The University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension Service is warning consumers not to store perishable foods outdoors this winter.
Extremely cold weather is hitting large parts of the northern United States this week, and despite the weather below freezing, it is best to store food in the refrigerator or freezer.
The Nebraska Extension Service encourages consumers to understand the potential health risks of improper refrigeration of food to be eaten later. There are true risks when storing food in unconventional methods.
Cooling is essential
Perishable foods such as meat, eggs, dairy products, cut fruits and vegetables aand residues are stored in the refrigerator to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Cooling also extends the shelf life of other products, such as spices, and makes durable beverages more refreshing.
Refrigerators and freezers are a controlled and protected environment for food. These appliances maintain a constant temperature, which best protects the food. Cold food should stay cold.
Bacteria grow and multiply rapidly in food when the temperature rises above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Although outdoor temperatures do not rise above 40 degrees F, there is a danger that food will not remain cold enough to be safe. When bacteria are active in food, their growth compromises food safety.
Leave food outdoors
As those in the north know, outdoor temperatures can fluctuate greatly, often above and below 40 degrees F day to day or overnight. Storing perishable foods placed outdoors, in a garage, on a balcony or patio exposes them to these fluctuating temperatures.
Allowing food to be stored at inconsistent temperatures increases the risk of foodborne illness when food is later ingested. Sunlight poses another threat to the safe maintenance of food temperature control, especially on a patio or balcony. Just because it can feel “cold” outside does not guarantee that the temperature is in the correct safe area for food storage.
If a container of food is placed on an unclean surface, such as the floor of a porch, this contamination can be brought back into the kitchen when the food container is placed on the table.
Outdoors, hungry, curious dogs, cats, squirrels, birds, rodents and other wildlife can be attracted to the smell of food. If animals crawl on top of containers – even if they do not open or eat food – it can become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or physical debris when opened inside the house.
Food stored in the garage
Food stored in a garage is also problematic. Food can be contaminated by fumes from cars, trucks and snow throwers, temperatures still fluctuate and animals still have access to it. The unhygienic nature of a garage provides additional opportunities for contamination if food is stored near liquids or comes in contact with dust and winter dirt.
Because of these concerns, everything perishable should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer instead of outside, no matter how cold it is. More than anything else, it’s just not worth the potential risk.
Finally, the Nebraska Extension Service says not to compromise when it comes to cooling and storing food safely.
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