The primary function of any catering refrigeration unit is to keep temperatures constantly low in order to slow down the rate at which mould and bacteria proliferate, and thereby increase the length of time that food is edible. Getting this right can mean the difference between a business thriving or going under, due food spoilage. So just what is the optimum temperature at which to store your food items, to best prolong their shelf life?
The ideal temperature at which to prolong the life of fresh food is widely agreed to be 3°C. Between 0°C and 4°C is acceptable, but ensure temperatures don’t fall above or below this point. However, some foodstuffs can be damaged if they are stored at these lower temperatures. Lettuce is a good example of this. Because of the high water content of lettuce, they are fragile and freeze easily. The best way to ensure your refrigerator is working at the optimum temperature is to use a good quality fridge thermometer, and check it regularly.
Refrigeration at 3°C is not the key to all fresh food longevity. Cucumber is a perfect example of a foodstuff that cannot be stored at a normal fridge temperature, if you want to optimise its shelf life. The perfect temperature to keep a cucumber is at 12-13°C, so to keep yours from going mushy, store it wrapped in a tea towel or cloth. Tomatoes should not be refrigerated at all, as they will deteriorate quickly. Onions and garlic should not be refrigerated, because they need plenty of air circulating around them. Keep onions in their mesh bag. Potatoes will have their flavour impaired by refrigeration. Store in the pantry in low light. Bread and coffee should also be left out of the fridge.
Special Storage Needs
Keeping foods fresher longer is not always a question of temperature. Lettuce will last longer if it is kept moist, whereas mushrooms will quickly go slimy if they are in a moist environment. Store mushrooms in the refrigerator, but wrap them in a paper towel to keep them dry. Lettuce is best stored in a plastic bag, with air holes in order to keep it fresher for longer.
Remember, the best temperature to keep a majority of food fresh and safe for the longest time is 3°C. If your food is spoiling after less than three day in the fridge, check the temperature with a thermometer. Don’t take risks with food safety. Salmonella and Listeria can be fatal.