The Rules of Food Storage

August 05, 2015

Many people throw out the food they buy due to spoilage. The Rules of Food Storage are simple and help minimize many risks associated with contamination and decomposition. The following rules of safe food storage have two purposes:

  1. To prevent contamination of foods
  2. To prevent growth of bacteria that may already be in foods

Temperature control is an important part of food storage. Perishable foods must be kept out of the Food Danger Zone – 41° F to 135° F (5° C to 57° C) – as much as possible, because these temperatures support bacterial growth.


Food is handled in many stages between the time it is cooked or prepared for consumption and the time it is finally served. During each stage, food might be allowed to remain in the Food Danger Zone for a time. To protect food and keep it safe, follow the four-hour rule: Do not let food remain in the Food Danger Zone for cumulative total of more than 4 hours between cooking/preparation and serving.


Dry food storage pertains to those foods not likely to support bacterial growth in their normal state. These foods include


Sugar and salt

Cereals, rice and other grains

Dried beans and peas

Ready-prepared cereals

Breads and crackers

Oils and shortenings

Canned and bottled foods (unopened)

  1. Store dry foods in cool, dry, off the floor, away from the wall, and not under a sewer line.
  2. Keep all containers tightly closed to protect from insects, rodents, and dust. Dry foods can be contaminated, even if they don’t need refrigeration.


  1. Keep frozen at 0° F (-18° C) or lower.
  2. Keep all frozen foods tightly wrapped or packaged to prevent freezer burn.
  3. Label and date all items
  4. Thaw frozen foods properly. Do not thaw at room temperature, because the surface temperature will go above 41° F (5° C) before the inside is thawed, resulting in bacterial growth. These methods may be used:
  • In refrigerator
  • Under cold running water
  • In a microwave oven, if the item is to be cooked or served immediately


  1. Keep all perishable foods properly refrigerated. Note that the lower limit of the Food Danger Zone (41° F/5° C) is only the upper limit for refrigerator storage. Most foods keep even better at lower temperatures. The major exception is fresh fruits and vegetables, which are not considered potentially hazardous foods.
  1. Do not crowd refrigerators. Leave space between items so cold air can circulate.
  1. Keep refrigerator doors shut except when removing or putting in foods.
  1. Keep shelves and interiors of refrigerators clean.
  1. Store raw and cooked items separately it possible.
  1. If raw and cooked foods must be kept in the same refrigerator, keep cooked foods above raw foods. If cooked foods are kept below raw foods, they can become contaminated by drips and spills. Then, if they are not to be cooked again before serving, they may be hazardous.
  1. Keep refrigerated foods wrapped or covered and in sanitary containers.
  1. Do not let any unsanitary surface, such as the bottoms of other containers touch any food.


  1. To keep foods hot for service, use steam tables or other equipment that will keep all parts of all foods above 135° F (57° C) at all times.
  1. Keep foods covered.
  1. Bring foods to holding temperature as quickly as possible by using ovens or other cooking equipment. Do not warm cold foods by placing them directly in a steam table because they will take too long to heat, and bacteria will have time to grow.
  1. Do not let ready-to-eat foods come in contact with any contaminated surface.

Lastly, only eat fresh and healthy foods. Always keep cooked foods out of the danger before consumption. Keep food covered at all times to avoid contamination.

Reference: Gisslen, W. (2007) Professional Cooking (6th ed.) Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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