Fresh fruits and vegetables should make up a substantial portion of your diet: checking out the Oldways Food Pyramid and the USDA’s MyPyramid shows that a healthful diet consists of plentiful servings of fresh vegetables and fruits each day—and you have an abundant choice at most markets.
But even if the produce manager stocks clean shelves, the danger of contamination still lurks—just remember the 2006 E. coli bacteria scare with fresh spinach. No matter how carefully the farmer, the middlemen, and the supermarket staff handle produce, it’s possible that the fertilizer and/ or the water supply could be contaminated. But consumers can take many steps to protect their food and their health. The FDA advises consumers to select fresh-looking, nonbruised items and to buy cut-up fruits or vegetables that are carefully packaged and chilled or stored on shaved ice.
Safe Food Storage
Back at home, take charge of how your food is stored until you are ready to cook. First, be sure your refrigerator is set to 40°F or lower and that your freezer is set at 0°F or lower. Then refrigerate perishables promptly, especially in summertime heat. Label and date any foods you plan to freeze. Frozen foods have a longer storage life, though their flavor and quality may deteriorate, and freezing does not kill any bacteria present.
High-acid canned goods like citrus fruits have a 12- to 18-month shelf life; low-acid goods like beans can keep safely for at least two years. But check the goods often; you don’t know how long these were stocked on your supermarket’s shelves. When you see that a can is bulging or leaking, discard it at once.
Grains and legumes are subject to aging, and their natural oils may turn rancid or get bugs, no matter how well you’ve packaged and stored them. Whenever possible store these in the refrigerator for safest keeping.
If a power outage occurs, keep your freezer door tightly closed; the foods should stay safe for up to two days, provided your freezer has been set to 0°F. Fruits—such as whole blueberries or cranberries—that thaw slightly and then are refrozen may develop ice crystals or become mushy when totally thawed. You may want to discard them or use them in a fruit dessert or drink. According to the FDA, you may refreeze a food before cooking it if it has thawed in the refrigerator.
Handling Precooked Foods or Leftovers
If you have planned ahead and cooked several meals for future use, you can keep them safe by cooling the food slightly, then immediately refrigerating the food in tightly sealed containers. Or you can freeze them in portioned sizes in tightly sealed containers.
If you have leftovers you want to save, pack them up immediately; you must discard any perishables left out at room temperature longer than two hours, or for longer than one hour in summer heat. Plan to use up any leftovers within a few days.