When it comes to food, we're taught to waste not, want not. But how do you make sure you eat all those leftovers before they go bad? Lydia Buchtmann from the Food Safety Information Council has some simple hacks that will not only clear the fridge but make sure you don't get struck down with food poisoning in the process.
Cooking bulk is a great idea for many of us when we're trying to save both time and money. But while whipping up that huge vat of veggie and lentil soup may have seemed like a fabulous plan at the time, a few days later when not only are you sick of the sound of another bowl but that bowl may actually make you sick, reality sets in.
In light of the recent outbreak of listeria-related deaths, food safety and storage is a topic Lydia is often asked about. And she's quick to remind us that leftovers are a particularly high-risk food if they're not stored right. "If you’ve got leftovers in your fridge you need to use or freeze within two to three days," she says. But that's not the only tip she has to make sure your meals-in-waiting last the distance.
Don't wait for food to cool down
Did you mother tell you that you need to wait for your food to cool down before you put it in the refrigerator? That's an old-fashioned piece of advice that modern-day cooks should throw out, says Lydia.
"That was the old way. In the olden days, fridges didn’t cope with that very well but modern fridges and freezers do," she says. "Generally the rule of thumb with things you have in your fridge, leftovers, in particular, is to refrigerate them as soon as possible - don't wait to cool them to room temperature. Refrigerate the food as soon as it stops steaming - and you definitely need to do it within two hours."
Use small containers
Reusing your old takeaway containers is not only a good way of recycling but putting your leftovers into smaller portions helps with both food quality (and aids the ability to get things in the freezer easily if their time is coming up in the fridge).
"The secret is to put your leftovers into small containers," says Lydia. "Don’t put a whole big pot of casserole into the fridge. That way not only will your leftovers cool down more quickly but it's also easy when you go to reheat them."
Check your fridge
If you remember your high school science class, bacteria thrive in temperatures over five degrees and right up to 60 degrees Celcius.
"Check your fridge is running at the right temperature because if it’s not at five degrees Celcius or below it’s not doing any good whatsoever," warns Lydia. "Bacteria will multiply and multiply - and probably within two hours you've potentially got a nasty dose of possible food poisoning there."
Invest in a meat thermometer, too
"When you're reheating leftovers - not just meat, but any kind of leftovers - you need to make sure they've reached 75 degrees Celcius all the way through to the centre to kill any bacteria," says Lydia. "And the only way you can do that is with a meat thermometer."
While 40 per cent of homes currently owns one, Lydia says only a small percentage use them on a regular basis. So fish yours out of the drawer if you are amongst that statistic or put one on your shopping list stat.
Watch your fridge hierarchy
Entertaining and need to find more room in the fridge? Beware of taking out some of your salads ahead of dining, says Lydia.
"What people forget is that cooked rice and pasta are particularly high-risk foods," she says. "So not only do you need to be particularly careful when you are first storing them - and making sure you don't keep them in the fridge for more than two or three days - but if you're entertaining don't leave that rice or pasta salad out."
Instead take out foods that can stand to be outside of the fridge for the short term like condiments and opened jars of olives, suggests Lydia.
And last but not least, take care with uncooked meats and chicken. "Stack your fridge properly and make sure that if you have raw meat or poultry make sure they are covered so they don’t drip on things like salads that you are going to eat."