Some ingredients just have to be bought regularly – you can’t stock up too far in advance on fresh foods such as fresh meat and fish, or fruit and vegetables, as they will deteriorate and lose their nutrients. Your best friend here is your fridge, which with clever planning can prolong the life of fresh foods so that you can buy them with your main shop just once a week.
The quick cook’s fridge
A well-organized fridge is essential to fuss-free cooking. When you unpack your weekly shop, it’s worth taking the time to position items in your fridge according to where they will keep best and how often you need access to them. Put raw meat or fish on the bottom shelf, separated from cooked food, to avoid any risk of contamination. Keep dairy products on one shelf, sauces on another, salads and vegetables in the drawers and all the condiments together, with their labels showing.
Milk and fruit juices or smoothies are frequently used items, so store them in a handy position in the fridge – the door is a good place. Arrange it so that cartons with the earliest use-by dates are reached first.
Butter and/or margarine should also be stored by date.
Cheeses need to be stored in the warmest part of the fridge – at the top, in a door shelf if you have room. Keep them covered in a plastic container or wrapped in greaseproof paper or foil – avoid cling film as it encourages a damp surface, and chemicals in the film may transfer to the cheese.
Cream (or crème fraîche, sour cream) and yogurts should be kept covered and used by the use-by date.
Eggs should be kept in their boxes near to the top of the fridge or in the egg holders in the door. As for milk, store eggs in date order.
Tofu should be stored with the cheeses.
Vegetables and salads
Keep a selection of fresh vegetables and salad stuffs in the bottom of the fridge in the vegetable and salad drawers. If you find you are short of space, they can be stored in plastic bags in the main part of the fridge, but away from raw foods. Avoid the cold spots in the fridge such as the freezing compartment or the cold plate at the back of a larder fridge; if ice crystals form in foods such as salad vegetables, they will be unusable and will have to be thrown away.
Fresh herbs, unless pot-grown or picked from the garden, should be stored in the salad drawer. Wrap fresh root ginger in cling film or freeze it.
It’s best to eat fresh fish on the day you buy it, but if this is not possible, remove the packaging as soon as you get home, wipe the fish with a clean damp cloth, place on a plate and cover with cling film. Store it at the bottom of the fridge, ideally for no more than 24 hours.
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It is essential to put fresh meats straight into the fridge as soon as you return from shopping. Keep them in their sealed packs or put unpacked meat on a plate and wrap in cling film. Make sure that raw meats are kept away from cooked food.
Bacon should be stored with the raw meats. Sliced cooked meats, such as ham and salami, must be stored away from raw meats. Once opened, bacon and cooked meats should be placed in a sealed container and used within a few days.
How long does fresh food keep?
Most items you buy from a supermarket for storage in the fridge will have a use-by date. If you are buying locally, ask your shopkeeper how long items can be kept before using. If you are unsure, here are some general guidelines.
Fish two days; meat, sausages and poultry three days; bacon one week; green vegetables, salad and soft fruits two to three days; cheese, eggs and milk up to one week.
Deli meats and fish one week; casseroles, curries and stews two to three days; cooked vegetables one to two days; cooked pasta or grains one to two days. Leftovers can be covered and kept in the fridge for a day or two – it’s often worth cooking a bit extra for another quick meal.
Take special care with cooked rice
Rice may seem innocent but it is potentially dangerous, as harmful bacteria can form, so it can be kept in the fridge for only one or at most two days.
The correct container
Cans rust in the fridge, so transfer food from opened cans to sealed plastic containers before putting them into the fridge. Sauces in jars and tubes (such as mayonnaise, pesto, curry paste, horseradish, tomato purée and garlic paste) can be stored in the cupboard until they are opened, but then need to be kept chilled and used before the use-by date.
When not to use the fridge
Some foods should be stored at room temperature: tomatoes to develop their flavor; avocados to ripen properly; onions, potatoes and root vegetables (best stored in a vegetable rack in a cool, preferably dark, place); and most fruit, except berries (bananas will go black if stored in the fridge).