Check the label
Another important stage when you’re preparing food – to help keep you and your family safe – is to have a look at the food labels to make sure everything you’re going to use has been stored correctly (according to any storage instructions) and that none of the food is past its ‘use by’ date.
You will find food that goes off quickly usually has storage instructions on the label that say how long you can keep the food and whether it needs to go in the fridge.
When the label says 'keep refrigerated', make sure you do keep the food in the fridge. If the food isn't labelled with any storage instructions and it's a type of food that goes off quickly, you should put it in the fridge and eat it within two days.
Some jars and bottles need to be kept in the fridge once they’ve been opened. Always check the label and follow any storage instructions.
This sort of food often has special packaging to help keep it fresh for longer. But it will go off quickly once you’ve opened it. This is why the storage instructions also tell you how long the food will keep once the packaging has been opened. For example, you might see ‘eat within 2 days of opening’ on the label.
Unless packaging around vegetables says ‘ready-to-eat’ you must wash, peel or cook them before eating.
‘Use by' and ‘best before’ dates
Most foods must be marked with either a ‘use by date’ or ‘best before date’.
- A ‘use by’ date is about food safety and is used on foods that go off quickly, such as raw meat or fish, cooked sliced meats and dairy products. You shouldn’t use any food after the ‘use by’ date even if the food looks and smells fine, because it might contain harmful bacteria.
- A ‘best before’ date is about food quality rather than food safety, so after this date expires the food will not be harmful, but its flavour, colour or texture might begin to deteriorate.
- An exception to this is eggs, which have a ‘best before’ date of no more than 28 days after they are laid. After this date the quality of the egg will deteriorate and if any Salmonella bacteria are present, they could multiply to high levels and could make you ill. Eggs can be eaten a day or two after their ‘best before’ date, as long as they are cooked thoroughly as this will kill any bacteria. If you do intend to use an egg after its best before date, make sure that you only use it in dishes where it will be fully cooked, so that both yolk and white are solid, such as in a cake or as a hard-boiled egg.
It's especially important to store meat safely to stop bacteria from spreading and to avoid food poisoning.
Store raw meat and poultry in clean sealed containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge, so they can't touch or drip onto other food. Follow any storage instructions on the label and don't eat meat after its 'use by' date.
When you have cooked meat and you're not going to eat it straight away, cool it as quickly as possible and then put it in the fridge or freezer. Remember to keep cooked meat separate from raw meat.
Uncooked potatoes are best kept somewhere cool and dry, but don't keep them in the fridge. This is because putting potatoes in the fridge can increase the amount of sugar they contain, which could lead to higher levels of a chemical called acrylamide when the potatoes are baked, fried or roasted at high temperatures.
Storing dry food, tins, jars and drinks
Many types of food don't need to be kept in the fridge to keep them safe to eat, for example dry foods such as rice, pasta and flour, many types of drinks, tinned foods, and unopened jars. But it's still important to take care how you store them.
Here are some tips:
- Try to keep food in sealed bags or containers. This helps to keep them fresh and stops anything falling into the food by accident.
- Don't store food or drinks near cleaning products or other chemicals.
- Don't use old food containers to store household chemicals, and don't store food in containers that have been used for other purposes.
- Only reuse plastic water bottles if they’re not damaged and you can clean them.
- Don't store food on the floor, because this can encourage mice, ants and other pests.
- Keep the storage area dry and not too warm.
- Remember that some types of food might need to be kept in the fridge once you’ve opened them – follow any storage instructions on the label.
- When you open a can of food and you're not going to use all the food straight away, empty the food into a bowl, or other container, and put it in the fridge.
- Don't store food in an opened tin can, or re-use empty cans to cook or store food. This is because when a can has been opened and the food is open to the air, the tin from the can might transfer more quickly to the can's contents.
- This advice doesn't apply to foods sold in cans that have resealable lids, such as golden syrup and cocoa, because these types of food don’t react with the can.
Cling film and kitchen foil
Cling film is useful for protecting food but, like many things, it needs to be used correctly. Not every type of cling film is suitable for using with all foods. Check the description on the box to see what foods it can be used with.
There are three main points to remember when using cling film:
- Don't use cling film if it could melt into the food, such as in the oven or on pots and pans on the hob.
- You can use cling film in the microwave, but make sure the cling film doesn't touch the food.
- Only let cling film touch high-fat foods when the description on the box says the cling film is suitable for this. High-fat foods include some types of cheese, raw meats with a layer of fat, fried meats, pies and pastries, and cakes with butter icing or chocolate coatings.
Kitchen foil, which is made from aluminium, can be useful for wrapping and covering foods. But it's best not to use foil or containers made from aluminium (such as aluminium pans) to store foods that are highly acidic, such as:
- many types of soft fruit
This is because aluminium can affect the taste of these sorts of food, especially if they are stored in aluminium containers for a long time.