Once upon a time, I was headed for culinary school. I took the culinary prep classes at my high school, competed on the culinary knowledge team (at the national level, since we won state!), and really took to heart a lot of the information I was given on food preparation, storage, and safety.
Since then, food safety has been a personal passion/pet peeve of mine. That’s probably why I write about kitchen myths here on the blog.
Some of the biggest mistakes I see in the kitchen with regards to food safety has to do with how its stored. Properly storing and refrigerating your food makes a world of difference in how sick or healthy your family is.
MYTH: You should always cool food before storing it.
Verdict: TRUE. But doesn’t putting it in the refrigerator cool it? It’s not that simple…
The Safe Zone
Food, as a general rule, is safe below 40 degrees and above 140 degress. Everything in between makes food a perfect breeding ground for bacteria to grow and flourish.
Food can safely be in the unsafe temperature range for 2-4 hours. When you put hot food in the refrigerator, the outside of it cools off, but the center can stay hot for much longer, and often ends up in the unsafe temperature range for much longer than it should, causing bacteria to grow and making you sick when you eat it next time.
How to quickly cool food for safe storing
Since you can’t just stick hot food in the refrigerator, you have to let it cool to about room temperature before you store it, but you have to do that within your 2-4 hour safe time within the “danger zone.”
The easy solution to this is to break up your food into smaller servings – a great leftovers tip anyways – as smaller amounts will cool faster.
For hot foods like soups, you can add reusable ice cubes or water frozen in a water bottle to the large soup pot to encourage it to cool.
You can also put the container of food into an ice bath or cold water bath to cool your food.
Stirring the food occasionally as it cools helps to redistribute the retained heat and will cause it to cool faster.
So, there you have it: yes, you need to cool your food before you store it, for safety’s sake.
And what happened to my culinary degree? I got distracted along the way and ended up working on my bachelor’s degree in mathematics. How’s that for a change in direction?
What interesting kitchen tips have you heard lately? Any crazy old kitchen myths? Share them in the comments and maybe I’ll feature it on the next Kitchen Myths post!