Food storage tips and advice

A woman reaching into an open fridge.

Nobody likes being wasteful and throwing away food. It feels wrong. But by storing food properly, you don't have to.

Correct food storage means food stays fresher for longer, you eat better, waste less and are helping to protect the planet.

Government data reveals UK households waste 4.5 tonnes of food each year. That's around £700 per family.

Proper food storage means protecting home appliances like your fridge-freezer. If your fridge stops working after a loss of power, it could be covered on your home insurance policy. And that could save you money and hassle in the long-run.

If you're looking to waste less and save more, our tips on how to store food properly can help.

What goes where in a fridge?

A well-organised fridge can be a beautiful thing. Not only can you find everything you need quickly, it also reduces the risk of food poisoning, minimises waste and cuts your weekly shopping bill.

Here's a simple guide to what goes where in a fridge:

  • Top shelves: these stay at the most consistent temperature, so keep food that doesn't need cooking (e.g., leftovers, ready-to-eat food and drinks) up high
  • Middle shelves: This is the place for dairy – milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt.
  • Bottom shelves: The coldest part of your fridge, where you should store raw meat and fish
  • Drawers: The chiller drawers create moist conditions to preserve fruit, salad and veg – all of which should be stored in their original packaging
  • Shelves in door: The warmest part of your fridge. Use them to store food with natural preservatives (e.g., condiments, jam and fruit juice).

What shouldn't be stored in the fridge?

The fridge might seem the most obvious place to keep food fresh, but there are certain items that should stay out of the fridge, such as:

  • Refrigerating tomatoes damages their membrane and changes their taste and texture. Food storage advice says to leave them on a work surface and they'll develop more flavour.
  • Eggs shouldn't be stored in your fridge. Room temperature eggs give you better results when boiled or used in baking.
  • Garlic deteriorates faster in the fridge. Keep it in a dry place at room temperature instead.
  • Honey will soon crystallise and solidify in the fridge. If you like your honey runny, keep it in the cupboard.
  • Keep whole onions in a cool, dark place. If left in the fridge, they can become soggy.
  • Storing potatoes in cold temperatures makes the starch turn into sugar and your spuds tasteless. Store unwashed potatoes away from sunlight, ideally in a sack.
  • Avocados need to be kept out of the fridge as chilling them will prevent ripening.
  • Cake tastes so much better when it's not cold. Keep in an airtight container – unless it's filled with cream, then it'll need to go in the fridge.
  • Bread can dry out and go stale when stored in the fridge. Keep it in a bread bin or any cool, dry place.
  • Coffee tends to take on smells from its surroundings, so keep in an airtight container outside the fridge.

How long can you leave food in the fridge?

Keeping food in the fridge helps to slow down the growth of germs and keep it fresher for longer. But what does food storage advice say about how long to leave it there?

Lots of food has use-by or best-before dates. Use-by dates appear on food that goes off quickly, best-before dates on food with a longer life. Keeping an eye on these dates will help you determine how to store food – and for how long – in the fridge.

Leftovers should also be stored in the fridge as soon as they've cooled down (or within two hours). NHS food storage guidelines say leftovers should be eaten within two days and the Food Standards Agency advises against the sniff test.

Also, you can freeze pretty much anything, including milk, cheese, eggs (either out of the shell or boiled), fish, meat, bread, baked goods and bananas (peeled and placed in an airtight container).

What happens if food isn't stored properly?

Not following food storage advice can lead to a number of issues.

Even if food is kept in a fridge, it can still go mouldy. Chilling food slows down bacteria growth, but doesn't prevent it. Knowing how to store food in proper containers in the fridge can help slow the bacteria spreading. Home appliance contents insurance means even your food is covered if your fridge should stop working and food is spoiled.

Storing food in the fridge isn't just about keeping items chilled, it's also about preventing contamination. Make sure you keep different food groups on different shelves (as detailed above). And if you want to avoid food poisoning, always keep raw meat away from food that's ready to eat.

Finally, correct food storage will make sure the taste isn't altered and that you waste less.

What goes in the food-waste bin?

We've come a long way in reducing food waste and making our homes greener – in part thanks to our food-waste bins.

You can put most cooked or raw food scraps into your food-waste bin. That includes plate scrapings, tea bags, raw and cooked meat or fish (plus bones), dairy, eggs, rice, pasta, bread, fruit and vegetables. For home composting, cooked food, fish, meat and dairy are no-nos.

Items that should be kept out of food-waste bins include liquids (such as milk) to avoid leaks and spills, packaging, nappies and any other non-food products.

If you're in any doubt, check your local council's website for more information.

Food storage safety tips

Food safety advice from the NHS suggests the below ways to reduce your risk of food poisoning at home.

  1. Wash your hands: wash with soap and warm water before and after handling food, plus after using the toilet, blowing your nose or touching pets.
  2. Wash work surfaces and dishcloths: keep worktops clean with hot, soapy water, and wash dishcloths and tea towels regularly.
  3. Keep raw meat separate: when dealing with raw meat, always use a separate chopping board, keep it away from ready-to-eat food and store it on the bottom shelf of your fridge.
  4. Keep your fridge below 5⁰C: keeping your fridge temperature below 5⁰C prevents bacteria from growing. When a fridge is too full, it affects the temperature.
  5. Check use-by dates: Even if food looks and smells ok, it's always best to respect use-by dates and use leftovers within two days.

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