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By Corinne Easterling
Food safety is an especially important concern for cancer patients as cancer treatment can weaken the immune system.
Bacteria can easily grow when food is left undisturbed, exposed to the elements, or at a temperature between 40°F-140°F (also known as the “temperature danger zone”). Therefore, safe food storage is one of the most important ways we can prevent food from being contaminated.
The most important thing you can do to prevent foodborne illness is to keep an organized kitchen. Pay attention to expiration dates and how long food is being stored. In your pantry, canned goods should be kept in good condition and stored in a cool, clean, and dry place. If cans are dented, leaking, bulging, rusted, or beyond their expiration date, discard immediately. High-acid canned foods (tomatoes, grapefruit, pineapples) can generally be stored in your pantry for 12-28 months, whereas low-acid canned foods (meat, poultry, fish, vegetables) can be stored for 2-5 years.
Food can be stored longer in your refrigerator or freezer, so make sure to periodically check both with an appliance thermometer to ensure they are at the appropriate temperature to prevent bacterial growth. Refrigerators should be kept at a temperature of 40°F or below and freezers should be kept at a temperature of 0°F or below. Leftovers and perishable food should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours (or one hour if the outside temperature is 90°F or above).
When purchasing fresh poultry or meats, be sure to cook or freeze within two days.
Certain meats, like beef, veal, lamb, or pork, can be held for up to 5 days in a refrigerator until they need to be cooked or frozen. Make sure all meats and poultry are securely wrapped to inhibit their exposure to the outside environment as well as to prevent their juices from dripping onto and contaminating other foods. Raw meats and poultry can be double-wrapped in foil or plastic wrap.
Cooked leftovers should be consumed within four days of storage in the refrigerator (unless advised otherwise by your doctor). There are many labels available to download and print that can help you to keep track of when you are refrigerating or freezing foods – I like these free Martha Stewart labels. Simply write the contents of the package or container and circle the date you are freezing or refrigerating them on. This can help you to easily keep track of how long food is being kept and when it needs to be cooked or thrown out.
Storing food in the appropriate manner can also help prevent cross-contamination.
The following infographic highlights how you can easily revamp your refrigerator for optimal quality, freshness and safety: