The holidays bring joy, good cheer, and heaps and heaps of leftovers. Food is an excellent thing to have copious amounts of, but you’re going to want to take extra care with how you store it.
Putting hot food in the fridge is a matter many are a bit uncertain about. Do I have to let it cool? Will warm food change the temperature of the fridge? And most importantly, is it safe?
After all, no one wants to chew antacid when you could be eating turkey.
The short answer is yes, it’s usually OK to put hot food in the fridge. As a matter of fact, it’s preferable. Despite some information to the contrary, putting hot food in the fridge won’t harm your appliance or affect the temperature of the foods around it.
Health Canada stresses that bacteria can grow on food within two hours unless it’s refrigerated, especially high-risk foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and other dairy products.
Keep in mind that some people, including young kids, pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems, are more vulnerable to food poisoning. This time of year you’ll likely be preparing food for a mix of people, and some may fall in these groups, and extra care is needed with food storage.
The rule of thumb to keep hot foods hot (60°C or hotter) and cold food cold (4°C or colder) to keep them out of the danger zone, which is any temperature in between.
Where you may run into trouble is if you have huge quantities of food in deep dishes, like soup in a massive stock pot. If you pack it in the fridge and forget it, it’s likely that the centre of the food won’t chill all the way through quickly enough, explains the University of Minnesota, leaving it at risk of staying in the danger zone long enough for bacteria to multiply.
For that reason, make sure to store leftovers in shallow containers, so they can cool easily, and make sure the fridge isn't packed too tightly, so cool air can circulate, advises Health Canada.
If your meal is still so hot it's steaming, you can chill it in an ice-water bath beforehand. Cooling on the counter until the steam stops is alright as well, but again the sooner you refrigerate, the better. Do not, we repeat, do not let it go beyond two hours.
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