Proper Refrigeration Techniques
The other day I learned this term known in the food technology world as the "chilling injury." To me, this term means too cold of whether causes physical damage, as is evidenced by my frostbitten toes from a cold winter's night last year. But that is another story. This type of "chilling injury" is actually a type of food damage caused when food is incorrectly stored in the fridge at a temperature that decreases the nutrient value, appearance, or quality of the food. Surprisingly, there are many foods that actually store better outside of the refrigerator. There are also foods that should be stored in cool environments but need to be tightly covered. Then there are the foods that should be frozen and then allowed to properly thaw in the fridge.
Have you ever cooked or eaten a potato that has been stored in the refrigerator? If you have, you may have noticed a sweeter taste to it. Potatoes are meant to be stored at a temperature of 42°F and the typical fridge is set at about 40°F. By storing potatoes in your fridge, you are actually causing the starches to break down into sweeter sugar molecules. This means that if you cut a refrigerated potato into slices and try to make fries, the sugar will cause your fries to turn black. Other foods that are better when not refrigerated include bananas, tomatoes that are not ripe, cucumbers, melons and oranges. Too cold of temperatures can actually speed the decay process for cucumbers and fresh green beans and cause brown pits in the cucumbers, melons and oranges. Other symptoms of chilling injury include surface and internal discoloration, uneven ripening or failure to ripen, and surface mold and decay.
As everyone knows, leftover cooked meals should also go into the refrigerator. But make sure to tightly cover them. Some foods, such as onions, fish and Chinese food have a known tendency for flavoring all the nearby foods. Transferring of strong odors is a big concern for many. Dairy is known for its ability to absorb the scents from its environment. So unless you want your milk to taste like orange chicken or sautéed onion, make sure to tightly cover that Chinese food. Or if you don't want your cheese to take on a salmon tint, be sure to wrap up that filet. There are also some foods that should not be stored near each other. On many fridges, there are drawers labeled "produce." All of your produce should not be placed in this drawer. It is generally a bad idea to place citrus fruits and other fruits in the same drawer as well. If you store your apples and lemons in the same drawer, do not be surprised when bite into your apple and taste a little bit of a sour sensation.
In addition to not storing foods susceptible to the chilling injury in the fridge and tightly wrapping foods that have a high tendency for flavor transference, food should also be thawed correctly in the fridge. Thanksgiving is not very far away and it is important to remember that thawing the turkey the best way, in the refrigerator, is the surest way to promote a high quality, safe turkey, even though it takes the longest time out of all the thawing methods. Remember not to thaw your Thanksgiving turkey on the counter. According to Nutrition Food Science Professor Karin Allen, at Utah State University, "Room temperature thawing is a pretty slow method for thawing, so you may think it preserves the food's quality, but room temperature is the exact environment bacteria need to settle and reproduce. And this thawing method is absolutely unacceptable."
The refrigerator is a wonderful asset in today's society, if you ask me. We can keep the majority of our foods fresh by storing them in the fridge. It is a convenient method of storage and one of the safest for the majority of foods. And remember, nobody would like to sustain a "chilling injury," so get those potatoes out of your fridge today and do not make them endure another cold minute—I know I certainly would not want to!
Courtney Lewis attends Utah State University and is a
writer for http://www.sweetlyyou.com where you can create unique, customized bath and body gift sets.