10/03/2014 11:40 EDT | Updated 12/03/2014 05:59 EST

Shallow containers best to store leftovers in fridge to prevent bacteria growth

VICTORIA - Love them or hate them, leftovers have a place in most Canadian kitchens. But they need to be stored correctly to prevent food-borne illnesses.

Storing food properly also helps get the longest life out of groceries.

"Bacteria occurs naturally in our environment, so all food needs to be handled with respect and common sense," says Brenda Watson, executive director of Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education.

"Anything you cook that ends up as leftovers like casseroles, meat loaf, pork chops or even the lowly baked potato, you want to make sure they are in the refrigerator in a shallow container within two hours of being prepared and cooked," she said from Kitchener, Ont.

An easy method Watson recommends for selecting food storage containers is using your fist to measure the depth. They shouldn't be deeper than your fist.

"You don't want to try and chill anything in a deep container because it will be too difficult for that dish to chill quickly. Once it is cool you could put it in something deeper," she says.

In addition to using the correct storage vessel, Watson says it is important not to pack too much in the refrigerator. Allowing good air circulation will make sure the fridge isn't working too hard to keep the contents cold.

Portioning items including produce and seafood is integral to keeping items both fresh and cold.

Lino Oliviera, chef at Sabor Restaurant in Edmonton, says putting vegetables like lettuce in small breathable containers will ensure you are able to enjoy them for many days.

"Remove the produce from the original packaging, shake it out, loosen it and put some life back into it," says Oliviera. "Then put it in containers that have space and store them in the coldest part of your fridge."

When unpacking groceries Oliviera advises taking the time to handle, clean and store everything from fruit and vegetables to salmon and shrimp.

"You handle produce the same way as fish or meat," he says. "You should handle it right away and remove it from its original packaging, portion it and, with some seafood, even freeze it."

At Sabor Restaurant Oliviera deals with seafood daily, and he takes care of each piece as soon as it arrives to ensure the items he has received are fresh and that they are stored correctly.

"We make sure to store it as cold as possible without freezing it," says Oliviera. "We portion it right away if it is fish and put it in smaller containers so it gets cold quickly."

Even though Sabor doesn't often freeze its seafood, Oliviera recommends homeowners freeze fish immediately if they aren't planning to cook it right away.

"Seafood keeps really well if it is individually wrapped and frozen," he says. "I actually advise that for a lot of people, because if seafood is cut up small and wrapped tight and frozen right away, it will be fresher than the fish you have in your fridge for a couple days."