What Is Perishable Food? – Making it last

Defining Perishable Food

Storing of perishable food is a topic that requires up to date knowledge, which is what I propose to deliver in this article.

You maybe asking “What is perishable food?” In a nutshell, it is food that is normally stored in a refrigerator and includes:-

  • Fresh meat
  • Raw fruit and vegetables (NB – there are fruits and vegetables which will store well in cool places)
  • All cooked food
  • Food that was purchased from refrigerated respositories of retail outlets.
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Eggs

The Difference

In comparison, semi-perishable food does not need to be stored in a refrigerator and includes – flour, dry mixtures, grain products and dried fruits. If these foods are left unopened and are stored properly, they can keep unspoiled, way past their use by date.

On the other hand non-perishable food such as – canned food, sugar, dried beans, spices etc. Will keep in ideal temperatures for long periods unless mishandled but the quality of the product will tend to deteriorate if stored for excessive periods of time.

Storing Perishable Food

As our topic of interest is the perishable food its important to know how to store it. To do that we need to look at the appliance responsible for maintaining the condition of this type of food. That appliance being the refrigerator/Freezer.

The benefit of refrigeration is that its low temperatures combat two main causes of food spoilage.

1. Microorganisms – The type of microorganisms that cause illnesses are called ‘Pathogenic Microorganisms’. These bacteria do not grow well at refrigerator or freezer temperatures. Bear in mind these microorganisms do not necessarily cause any change in odour, appearance or taste.

On the other hand, ‘Spoilage Microorganisms’ are a bacteria that will cause a food product to become unsightly and possibly have a dreadful smell. Refrigeration will greatly slow this natural process.

2. Enzymes – Enzymes are the medium which causes the ripening of fruits and vegetables. When a food product over ripens, not only does the colour change but so does the texture. Refrigeration will slow down this process.

Both Microorganisms and Enzymes take time to develop. Therefore, to avoid long-term storage, its advisable to only purchase quantities of food for short term needs.

Over the decades the humble refrigerator has undergone dramatic changes. Having been a domestic refrigeration serviceman for a good number of years, I have witnessed a vast improvement in the cooling effectiveness of refrigerators.

No longer do we have to be measuring the temperature of individual shelves to find the appropriate temperature for the food we want to store. These days, due to advanced technology, the temperature inside the fridge section is usually consistent throughout the entire cavity.

To Maximise Shelf Life

To enable your refrigerator to work efficiently and effectively, so that your perishable food receives maxium preservation, keep these tips in mind.

  • Allow enough space around the outside of the fridge for air circulation. A minium of 50mm (or 2 inches) is adequate.
  • Avoid stacking items on top of your fridge that will restrict air circulation.
  • Ensure your fridge is located on an even floor surface. An uneven floor surface could cause the fridge door to sit crookedly.
  • Ensure there is enough room to open and close the door. This will avoid damage to the fridge door as well as any other objects in the door’s path.
  • Also ensure there is enough room in front of the fridge for maintenance purposes. If your fridge sits in a cavity, a technician may need to pull the unit out in order to get to the rear of it. Which is the case in 70-80% of service calls.
  • If your fridge is not an automatic defrost model, make sure you defrost it regularly to avoid ice build up which in turn will cause the fridge to operate inefficiently. As a guide, once a build up of 6mm (1/4 inch) of ice is apparent in the freezer, its time to do a defrost.
  • Its important the door seal is doing its job. Simply locating the centre of a dollar note (or equivalent) between the door seal and the body of the fridge (with the door closed), then gently pulling the note toward you will indicate the effectiveness of the seal. Ideally, there should be an amount of firm (but not restrictive) resistance. If there is no resistance it indicates a problem with the door seal.
  • Also ensure the door seal is clean. A build up of grime on the seal will, over time, cause the seal to harden, which in turn will cause sealing problems.
  • If you notice any spoiled food in the fridge remove and dispose of it so that it doesn’t contaminate other food products.
  • When storing products in your fridge, ensure there is spacing around each product. This will avoid bacteria build up between the products.
  • Periodically check the shelf temperature. A refrigerator thermometer (readily purchased from kitchen outlets, hardware stores etc) will enable you to ensure the fridge temperature is ideally set at 4C – 5C (39F – 41F). The recommended temperature for a freezer is -17.5C (0F) or below.
  • The temperature of your fridge cabinet will affect your storage time so bear in m  nd the higher the temperature the faster your food will deteriorate.

Refrigerating Perishable Food

The following is a guide for domestic refrigeration of popular 

perishable products if stored properly. This guide will be

affected by the freshness of the food at the time of purchase.

Product                                              Refrigerator

Butter                                                      2 -3 weeks

Cheese                                                     3 – 8 weeks

Milk                                                         1 week

Citrus fruits                                           3 – 4 weeks

Apples                                                     4 weeks

Pineapple                                                7 days

Grapes                                                     2 -3 weeks

Brocoli, beans, peas, mushrooms      3 – 5 days

Cauliflower, lettuce, tomatoes            5 – 7 days

Seafood                                                    2 – 3 days

Cooked meat                                          3 – 4 days

Uncooked meat                                     4 – 5 days

Bacon                                                      7 days

Eggs                                                        3 – 4 weeks
Poultry                                                   1  – 2  days

Reduce Waste

An important consideration of knowing the type of food you are storing is to be able to store it for maxium life. My intention here has been to give you a basic understanding of this process so that your shopping decisions will produce the best outcomes both health wise and economically.

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6 thoughts on “What Is Perishable Food? – Making it last

  1. Proper storage of perishable food will save you money and allow you to reduce waste. The items will also maintain their nutritional value longer and they will taste better too. These are just a few reasons to check your freezer and refrigerator to make sure the proper temps are set.

    I advise also getting a thermometer for the storage areas too, as these will be more accurate than any dials you may have to set temperatures. They are relatively cheap and will help get the right temperatures. The way you store the items is also important.

    Food waste is something that we have gotten used to in the developed world, but when you look at the amounts of food that are thrown away due to improper storage is huge and could feed a lot of people in places that do not have adequate food. Personally, I will do my part, not knowing how it affects the big picture. If we all did this, it would be better. Good post and useful information, thanks! 

  2. One of the major reasons that makes me to eat unhealthy is as a result of not being able to store my perishable fresh foods or ingredients. It’s annoying to see my food stuffs wasting because I just couldn’t make them last for long. Reading through this post, I have been enlightened on my mistakes and exactly the things I need to do more in order to make my food last especially through fridge storage. Thanks so much for this post

    1. Its a pleasure to have been able to offer you those tips RoDarrick. I’m not longer in the refrigeration servicing business but I can assure you food waste is a common problem but in the long run I believe unhealthy eating costs a lot more.

      Have a great week


  3. Hello Chris,  

    Thanks for your article.  

    I have enjoyed cooking for many years now and am always trying and learning new tricks.  

    It is good to be reminded of the guidelines for storing perishable foods.  I have had many an instance of having perishable food items stored in my refrigerator and forgetting about them, only to come back to an unpleasant discovery.  

    What I have been striving to do as of late is to only purchase for my immediate needs.  This helps the food items to remain fresh, and tends to eliminate unnecessary waste.   

    There are some food items however that this is just not possible to do so for; so I would like to ask if you have any ideas for solving the problem with these items.  

    Fresh Parmesan Cheese:  I like to add it to my pasta dishes.  I purchase it from our local supermarket in a block.  I store it in the refrigerator but notice that after a few months or so, mold starts to form.  Maybe how I am storing it is the issue… I cut only what I will use in one setting, and wrap the remaining cheese in clear plastic using rubber bands, and store in a plastic zip-lock bag.  

    Salsa:  Although the “best before date” is generally a year or so out, I sometimes notice that before I can get through the entire jar that mold has formed inside (also on the inside of the jar’s lid).  It pains me to have to throw the remaining salsa out… I have decided as of late to purchase smaller jars even if it comes at a higher price in relation to the quantity that I am getting.    

    Thanks again for your engaging post.  

    All the best to you.  

    1. Thanks for your reply Whunni,

      I can identify with your unpleasant surprises, its a problem I use to have a lot of but I’ve learned since to monitor how long I’ve had certain foods for and it’s not so much of a problem now.

      Regarding the cheese and Salsa, I don’t really have that issue. I don’t eat Salsa and as a cheese lover I tend to consume a block each week (sandwiches & salads) but it seems to me you are using good wisdom to overcome the deterioration you’re experiencing. Good luck with that

      All the best for your future


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