Decay, mold, and odors can spread among foods in the refrigerator. Follow these tips to keep foods―including leftovers―fresher longer and reduce the risk of contamination.
Meat, Fish, and Poultry
- Keep all fresh meat, fish, and poultry in its store wrapping. (Re-wrapping increases the risk of exposing the food to harmful bacteria.) If the item didn't come in a Styrofoam tray, slide a plate underneath it to catch any drippings
- Leave cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream, milk, and cream in the containers they came in. But after transferring milk to a pitcher or sour cream to a serving bowl, don't return them to the original containers. Instead, tightly cover the pitcher or bowl with plastic wrap.
- Store hard cheeses in the store wrapping until you use them, then wrap them in wax paper, foil, or loose plastic.
- Plastic milk bottles make more sense than cardboard cartons, since bacteria can grow near the cardboard spout and enter a glass of milk every time you pour. Nevertheless, as long as you use the milk within its shelf life, it should be safe to drink.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Keep fruits and vegetables separate and store like with like: apples with apples, carrots with carrots. Fruits and vegetables give off different gases that can cause others to deteriorate.
- Store fruits and vegetables susceptible to drying out in perforated or unsealed plastic bags to maintain a moist environment yet still allow air to circulate.
- Don't wash produce before refrigerating it. The dampness can make it mold and rot more quickly.
- Store all leftovers in airtight, leakproof clear containers or wraps.
- Divide leftovers into small, flat containers so that they cool faster. (Some bacteria spores survive the cooking process and may germinate if the food is at room temperature long enough.)
- Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking. And there's no need to wait for piping-hot foods to cool down before storing them―modern refrigerators can handle the heat.
- Remove the stuffing from the turkey and refrigerate it in a separate container. Left together, they may not cool fast enough, which can be unsafe.
- Don't refrigerate leftover cranberry sauce or other foods in cans. Once a can is opened, residual metal on the rim can leach into food and leave a metallic taste.
- Don't stuff the refrigerator too full. Cool air needs to circulate to keep food at a safe temperature.
For a comprehensive cold-storage chart, consult the federal food-safety website, foodsafety.gov.