you should discard the foods within.

Remember, the temperature should be between 0-5°C (ideally 4°C).

Likewise if the fridge door was left open by mistake for a long period of time, it is possible that the temperature of the room will affect the temperature within your fridge raising it above 5°C and again, foods should be discarded.

Q. Can fresh meat be stored in the plastic packaging in which it is wrapped in the butchers?

Yes, provided that it is food grade plastic and it is stored sealed in the fridge to prevent air contacting the meat. Remember to store fresh meat on the bottom shelf of your fridge to avoid contaminating other foods.

Q. What is the recommendation for washing out my fridge?

It is recommended that you use a mild cleaning agent such as bicarbonate of soda or hot, soapy water to clean your fridge, as strong smelling products can taint foods stored in the fridge. Check your manufacturer’s handbook for further advice on cleaning.

Q. Where should raw meats be stored in my fridge?

Raw meats are a potential source of food poisoning bacteria and must be kept separate from cooked or ready-to-eat food at all times. To avoid any possibility of cross-contamination of cooked foods with raw foods in your fridge, it is important to always store raw meat, fish and poultry on the bottom shelf of your fridge, with cooked foods stored above them. This will prevent any drip from the raw meats from contaminating the cooked/ready-to-eat foods.

Freezing

Q. What is the correct temperature for my freezer?

Freezers should always be kept at -18°C or less. All freezers should have a star rating so consult your manufacturer’s handbook:

* Runs at –6°C and should only store food for up to one week

** Runs at –12°C and should only store food for up to one month

*** Runs at –18°C and should only store food for up to 3 months

**** Runs at –18°C and is suitable for long term storage (3 to 6 months)

Q. How long can food be stored in the freezer?

As a general rule and to maintain the quality, food should not be stored in a freezer for longer then 6 months (provided that your freezer is suitable for storing foods for this length of time. See star ratings above).

Q. Can I freeze foods which have passed their “use by” date?

No. Food should only be frozen if they are within the 'use by' date. If the food is frozen within its ‘use-by’ date it is important to remember that the ‘use-by’ date will no longer apply.

Q. How should frozen food be defrosted?

Ideally, frozen food should be covered and defrosted overnight in a suitable container, such as a plate or dish, in the fridge. Large items like turkeys may take longer then one night – allow one day for each 5 pounds of weight. Be careful when defrosting raw meat that the drip does not contaminate cooked/ready-to-eat foods.

Only defrost food in a microwave if you are planning to cook the food immediately after it has thawed. This is because some areas of larger food items may begin to cook during the defrosting process, raising the temperature to a point where bacteria can grow. Always check your microwave manufacturer’s handbook for guidelines on defrosting.

Q. How long can I keep defrosted food in the fridge before cooking it?

Once the food is fully defrosted it is best to cook it straight away. Once cooked it can be stored in the fridge again (for 2-3 days) or frozen.

Q. Can I refreeze defrosted food?

No. Defrosted food should not be refrozen unless first cooked to over 70°C (it is recommended that food reach 70°C for at least 2 minutes or 75°C instantaneously to ensure proper cooking).

Q. How long after defrosting my freezer must I wait before turning it on again and putting foods back in?

Once you have defrosted your freezer and switched back on the power, you can store frozen foods straight away. It is only in the case of new freezers that you must wait a number of hours before storing frozen foods (You should consult your manufacturer’s handbook for more information).

Q. What do I do if there is a power cut?

If there is a power cut or the freezer door has been left open by mistake, the food may still be safe to eat.

  • As long as a freezer with its door ajar is continuing to cool, the food should stay safe overnight.
  • A freezer full of food will usually keep for about 2 days if the door is shut.
  • A half-full freezer will last about 1 day if the door is shut. To determine the safety of food when the power is restored, check their condition and temperature.

If food is partly frozen and still has ice crystals then it is safe to refreeze or use. Discard food that has been warmer than 5°C for more then 2 hours.

Cooking

Q. What temperature should I be cooking my food to?

To ensure that food is cooked thoroughly, the core temperature should be brought to 75°C or equivalent e.g. 70°C for 2 minutes at the core of the food, which will kill any bacteria present. The core is taken as the thickest part of the food. Invest in a good food thermometer for this purpose.

Q. What do I consider when cooking steaks and burgers?

Steak/beef joints can be cooked to preference and so some of the juices may still be present when the meat is cooked “rare”. This is because bacteria are only present on the surface of the meat and will be destroyed once the outside of the meat is seared.

However, minced beef such as burgers, or rolled joints, must be cooked to a core temperature of 75°C or equivalent e.g. 70°C for 2 minutes at the core of the food. This is because bacteria which are usually present on the external surfaces of meat joints can be redistributed throughout the inside of the burger on mincing/rolling.

Reheating

Q. Can I reheat leftover food?

Yes. Leftovers should be used within 2 days and stored in the fridge at between 0-5°C during this time. They can be reheated as long as they are heated to 70°C or higher. Food should be very hot and steaming before it is served. It is important when reheating stews and casseroles that the liquid boils for around 3-5 minutes to ensure the pieces of meat are completely heated through. Leftovers should only be reheated once.

Q. Can I use my microwave to reheat foods?

Yes, but it is important to consult your manufacturer’s handbook, as microwaves differ in their power levels and operating conditions.

Food Preparation

Q. Should I wash a chicken before cooking?

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland does not recommend washing chicken (or any other poultry) in running water. This is because, when raw poultry is washed in this manner, the harmful bacteria present on the raw poultry may be sprayed around the washing area contaminating cloths, work surfaces and potentially other foodstuffs.

The best way to prepare poultry for cooking is to use wet kitchen towel to wipe the chicken and dispose of the kitchen towel immediately. Be sure to wash hands in antibacterial soap afterwards.

Q. What about the safety of hot and cold foods in a sandwich?

When consumers purchase or prepare a sandwich with a “hot filling” it is usually for fairly immediate consumption. Therefore, the addition of hot and cold fillings to the same sandwich is not a food safety concern. If the consumption of the sandwich is to be delayed, the sandwich should be stored appropriately and safely i.e. chilled in the fridge at 0-5°C (ideally 4°C).

For more detailed information on consumer food safety and health issues see the Food Safety Promotion Board’s website 

Last reviewed: 17/11/2010

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