Save money by eating in

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By Cheryle Syracuse

 Everyone is trying to save money these days. One place they’re looking is as close as their own refrigerator. Families are eating more meals at home than in the past as a way to help stretch the food budget.

The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) looked at U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends and found that 71 percent of consumers surveyed are cooking more and eating out less. FMI tends also showed that 58 percent of Americans report eating more leftovers and using more leftovers in other meals.

If you’re eating in more and eating more leftovers, you definitely want to keep the food in your refrigerator fresh and safe. There is no sense in losing money by throwing out food that has gone bad and is not safe to eat. Proper storage also helps keep the food looking and tasting good and helps retain the nutrients.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education offers this list of helpful food safety tips:

Always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food.

Temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees allow bacteria to grow rapidly. Refrigerate cooked leftovers promptly, within two hours (one hour when the temperatures are over 90 degrees).

Use an appliance thermometer to ensure that your refrigerator is always 40 degrees or below.

Divide leftovers into smaller portions and store in shallow containers in the refrigerator. This allows them to cool more quickly.

Hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator; it doesn’t need to set out to cool before putting it away.

Leftovers should be reheated to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. Sauces, soups, and gravies should be reheated by bringing them to a boil.

When microwaving leftovers, make sure there are no cold spots in food (where bacteria can survive). Cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking. If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking. Reheat to 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer.

Eat, freeze or “pitch” refrigerated leftover food within three to four days.

Buying food in bulk can be a money-saver. Remember, whatever the quantity of food, safe handling is a must! Large packages of perishables like raw ground meat and poultry products can be refrigerated for one to two days, but then the food should be cooked or put in the freezer. Meat and poultry will stay safe indefinitely in the freezer. However, from a quality standpoint, it is recommended that frozen meat and poultry be consumed within three to 12 months.

Ever wondered about leftover coffee? Can you keep it for tomorrow morning? Coffee that sets out at room temperature will eventually have mold growth, but that’s not going to happen in one day. It will be drinkable the next day, but will not taste as fresh. It would be better to refrigerate any leftover coffee if you plan to reheat tomorrow. Longer than that, it’s just best to pitch it.

Saving money by buying day-old bread? In general, bread should be stored at room temperature in a cool, dry place. It is not recommended to refrigerate bread because it will become stale more quickly. However, in hot, humid weather, bread to be kept for more than two or three days should be refrigerated to prevent mold growth. The shelf life of bread depends upon the ingredients. Moist products like English muffins should be kept in the refrigerator.

For long storage, put bread in the freezer instead of the refrigerator. If you plan on keeping it in the freezer for more than 10 days to two weeks, it’s best to change the bag to a freezer bag because bread bags aren’t great for long-term storage.

Remember the key phrase when it comes to food safety: When in doubt, throw it out. It’s not worth the risk of food-borne illness to save a few dollars.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse

Family and Consumer Science Staff

NC Cooperative Extension

Brunswick County Center


Source: Partnership in Food Safety Education (www.fightbac.org) and “Shelf Storage at Room Temperature” from Penn State Extension.