Tips & Techniques for Food Storage During The Pandemic
With a vast majority of the nation going on either "social distancing" or "shelter in place" or in some cases mandatory non-motion. I wanted to share with you some tips on how to protect your food & family during this crazy time we are all living in.
First In, First Out:
Always practice the art of FIFO! First in, First Out. I know this sounds like a total "duh" moment. But a lot of people don't realize the importance of watching expiration dates. In the food service industry, we either use stickers on items or a big sharpie marker and write the words "USE FIRST". It's sort of a knee jerk human nature reaction to reach into the fridge or pantry and grab whatever is closest to the front of the shelf. Then things will get shuffled around to the back of the shelf to live a lonely existence until they are start smelling funky or turn into a science project. Keeping product properly labeled insures that there's less of a chance of your fridge door opening and you exclaiming "Eieww... what's that smell!".
ProTip: Take that same sharpie marker, and whenever you put something new in the fridge, write the date it went in on the packaging. Trust me, you really don't want to eat that 3+ year old Salad Dressing! Or play the guessing game of "how long has this been in here".
Clean is King!
Let me say this again, clean is king. We all at one point or another have opened the fridge to find a shriveled up "something" in the produce drawer, or a hunk of "what the heck is this" in the snack tray. I call this lazy food hoarding tendencies... or the "I'll clean it out later" syndrome. It's time to clean the ENTIRE fridge out. Take everything out of it.. and I do mean everything. Remove all of the shelves, put them in the sink in with some hot soapy water.. and let them soak to help soften all that caked on muck. In the meantime, get a spray bottle fill it with hot water, add a tablespoon of bleach.... and spray spray spray the entire interior of your fridge... wipe down with a clean towel. Bleach is one of the most common used cleaning chemicals in commercial food service establishments... We go thru a nearly a gallon of bleach a day in my kitchen... but I'm a total clean freak.. so EVERYTHING gets bleached on the daily. Take a green scrubby to those nasty shelves and drawers and really give them a good scrub down... Rinse with additional hot water... then spray them with the bleach solution and wipe clean and dry. Reinstall back into the fridge. This process should be done at least once a month as part of routine maintenance. But also whenever you see anything icky spilled on the shelves, immediately wipe it up with the bleach solution to help keep bacteria from forming.
Also always get in the practice (especially now more than ever) of wiping down the exterior of any hard surfaced container, jar, can, bottle, etc... that you've purchased from the grocery store with either that bleach water spray bottle solution and a paper towel to dry or a disinfecting disposable wipe. This will also help prevent the introduction of other bacteria and nasties that the product have have picked up while at the grocery store.
Keep things dry!
Excess moisture causes premature decay. Have you ever reached into your fridge to pull out that bundle of beautiful fresh basil or herbs only to find that they've gone bad literally overnight? Why? Because they were too moist. Whenever you purchase herbs, bring them home, wash them, shake dry, and then wrap them in a dry paper towel and place in a zipper type storage bag. Tender herbs and lettuces like basil, arugula, baby spinach, cilantro etc, don't do well in the cold either... so place them towards the front of the fridge (not in the produce drawer) for best storage time results. Change the paper towel every couple of days. Using this technique can extend the life of your more tender greens out as far as an additional 1-2 weeks!
Use the smallest possible food storage container!
Oxygen is never your friend when it comes to food storage. Whenever we store anything in a food service kitchen, we always use the smallest possible container to minimize the amount of air space inside. Also you can always use zipper type storage bags and "burp" the air out of them as well. Having less big bulky containers in your fridge also allows for better airflow, more even internal temperatures inside your fridge, and increased energy savings. Not only does less air inside the vessel equal less chance of bacterial surface area exposure, but one other huge benefit is that it takes up less space in the fridge.
Placement is Key!
Give some thought as to where you are placing things in the fridge. For example, have you ever had your milk end up shuffled to the back of the fridge, right next to the air outlet only to go to pour some ice chunk milk out? Items that are more hefty duty should be placed in the back of the fridge, for example items such as leftover spaghetti sauce, root vegetables, block cheeses, condiments such as ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc..
ProTip: To keep your bread, rolls, and other baked goods lasting longer, take just a few slices out of the loaf, place into a zipper storage bag with a paper towel, and freeze the rest of the loaf. This will also extend the life of your bread, by only having a few slices available at a time... less mold, less wasted money! You can always pop them in the microwave or toaster for a few seconds to "revive" the texture.
If it's delicate, eat it first!
So you've done your Costco apocalypse hoard shopping, brought it all home, wiped it all down to de-icky it, now what to do with it all? Delicate food items are things like tender produce, soft fruits, berries, fresh fish & seafood, tender herbs, chicken, etc.. These are the items with the shortest life span in your fridge. Plan your meals around utilization of these items first. Your more hearty items such as root vegetables, onions, etc... will last much longer than the delicate items. So think ahead and meal plan accordingly!
Remember to always be kind, reach out to your neighbors, the elderly, or the immunocompromised, and check in on them. Facetime with friends, practice social distancing, but above all practice safe & practical food storage techniques to insure that everyone in your family can stay as healthy and well fed as possible.
Be well, wash those hands, and we will get through this together!
About the Author:
Certified Master Chef Sean Andrade is Executive Chef/Owner of AWG Private Chefs, named the #1 Private Chef company in California. Chef Sean has worked in the restaurant and hospitality industries worldwide for more than 25 years. AWG Private Chefs offers highly custom tailored, private chef dining experiences, and event catering in over 30 countries around the globe.