Living alone and working doesn’t leave you much time for personal work, let alone taking a look at your kitchen. While most of us eat out, some prefer keeping stock at home that is easy on their pocket and tummy. However, food items stored for long periods need preservation.
The Art of Preserving Food at Home
While preserving vegetables in the refrigerator, 30-year old Lekha Limbu, an instructional designer in Pune suggests, “Ensure the veggies are moisture-free before placing them in the fridge. For a longer duration, take them out once in three to four days and dry them with a cloth.” To save time, buy pre-cut vegetable packs that are easily available in supermarkets.
When you buy beans, lady’s finger, brinjal, etc., place them in the sink under running water and wash off the dirt by rubbing them thoroughly. Then dry them with a clean cloth, or leave them in a basket to dry on their own. Place all sets of vegetables separately in packets before placing them in the vegetable tray.
To preserve freshly cut fish, chicken or meat, put it in a large bowl of water and wash every piece individually under the tap ensuring all waste material is washed off. After cleaning fish, apply salt and turmeric (this acts as a preservative) and place them in portions in the freezer.
Chicken and meat too, after cleaning, can be placed in packets and stored in the freezer. For packed meats and chicken, clean the packs from the outside before placing them in the freezer. It is advisable to consume all non-vegetarian items within a week of purchase and storage.
Food handling at home
Anuj Gemawat, a 26-year old Bangalore-based hotel management graduate and hotelier, has some basic food handling hygiene tips.
Keep unclean food separate from cooked/cleaned food. When cleaning any food item, meat or dishes, ensure it is done away from the cooking area and a dustbin is kept handy to dispose waste immediately. Sanitise this area after every use, especially after cleaning meat products.
Store cooked articles above uncooked ones. Remember to cover all food in the refrigerator in order to stop the aroma from escaping.
Use a clean bowl for marinating meats. Once mixed, never leave the meat open. Cover it with a cling wrap and set aside for marinating.
Never leave any food waste strewn around. Garbage must be collected in a bag and taken out once or twice a day.
v. Detecting the freshness of food
Every food item displays a unique characteristic of getting spoilt. Generally, leaving food out in the open at room temperature overnight is a sure way to spoil it. “To keep hot food in temperatures of over 63 degrees C and cold food frozen below 4 degrees C is the best way to preserve it,” says Gemawat.
If the food is moulding (attacked by fungus), lumpy (curdling) or smelly (rotting), it is clear that it is spoilt. In general, one is mostly able to distinguish spoilt food using a combination of senses smell, taste, touch, sight and even experience. Never consume such products or give them to someone else to consume. Dispose of such food immediately and clean the utensil in which it was kept.
Limbu checks for the expiry date on packaged or tinned products, and the appearance and smell of baked goods and milk products. She also tries a simple experiment at home, where she places eggs in a bowl of water any egg that floats is the rotten one. Fruit juices that coagulate, puffy juice packets, cooked vegetables that let out a yucky smell and look sticky, and curd that smells foul or coagulates are what she discards as waste.
Bharti Danu, a 30-year old schoolteacher in Mumbai, usually buys stocks of vegetables for a week at a time. The simple storage solution she offers is that one should keep all masalas, pulses, maida, etc. in the freezer, as chances of pulses and flour getting attacked by insects are higher in humid cities like Mumbai. She also uses Ziploc packets that are easily available in most supermarkets to store veggies in the fridge.
30-year old Naina Dey, a professor in Kolkata, offers a checklist on detecting spoilt food:
a) Milk Curdles
b) Curd Tastes rancid
c) Cooked vegetables Smells rotten
d) Cooked fish Stinks
e) Cooked meat and chicken Stinks
f) Fruit juice Tastes rancid
Nutritional value of stored food
“Cooked food is meant to be consumed within 24 hours of preparation or, at best, stretched to a day later, if refrigerated properly. Raw vegetables, however, will always have the same nutritional value as when fresh, till the time they start rotting,” says Gemawat. The nutritional value of food is lost by cooking methods such as boiling, frying, etc., not by storing it.
He further adds that one should never stockpile things in a kitchen just because the prices were a bargain. Today, almost every suburb has a good departmental store, which provides fresh veggies, and meat too is easily available. “You could even use grocery shopping as a means of exercise by walking to your store and back regularly.”
Cooking better and faster
Healthy cooking is food that is oven-baked or pressure-cooked. Boiling or frying makes food more tasty, but rids it of nutrients, making it less healthy. For a quick, tasty meal, pressure-cooking is the way to go.
Easy home tips
- Tip 1: Before keeping green chillies in the fridge, remove their stems. This will keep them fresh for longer.
- Tip 2: Beans have a tendency to have fungal growth on them, if they aren’t washed and dried properly before placing them in the fridge.
- Tip 3: Don’t throw away milk packets. They are the best food grade packets to store fish, chicken or meat in portions.
- Tip 4: Prepare cotton bags out of cloth pieces or pillow covers. These keep leafy vegetables fresh for a long time.
- Tip 5: Place vegetables and fruits in separate bags in the fridge, as fruits emit ethylene gas which, in turn, causes vegetables to yellow.
- Tip 6: If you plan on storing eggs for more than a month, apply cooking oil with a brush on the egg shells; this will prevent the eggs from rotting sooner.
- Tip 7: To preserve paneer for a longer time, cover it up with blotting paper and keep it in the fridge.
- Tip 8: Never keep any cooked food outside for more than two hours, refrigerate as soon as it cools down. In case of thawing, never prolong it for more than two hours. If you have a microwave oven, thaw it immediately just before cooking or sitting down to eat.
- Tip 9: Store fruit such as grapes in perforated packets in the fridge. Fruits such as bananas, melons, plums, etc. can be refrigerated after they have ripened in order to extend their shelf life by a day or two.
- Tip 10: Packets used for breads are food grade packs that can be used to store lemons and chillies in the fridge. In fact, storing fresh coriander leaves in packets and curry leaves in newspapers keeps them fresh longer.
For Rediff.com, 27th October, 2006.