Your mother was right to nag you about keeping the refrigerator door open. Not only is it inefficient, it could be bad for you.
So mind her advice and listen to experts like Mark Thiesmeyer, a highly rated registered dietitian in Ann Arbor, Mich., to keep unsafe food away from your family.
"Your food will last longer and you'll avoid food-borne illness if you take these precautions," he says.
Cool hot foods. If you've got a big pot of chicken and dumplings, don't wait until it's cool to refrigerate, and don't put the whole pot in either. Put it in shallow containers, preferably lidded glass ones, and spread them throughout the fridge to cool quicker, Thiesmeyer says.
Keep it chilly. The refrigerator should be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or slightly below to keep the bacterial growth rate down, says Katherine Bernard of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provides consumer information on refrigeration and food safety. Some refrigerators have built-in thermometers, but for those that don't, you can purchase an appliance thermometer, which is designed for lower temperatures.
Follow storage rules. Forget the customized pockets for eggs. The best place for perishables, such as eggs and milk, is in the body of the fridge where they'll stay cooler. Save the door for dressings, condiments and other fare that don't spoil as easily.
Clean it up. If you spill something, wipe it up immediately with hot, soapy water to avoid contamination, Bernard says.
Throw food out. "Trust your gut instinct," Thiesmeyer says. If it doesn't look or smell right, toss. Don't keep raw meat and poultry in the fridge for more than one or two days.
Mind the mold. It can make some people very ill and be a sign your refrigerator has a failing seal, Thiesmeyer says. Clean it, or have someone else remove it for you if you have a mold allergy. If necessary, get the seal fixed or get a new fridge if it persists.
Use meat and crisper drawers. Keep raw meat or poultry away from cooked food and veggies to prevent potential pathogens from spreading. "That can certainly cause a food-borne illness," Bernard says.
How long is too long? In the freezer, you can safely store food for months or longer, but not in the refrigerator. Follow these USDA guidelines on maximum refrigerator storage times.
Cooked leftovers: 3 to 4 days
Ground beef, veal, pork, lamb: 1 to 2 days
Chicken, turkey: 1 to 2 days
Hot dogs, opened package: 1 week
Store-prepared or homemade macaroni salad: 3 to 5 days
Fresh fish or shellfish: 1 to 2 days
Fresh eggs in shell: 3 to 5 weeks
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