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Storing food safely

For more detailed information on consumer issues, please go to safefood.netsafefood is the all-island body, whose role is to promote awareness and knowledge of food safety and nutrition on the island of Ireland.

Storing food safely

Advice about how to store food in a safe way.

  • 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.

    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 or increase the temperature. Consult your manufacturer’s handbook for more information on this.

  • 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 In addition, it is good practice to clear out the fridge on a regular basis to ensure that any out of date foods are discarded.

  • 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 freezer'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)

  • 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 than 6 months (provided that your freezer is suitable for storing foods for this length of time. See star ratings above).

  • 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.

  • 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 than one night – allow 24 hours for every 2 kg / 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.

  • 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.

  • Can I refreeze defrosted food?

    No. Defrosted food should not be refrozen unless first cooked to over 75 °C and should not be refrozen more than once following this cooking step.

    However, many manufacturers will put a statement on their foods along the lines of 'This product has been previously frozen but is suitable for home freezing.' While this may seem at odds with our general advice to consumers not to refreeze previously frozen and defrosted food, if a food business can appropriately control a freeze/thawing process to maintain the safety of the product, this general recommendation to consumers would not apply.

    If a freeze/thaw process is controlled appropriately by the food business and there is no impact on food safety or food quality, the product can be refrozen by the consumer. The food business must have included this manufacturing process in their procedures for managing food safety and be able to provide documented evidence of this.

    Food businesses are legally responsible for producing safe food and, in addition, under food labelling legislation, must ensure that the information provided on the label is accurate, unambiguous and not misleading in any way.

    So, although the recommendation for consumers preparing and freezing their own food at home is not to refreeze defrosted food without a cooking step in between, we consider that labelling of previously frozen food as “suitable for home freezing” is acceptable when appropriate controls as specified above are rigorously adhered to by manufacturers of these foods.

  • 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).

  • 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 than two hours.

  • Should consumers ever ignore the date that is declared on a food label?

    Consumers should always pay attention to the date declared on a food label. This is especially important where a ‘use by’ date is declared. Consumers should always adhere to the ‘use by’ date, follow the storage instructions given and discard any food which has exceeded this date. Where a ‘best before’ date is declared on the label, consumers should use their discretion in determining whether the unopened food product is of good enough quality to eat.

  • What should consumers do if they buy food which is past its ‘use by’ date?

    If you have purchased food which is past its ‘use by’ date, do not consume it and either return the product to the shop in which you purchased it or contact your local environmental health officer who will follow up the matter on your behalf. You can also contact the FSAI Advice line on 1890 33 66 77 to make a complaint or fill in our online complaint form.

  • Does it matter if the food packaging has been damaged?

    It is important to examine any unopened product to ensure they are not damaged or broken, in particular canned food and the seals on glass jars. Do not use a food product if the packaging has been damaged, even if it is within its shelf-life.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.