A 2013 germ study conducted by NSF International found that many kitchen items, including food storage containers, can harbor germs. Using the right storage container along with storing food items properly can help you keep foods fresh and safe.
Choosing a Container
Don’t be tempted to re-use leftover food packaging containers. Most are not intended for multiple uses and may not be suitable for storing all food types. Instead, look for certified food storage containers, such as those certified to NSF Protocol P386: Food Storage Containers for Home Use, as these containers are independently confirmed to be easily cleanable and produced from food-safe materials. As part of its Home Products Certification Program, NSF also reviews product packaging and substantiates other marketing and label claims being made by the manufacturer. Food storage containers certified to this protocol are eligible to display the NSF Certified for Home Use mark.
Cleaning Storage Containers
To protect yourself from bacterial growth and avoid cross-contamination, always wash food storage containers thoroughly between each use. Check the product literature or packaging for recommended cleaning procedures. Unless specifically marked dishwasher safe, don’t wash food storage containers in the dishwasher. If no cleaning instructions are provided, hand wash the food storage container and lid in warm soapy water, paying special attention to the gasket or indentation where the lid attaches to the container. Rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue, and allow to dry completely.
Leftovers that require cold to remain safe need to be placed in the refrigerator within two hours of serving to avoid the risk of bacteria growing. It’s not necessary to allow foods to cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator or freezer, nor is this a safe food practice.
Large quantities of leftover hot foods should be separated into smaller containers before placing in the refrigerator to help speed cooling. Vent lids slightly when placing hot foods in the refrigerator. Once the food has cooled, tighten the lid so that it’s secure. Many leftovers can be frozen. While freezing won’t kill bacteria, it will keep properly prepared foods safe for extended periods of time. However, the quality of frozen foods will deteriorate over time.
Recommended storage times for frozen foods vary, depending on the food item. For example, frozen ground meats should be consumed within three to four months, while frozen whole cuts of meat can usually be stored for six months. Consume refrigerated leftovers within three to four days or discard.
Reheating Foods in Storage Containers
Not all food storage containers are safe to use for reheating foods. Before placing any food storage container in a microwave or oven, check the usage instructions that came with the container to make sure it can be safely used for cooking or heating foods in the appliance.
Reheat leftovers to at least 165° F before eating.