It’s extraordinary the extent of food wastage in Australia, with fruit and vegetables topping the list. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is essential for good health, and we certainly don’t want to waste them.
But it’s so easy to buy too much food ‘just in case’ – especially in summer when we do so much entertaining – and then not be able to store them properly.
And food safety is also a priority when we store and serve food for a crowd in hot weather. Remember, we need to keep hot food hot, around 100°C. If you want to serve food at less than 60°C, make sure it doesn’t stay at that temperature for more than two hours. We also need to keep cold food cold – below 5°C, regardless of how overflowing your fridge might be.
Some food needs to be stored in a cool place, others on ice for short periods or in the refrigerator in plastic bags, and there’s also special containers that can be partly opened to allow moisture to escape, or seal completely.
Here’s my top five summer food storage and handling safety tips
- Some fruit and vegetables sensitive to ethylene gas will spoil quickly if stored in the same areas as others. As a guide, these fruit and vegetables generate ethylene gas, so, to avoid food waste, try segregating to make your food last longer: lemons, apples, apricots, avocados, ripening bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe/rockmelon, citrus fruit (not grapefruit), cranberries, figs, guavas, grapes, green onions, honeydew, ripe kiwi fruit, mangoes, melons, mushrooms, nectarines, okra, papayas, passion fruit, peaches, pears, peppers, persimmons, pineapple, plantains, plums, prunes, quinces, tomatoes and watermelon.
- Seafood is very popular in summer, and keeping it cold – from the store to home as well as when preparing or serving it, is essential. In many ways your nose is the best indicator of whether or not seafood is fresh. Only stale seafood smells ‘fishy’, fresh seafood has little aroma except for a slight fresh ‘sea’ smell. As a guide:
– Eat prawns within 2-3 days of purchase or freeze them for up to 3 months
– Eat opened oysters within 24 hours of purchase.
– Don’t eat oysters that are dry or sunken into the shell
– Don’t eat overly ‘fishy’ or off-smelling seafood
– Don’t eat raw fish, opened oysters, opened mussels, prawns or other seafood if they’ve been out of the fridge for more than 2 hours (less when the temperature soars).
- Red meat and poultry also need careful handling. Bacteria can spread if raw meat and poultry touches (or drips onto) ready-to-eat foods. Store raw meat and chicken at the bottom of the fridge, covered, so it can’t drip onto other foods. Thoroughly clean all utensils, equipment and surfaces after preparing raw meat and poultry before contact with other foods. If possible use a separate cutting board specifically for raw meat and chicken.Once cooked, meat and poultry should either be kept hot or cold till served, and like seafood, not left out of the fridge for longer than two hours.
- Use these excellent resources to learn more about food safety and shelf life:
– The CSIRO’s website has information on storing perishable food and the shelf life of foods at home.
– The Food Safety Information Council has some excellent tips on keeping food safe when entertaining at this time of year.
- If you want more recipes to use up excess fruit and vegetables, have a look at the Sydney Markets website for what’s in season this month and recipes to enjoy them. Or the Sydney Fish Markets for a range of seafood recipes.