Decades ago, consumer associations supported the rule of thumb which said to buy small amounts and consume them quickly. But times have changed. Today, many families do the grocery shopping in another fashion: they take fewer trips to the supermarket, load their shopping carts to the brim, and store more things in the freezer.
Freezing doesn't kill the
microorganisms that invade food, it just inactivates them. In
fact, when you take food out of the refrigerator, microorganisms
start to reproduce, and only subjecting them to high heat, as
occurs in cooking, can completely destroy them.
That's why it's important to properly plan your shopping trips and take the necessary precautions when it comes to cooking.
The U.S. National Consumers League suggests that you never buy dented, broken, or dirty packages, as the food may already be contaminated. Also, it's advisable to read labels carefully because that's where you'll find the expiration date and methods for storing products.
Not all foods are the same, nor do they require the same treatment. For example, fresh fruits and vegetables have a short shelf life and should be consumed quickly. When shopping, keep in mind color, texture, and smell; these are characteristics that show the quality, freshness, and potential shelf life of products.
Red and white meats are considered to be "at high risk" because they easily allow for the growth and multiplication of contaminating microorganisms. That's why they should always be kept refrigerated.
Raw fish is a food that easily decomposes and therefore has a shorter shelf life. Before you buy fish, experts advise checking that the scales are firmly attached to the skin, the gills are red, the eyes are shiny and not sunken, and that the meat is rigid and firm.
When buying frozen food, it is recommended that you select these items last, and store them in the freezer as quickly as possible when you get home. It's important to remember that once a product defrosts, it can't be frozen again unless it's cooked prior to freezing. It's best to defrost foods inside the refrigerator instead of at room temperature. Another option is the microwave.
Also, it is a good idea to write the date when each product was
bought along with the expiration date before storing in the
freezer. In any case, if foods are kept frozen longer than the time
indicated, it doesn't mean they will present health risks. Do keep
in mind that the food’s flavor and quality won't be the same as it
was before it was frozen.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there exist various infectious or toxic diseases that occur when you consume food or water with bacteria, fungus, viruses, and parasites not visible to the naked eye. When the causes of these diseases are studied (the most common diseases are salmonella, botulism, and cholera), the number one culprit is improper defrosting.
The WHO also says that of the factors indicated in improper food handling, 56% are attributed to storing food at temperatures below what's necessary, and 31% are attributed to consuming foods after they have been sitting outside of the refrigerator for hours. That is why you need to pay attention to maintaining the "cold chain."
What does this mean? Starting from the production date to the moment of consumption, food should be properly refrigerated; products should not be exposed to temperatures higher than 41 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours.
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