How to store food in the fridge

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Commercial caterers and chefs have a legal obligation to protect their customers against food hygiene issues. Food must be separated appropriately and handled correctly to prevent bacteria from growing and avoid cross-contamination. This is especially important when displaying food in a buffet display where external parties may be touching the food. Not only do correct food hygiene procedures save time, but they also reduce the time and cost incurred from wasted food produce. 

So, if your work involves operating a kitchen, read our guide for advice on storing food in a commercial refrigerator. 

Preparing food stock for the fridge

To begin, your food should be purchased from trusted suppliers. It is crucial to ensure your produce was kept at the correct temperature whilst being transported and did not suffer any damage. Examine your food delivery for expiry dates, damage and mould before you place any items in the fridge. This will aid in double-checking for faulty products which could contaminate your refrigerator. 

Packing your stock properly

It is a legal requirement in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for chilled food to be kept at 8°C or below. To ensure your food does not fall below this, you can set your refrigerator to 4-5°C. When your chilled food arrives, it must be transferred to the fridge as soon as possible. Chilled food can, for up to four hours, remain outside of the refrigerator before it must be thrown away. This four hour period can only happen on one occasion, so it is crucial to pack your stock away as soon as it arrives.

Once you have opened your produce, the quality of the food will deteriorate quicker since the packaging is in place to prolong its shelf life. To maximise the period once it has been opened, we recommend properly wrapping the food before placing it back in storage. The most bacteria-proof way to store opened food is with vacuum-packing, a method which removes air exposure. Alternative options include using foil or cling film and seal-proof containers. If your food is stored in a servover counter, make sure to keep the labels and expiry information to hand if you cannot place it inside the fridge. 

Where food should be stored in a fridge

Raw and ready to eat foods require separate organisation within your fridge. Ideally, these items would be placed in separate commercial freezers to minimise the risk of cross-contamination. However, if this is not possible, you can follow these simple steps on where to place your food in the fridge

  • Top shelf: ready to dairy products e.g. yoghurt and cream
  • Shelf 2: ready to eat cooked meats, leftover cooked food and other packaged food products. Food on this shelf must be kept in sealed containers or covered and NOT on the same shelf as raw products. 
  • Shelf 3: raw meat. If you do not have a secondary fridge for raw meat, you should place your raw meat close to the bottom of the fridge. Poultry and fish should be in sealed containers to prevent any dripping onto other food. 
  • Bottom shelf: ready to eat fruit and veg should be stored at the bottom of the shelf, in sealed bags to prevent contamination. 

Rotating food with FIFO system

Commercial food usually follows a “first-in, first-out” process of rotation, allowing food items to be used before reaching the end of their life. Through this process, the oldest acceptable food is used first to ensure your business can be as cost-efficient as possible. To ensure you do not serve food out of date, we recommend labelling your stock with the date of purchase and use-by date. This will combat against using hazardous food.

Difference between use by and best by

A use-by date is in place to show when food unfit for consumption. Once an item of food passed its use-by date, it should be thrown away and is not suitable to serve to customers. Use-by dates on fresh food packages do not apply once the food has been cooked, since cooking the food will kill any bacteria growing. If your stock of fresh food is close to its use-by date, you have the option to cook and then chill the food down if you wish to prevent throwing it away. 

A best-by date, different to a use-by, is in place to notify consumers of when food may begin to lose quality. This does not mean it is unsafe to eat, but simply that it is past the point at which it was at its highest quality. 

If your food stock is nearing the end of its use-by date, you can also place most items in your commercial freezer. This must be done before the use-by date and eaten within the maximum frozen storage time detailed on the food packaging. Remember, once the food has been defrosted, it must be eaten within 24 hours. 

Storing Food in the Fridge FAQ’s

We’ve compiled a detailed guide on how to store food in your commercial refrigerator, giving you all the help you need to stay in line with regulations. 
If you have any food specific worries, check out our commonly asked questions:

How long can you keep cooked chicken in the fridge?

Cooked chicken is safe to be refrigerated for 3-4 days at the most. However, nuggets and patties will only last 1-2 days so adjustments for these chicken types must be made accordingly. 

How long does cooked turkey last in the fridge?

Whilst raw turkey can be kept in the fridge for one to two days, the rules of cooked turkey differ. Cooked turkey is safe to store in the fridge for up to 3-4 days at the most. Once you have finished eating the turkey, begin the cooling process at room temperature as soon as possible. After the turkey is cool, simply cover it and place it in the fridge, remembering to place it on a separate higher shelf than any raw meat. 

How long does pasta last in the fridge 

Cooked pasta which has been properly stored and cooked will last for 3-5 days in a refrigerator. If you wish to maximise the shelf life of your pasta, we recommend placing it into an airtight container once cooled. This container will maintain the pasta for longer inside the fridge. 

How long can you keep rice in the fridge

Rice should be kept in the fridge for no more than 1 day before reheating it. Despite rumours suggesting cooked rice can be cooled and kept in the fridge for 4-6 days, Fridgesmart can confirm 1 day is the limit for cooked rice. Rice should be served as soon as it has been cooked and should not be reheated more than once. 

How long does cooked pork last in the fridge

Cooked pork can be stored in a refrigerator for 3-4 days at the most. To maximise the shelf life of the cooked pork, place it in a shallow airtight container or wrap it tightly with cling film or tin foil.

How long do eggs last in the fridge

Fresh eggshells should be used no later than their best before date, even if they are stored in the fridge. Hardboiled eggs should be used within a week of storing, and leftover yolks or whites within 2-4 days. Lastly, prepared egg dishes should be stored in the fridge for no longer than 3-4 days, whereas pickled eggs can last up to a month. 

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