How to store and thaw food safely

Make room to move: Make sure your fridge isn’t too packed, as air needs to circulate to properly chill food and slow bacteria growth.
Make room to move: Make sure your fridge isn’t too packed, as air needs to circulate to properly chill food and slow bacteria growth.

Reusing leftovers is a great way to cut costs, but you need to be careful about how you store them and when you eat them.

The first rule is to refrigerate promptly, as illness-causing bacteria can start growing within a couple of hours (or sooner in high temperatures).

The Western Australian Department of Health provided these tips:

  • Portion food before cooling.
  • Place liquid foods in shallow containers (no more than 5cm deep) to allow for rapid cooling and place in the fridge as soon as it stops steaming.
  • ​Keep raw food separate from cooked food. Always wrap and store cooked foods above raw foods in the fridge.

Freezing is also an option, but it doesn’t destroy harmful bacteria, just keeps food safe until you cook it. Here’s a guide to what can be stored and for how long:

  • Salads: Keep in the fridge for up to five days.
  • Luncheon meat: An opened package or deli sliced meat will last up to five days in the fridge or up to two months in the freezer.
  • Ground meat such as sausages and hamburgers: Up to two days in the fridge and two months in the freezer.
  • Fresh red meat (including roasts): Up to five days in the fridge or 12 months the freezer.
  • Fresh poultry: Up to two days in the fridge or nine months in the freezer.
  • Cooked meat or poultry: Up to four days in the fridge and four months in the freezer.
  • Soups and stews: Up to four days in the fridge or three months in the freezer.
  • Pizza: Up to four days in the fridge and two months in the freezer.

Always reheat leftovers until steaming hot and don’t reheat more than once.

Thawing food is where you need to be extra careful. Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter; instead, thaw in the refrigerator.

While the centre stays frozen, the outside of the food can reach room temperature quite quickly and bacteria will start to multiply.

If you’re time poor, thaw in the microwave and cook immediately.