Food Safety: The Right Way to Store and Reheat Food

Today 7th April 2015 is World Health Day and the theme for this year is food safety. This theme is so on point as food safety is a topic I have much love for. It is also an area I have problems with. Not because I lack knowledge of food safety but because I tend to argue or preach about reheating food and how it should be done.

In Nigeria, with the constant lack of power, one is faced with storage problems and “over” reheating of food for fear of wastage and the food getting spoilt. There is this problem of storage as a standard Nigerian family will not in normal circumstances have power to keep their refrigerator going so freezing food is somewhat impossible and many resort to reheating. Reheating should only be done once but this is not the case in Nigeria. I see people reheating food over and over again until it begins to taste not so great anymore.

This post is going to give you some pointers on how best to store and reheat food. Let’s start with food storage.

Uncooked food: Food storage starts from when you pick them up at the market. Fresh vegetables and fruits should be in its own bag. Your fresh meat and fish must be in a different bag. Same goes for your washing up liquids and detergents – they must be stored separately from edible materials.

Once you get home, practice same thing. They must be stored separately in your refrigerator. Bread, fresh fruits and the likes should be stored at the highest part of your refrigerator. Place uncooked chicken, meat and fish is a separate compartment. They must be at the lowest part of your fridge – this is to prevent liquid or blood from them dripping into your fresh and ready-to-eat produce like fruits, bread, cheese etc. Same goes for your freezer – stored in the bottom compartment. This is all to prevent contamination.

Cooked food: Once you have cooked your food, serve and eat it as soon as possible. If it is not to be served immediately, you need to cool the hot food within one and a half hours and put in fridge/freezer immediately. In cases where there is no power to freeze food, you should only cook the quantity you require. To cool food, you could place the container in cool bowl of water and change the water regularly. Do not cover the food until it is properly cool.

When you freeze food, put them in small containers for easy and quick defrosting and reheating. To avoid food poisoning, food placed in refrigerator that is not frozen should be eaten with 2 days, rice preferably in 1 day. The reason for this is because uncooked rice contain bacteria spores that can cause food poisoning. When rice is cooked, the spores can survive. If the rice is left at room temperature 37C, the spores can grow into bacteria which multiply and could produce toxins that cause vomiting and diarrhoea. The longer your cooked rice is left at room temperature, the more likely it is that the rice is unsafe to eat.

Fridge should be between 0 and 4C while your freezer should be at least -18C

Food should be reheated only once and any leftovers should be thrown away. Reheat food until it becomes pipping hot. Many use thermometers when reheating meat to check the temperature at the centre is over 70C but if you don’t have a thermometer at home, slice or cut the meat into smaller sizes and reheat for minimum of 2minutes. Soups and stews should be reheated until it appears to be boiling and is piping hot. Once the food is reheated, serve it immediately.

If trying to reheat frozen food, you need to thaw/defrost by placing it in the refrigerator at least 24hours for evety 5pounds of food before you intend to cook or heat it – once defosted, you can even keep it in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before reheating. You could also defrost it in cold water or use the microwave defrost setting which is faster if you are in a hurry 😉 . Do not place in environment at room temperature or in hot water as this will heat up the outer part of the food giving bacteria the chance to begin to multiply. My favourite way to defrost is via refrigeration.

Another important point to note is that you should never mix old food with a freshly prepared meal. I have seen instances where a bowl of stew that has been in the fridge for days is added to a fresh pot of stew just to avoid waste. No no no. Please don’t do this. If you are doing this, then you need to stop immediately. Doing this means you are introducing bacteria to the new pot and just killing a fresh pot of food. It could also result in food poisoning. Get rid of all old food in your fridge if it has been sitting there for over 2days. You see now why you should just cook the quantity you need? You don’t want to end up wasting food if it cannot be eaten within 2 days. If you’re lucky enough to have constant power, then store them in the freezer which can store food for months. Once frozen, spores cannot replicate.

*Please note that reheating food can be done properly but still result in food poisoning. When this happens, it means the food was stored improperly. This takes you back to the beginning. It starts with proper storage.

I hope you found this post useful and informative. Please don’t forget to share it. Stay healthy and #BeHSEWise