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  • Writer's pictureJolanta Nowobilski

Meal Prep & Food Safety

Food safety is probably the least sexy topic in nutrition, but it is an important one. Especially with concerns about the pandemic, potential foodborne illness needs to be one less thing we should worry about. Another great thing about practicing food safety is that it reduces food waste and can save you money in the long run.

The "Sniff Test"

Ah. The good ol' reliable sniff test...or is it? You cannot taste or smell bacteria on your food, so the sniff test isn't the best way to determine if your food is still safe for consumption [1].

While refrigeration is a great way to store leftovers, it does not completely eliminate the chance for bacterial growth during storage. This is why labeling your foods plays an important role in keeping your food safe.

However, if you smell your food and it smells off, it is better to be safe than sorry, so toss it.

Storage Time

It is recommended by the USDA that fully prepared food does not last in the fridge longer than 4 days [2]. Bacteria that may not have been killed in the cooking process can continue to grow in the fridge.

If you have more food than you can consume in four days, consider putting the extra in the freezer. If you do this it is safer to put the food in the freezer as soon as possible, so there is less of a chance for bacteria to develop.

For frozen food, the general rule of thumb is that it will last for 3 months before freezer burn occurs. In terms of food safety, frozen food stored below 0F can be kept indefinitely without worry of pathogen growth [3].


Labeling is a great way to keep track of what foods or meals need to be used up, especially if you don't have set days of the week that you cook.

It is recommended that your label includes: the name of the food in the container, the date it was made, and the last day to eat the food [4].

There are a few ways to label your containers. One way is with masking tape and a marker. A low waste option, if you have glass containers, is to write in the glass with grease pencils on the side of the container where it won't be wiped away. Grease pencils are commonly found in art supply stores [5].

Fridge vs. Freezer

Utilizing both the fridge and the freezer is great for meal prep. Some foods are better suited for one over the other.

Some people prefer to store their food in the fridge for better food texture. Others prefer storing their foods in the freezer because their food will last longer and they will worry less if they don't eat their food that week. Both points are valid.

You can use a combination of these strategies to find a happy balance.

Partial Cooking

It is unsafe to raise food to a temperature that is still in the danger zone (between 40F and 140F or C and C) or not fully cook the food to its minimum internal temperature and then cool it to below the danger zone. This allows for exponential growth of bacteria that cannot be remedied by a second cooking (even to recommended temperatures).

However, it is safe to start the cooking process of meat or poultry in the microwave or on the stove and immediately finish the cooking process on a hot grill [6].

It is also safe to fully cook an ingredient to use in different ways throughout the next four days after cooking. For example, it is safe to cook a batch of ground beef to its minimum internal temperature, then cool it in the fridge, and reheat it in different dishes like chili or a casserole within four days of cooking that batch of ground beef.

Cool Down

Cooling down large volumes of food can be tricky. It is recommended that foods be cooled from 135F to 35F within two hours.

For a quick cool down, prepare an ice bath to put your meals in before storing in the fridge or freezer. It is easier to cool down foods in smaller batches than one large batch. [7]


[1] USDA

[2] USDA

[3] USDA

[6] USDA

[7] USDA

[8] USDA

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