9 Food Storage Mistakes That Cost You Money (or Worse, Make You Sick)

Here are some of the most common food storage mistakes—plus, how to fix them.

When it comes to storing food in the fridge for long-lasting freshness, we must consider factors like expiration dates, shelf placement, and the type of items we're putting away. For example, there's a secret to storing every type of fruit and vegetable. We also want to use the best food storage containers for leftovers.

Discovering your meat or produce can't be used when you're about to cook a meal is obviously very frustrating. But spoiled food also wastes money and can potentially make you sick. Here are some of the most common food storage mistakes and how to easily fix them.

01 of 09

Storing Food on the Wrong Shelves

Katie Heil, who is a certified professional in food safety as well as a food safety education writer for State Food Safety, says choosing the wrong refrigerator shelf is a major food storage mistake. "It's important to store food in the correct order to reduce the risk of cross-contamination," she says.

One example is storing raw ground beef above a lettuce salad. "The juices from the beef could drip down and contaminate the salad," Heil says. "If you eat the contaminated salad, you'll likely get food poisoning. There's an easy way to prevent this—store the meat below the salad!"

Heil suggests organizing your food storage, so the foods that require less or no cooking are at the top. "Foods that require more cooking should be at the bottom. That way, even if juices do drip down, they'll be killed during the cooking process. For example, ground beef has to be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 F, so it should be stored above chicken, which must be cooked to 165 F."

02 of 09

Storing Food Uncovered

We've all made the mistake of putting an uncovered plate in the refrigerator. While this might not appear to be a major problem, it can be a dangerous food storage mistake and lead to cross-contamination. Heil says it's important to remember to store everything in enclosed containers.

"This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's easy to forget when you're in a hurry," she says. "In addition to protecting it from contamination, storing food in covered containers also helps it last longer."

If you're really in a rush (or just tired), at the very least, you should cover plates and bowls with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. However, taking the extra time to put food in containers is best.

03 of 09

Using Improper Food Storage Containers

This is a big one! Food should ideally be stored in airtight glass containers, such as Bayco Glass Food Storage Containers With Lids ($30 for 12 containers; amazon.com). Unlike plastic, glass containers are microwave and dishwasher-safe as well as free of BPA.

The worst place to store food is in those takeout containers that many of us end up hoarding away in our cabinets. They're fine for transporting or storing your leftover dinner for lunch the next day, but they aren't designed to be reused multiple times. The same rule applies to yogurt cups and any sort of plastic tub that you buy food in.

04 of 09

Storing Food Before It Cools Down

"When cooling leftover food," says Heill, "You have to be careful to keep it out of the temperature danger zone (41–135 F) as much as possible."

This is the only time it's OK to store food in the refrigerator uncovered. "However, after the food has cooled sufficiently, you should move it to a covered container for long-term storage," she says.

05 of 09

Failing to Rotate Food

Have you ever found food in your pantry or fridge that's seen better days? It could be green and moldy, or past the expiration date. "Chances are, it happened because you didn't rotate your food," Heil says.

Luckily, there's an easy fix! After you go grocery shopping, put the new food items you just bought behind older items of the same type. Commercial kitchens use this method to help reduce food waste, and it can help you too. When you get into this habit, you'll always eat the oldest food first, before it goes to waste."

06 of 09

Keeping Your Food Unsealed

Don't keep the ketchup top flipped up. Tighten up those jars of mustard and bottles of salad dressing. It's important to make sure all of your food containers are properly closed and sealed. Otherwise, you risk your food rotting.

The same rule applies to food storage bags, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil. Seal everything as tightly as possible!

07 of 09

Refrigerating the Wrong Produce

Not all produce should be stored in the refrigerator. Melon (unless it's already cut up), tomatoes (ever wonder why they shrivel?), onions, potatoes, and citrus fruits should never be refrigerated because the cold air affects their taste.

However, fruits such as nectarines, peaches, pears, and avocados should be refrigerated when they are ripe to prevent over-ripening.

Another common produce storage mistake occurs with apples. Most of us leave them out, but they should actually be kept in the fridge.

08 of 09

Using the Refrigerator Door for Perishable Items

The major mistake you're making when storing milk is putting it in the door. Because the temperature tends to fluctuate as we open and close the door, food items like dairy, eggs, and especially meat should instead be stored in the coldest sections of the refrigerator.

09 of 09

Keeping Your Refrigerator at the Wrong Temperature

Do you notice your food is often spoiling too quickly or feels frozen in the fridge? The issue might not be where or what you're storing, but that you haven't made sure you have the right temperature for your refrigerator itself. Check the thermostat: Your refrigerator should be set no higher than 40 F (aim to stay between 35 and 38 F), and the freezer should be set to below 0 F.

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