Are You Waiting Too Long To Put Your Meal Prep In The Fridge?

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Have you ever prepared food, divided it into meal prep containers, and left those meals on the counter to cool down only to forget about them for hours? You are not alone. It happened to me a few times when I was a meal prep beginner. Many years of experience later, I now know that this is not safe.

A fridge stocked with prepared meals.

As a general rule, you should store meals in the fridge within two hours of preparing them to best guarantee safety and quality for later consumption. When temperatures are above 32° C (90° F), make sure to store them in the fridge within one hour.

Not only is it important to know how long you can wait to put your meal prep in the fridge. Below, we will also address how to cool your meal prep quickly, if you don’t have time to allow it to cool on the counter. And, how to keep your meal prep cool during storage so that it remains safe to eat.

This post is all about: Are You Waiting Too Long To Put Your Meal Prep In The Fridge?

Here’s How Long You Should Wait To Put Meal Prep In The Fridge…

Room temperature, also called the temperature danger zone, is the enemy of freshly prepared meals. The temperature danger zone is between 4° C (40 °F) and 60° C (140 °F). Temperatures in this range can cause bacteria to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness, according to the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration).

As a consequence of the risks associated with storing perishable food at room temperature, you should ideally put meal prep in the fridge as soon as you finish preparing it.

But, what if you prepared cooked food? Can we put hot food in the fridge?

From a food safety perspective, you can absolutely put small amounts of hot foods, such as individually portioned meals, in the fridge immediately.

However, if you want to preserve the taste and texture of your meals, you want to consider letting them chill on the counter first.

For example, if you make a pasta bake with a crispy top, then cover it and put it in the fridge while it is still hot, the heat will cause condensation to occur on the lid of the container, which will then drip down on the topping and leave it soggy in texture.

For best results and safety measures, per the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration), you should store food in the fridge within two hours of cooling down on the counter to best guarantee safety and quality for later use. When temperatures are above 32° C (90° F), make sure to store food in the fridge within one hour.

Needless to say, if you are taking more then two hours to put your meal prep in the fridge, you are taking too long!

If you are concerned about food safety, and want to be extra quick and safe when cooling down your meal prep, these tips will help you.

Tips To Cool Meal Prep Quickly

1. Quick Cool Your Meals In An Ice Bath

Quick cooling your meals in an ice bath is a nifty trick to cool down your meals in no time. Whether you do not have the time to wait for your meals to cool down before putting them into the fridge, or you just want to be extra safe and don’t want to leave your meal prep to cool on the counter for up to two hours.

2. Stir Cooked Food Frequently

Stirring your prepared meals frequently also helps them cool down quicker. This especially works well with soups.

3. Monitor The Temperature

If you want to make sure not to leave your meal prep out of the fridge for longer then necessary, you can use a food thermometer to monitor the temperature. As soon as your thermometer hits 21 ° C (70° F), pop your meal prep in the fridge.

And if you’re interested in keeping your meal prep cool safely once you have put it in the fridge, keep reading.

How To Store Cold Meal Prep Safely

1. Check The Temperature Of Your Fridge

Aim to keep the coldest part of your fridge at or below 4° C (40° F). If your appliances don’t have a built-in thermometer, you can purchase an inexpensive appliance thermometer. Keep the fridge thermometer in the coldest part of the fridge and check the temperature regularly.

2. Don’t Pack Your Fridge Too Full

For your fridge to operate optimally, there needs to be enough cold air circulation. You thus want to make sure that you don’t pack your fridge too full, and allow the cold air to circulate.

3. Use The Top Of Your Fridge For Meal Prep

The top and middle shelf of your fridge should be reserved for ready-to-eat foods, ready meals and packaged foods, leftovers, and prepared salads. While raw food should be stored in the bottom coldest part of the fridge. In this way, harmful bacteria cannot transfer from the raw food to the cooked food.

I personally like to store meal prep on the middle shelf (second top shelf), and condiments and packaged foods on the top shelf. This because the second top shelf is a little bit colder then the top shelf, which helps meal prep last better.

4. Pack Your Lunch In A Cooler

When you transport your lunch to work, make sure to pack it in a cooler bag with an ice pack to keep your meal cold during transport.

5. Thaw Frozen Meals In The Fridge

When it comes to thawing meals, planning ahead is key! A frozen meal can take several hours to thaw in the fridge. Put the lunch you want to eat the next day in the fridge the previous night, and the dinner you want to eat the same day in the fridge on the same morning.

Avoid thawing meals on the counter. This method is not considered a safe thawing method, according to the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture).

Did you find this post helpful? Don’t forget to let me know, by leaving a comment below.

This post was all about: Are You Waiting Too Long To Put Your Meal Prep In The Fridge?

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