Nutrition In yoU: Tips for Safe Food Storage

In recent weeks, it almost seems as though we have entered an altered reality. Our daily habits, conveniences, the way we socialize, work, and care for our families and ourselves has dramatically changed. One of the stark differences many face is the way we interact with our food. With many cities and states closing restaurant dining rooms coupled with the uncertainty of if or when our food supply may be impacted, people have panicked. Looking at the news headlines and visiting a local grocery store myself, it seems as though we have moved into a kind of survival mode where the anxiety of the unknown has pushed us to rush the grocery stores and purchase as much food as we can reasonably (or perhaps unreasonably) afford or eat.

With over a third of the U.S. population eating out at least once a day, I can’t help but imagine the added anxiety people must be feeling trying to plan, shop for, and prepare their meals. This may account for the candid images appearing on social media platforms of people with shopping carts overflowing with nothing but family-sized bags of chips, boxes of macaroni and cheese, or frozen pizzas. While that is an example of one extreme, that is not everyone. Others of us have simply increased the amount we normally purchase and may find ourselves low on freezer or refrigerator space.

You may be wondering, “now that I have all of this food, how long is it good for? Should I store tomatoes in the refrigerator or on the counter?” Or maybe you didn’t think about it at all. You should because where and how we store our food can help preserve the nutrients and increase its shelf life. Here are some tips and links to help get you started:

  1. Check the temperature on the refrigerator: The refrigerator should be set at 40oF or below. Remember that food begins to freeze at 32oF so ensure that you don’t accidentally set it too low and freeze out all of your fresh vegetables.
  2. Put cold and frozen food away right away. Bacteria grow quickly between 40oF and 140o You want to slow this potential growth by getting your food back into cold temperatures within 2 hours of purchasing it. Move it to the cold even faster if you are somewhere warm or it is summertime.
  3. Eat food sooner than later. Even frozen foods can only be safely stored for so long and each food is different. Here is a link to a great chart to help you keep track of how long you can safely store frozen foods.
  4. Avoid storing food in plastic containers with a 3, 6, or 7 on it. These are not safe for use with foods as they may leach harmful chemicals into your food.
  5. Use a FIFO method for organizing containers of food in cabinets and on shelves. This stands for First In, First Out. Foods that expire sooner are placed in the front of the cabinet while those that expire later are placed in the back.
  6. Never use food from jars where the lids have popped or cans that are dented. Harmful bacteria may get into the food through the air gaps.
  7. Always store oil away from light and heat. These can make oil go rancid.
  8. Certain foods like tomatoes or potatoes do better on the counter top or in the pantry than in the refrigerator. Here is a great article on which foods do best where.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics created this great infographic to help demonstrate where it all goes in your house. And if you are into apps, they also have a great app called FoodSafe?


This infographic is from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Visit for more information on healthful eating or to find a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Megan Farris has a B.S. in Nutrition, Health, and Wellness from NIU and is an NIU Dietetic Intern and a 2020 M.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics candidate.

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