Can you safely store perishable food outside during winter months?

Bad idea to store perishable food outdoors.

It is best to stick with the freezer for preserving your foods at a consistent temperature in the winter.
It is best to stick with the freezer for preserving your foods at a consistent temperature in the winter.

Hosting a large party at your home means menu planning, shopping, cooking and storing food – safely. Hosting a large group of people increases the need for refrigerator space to store food at the recommended temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or under. If guests also arrive with dishes of food, the capacity to safely store perishable foods before and after the big meal becomes an important consideration.

So what is a host to do when the fridge is full and leftovers abound? During the winter months when outdoor temperatures are low, the idea of storing some foods outdoors may be a common practice, or at least a logical option. Michigan State University Extension urges you to understand the potential health risks of improperly chilling food which is to be eaten later. There are true risks for you and your guests when food is stored in unconventional methods.

A refrigerator and freezer provide a controlled, protective environment for foods. These appliances maintain a constant temperature which protects food best. Cold food needs to stay cold. Bacteria begins to grow and multiply quickly in food when temperatures rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When bacteria are active in food their growth compromises the food safety. However, the appearance, smell or taste of food may not be altered initially, even when bacteria are increasing. Some refrigerated foods will be reheated and others will not. Regardless, all foods need to be chilled at a consistent cold temperature to ensure safety. The refrigerator is the only safe option.

Storing perishable foods placed outdoors, in a garage, on a balcony or patio exposes them to fluctuating temperatures. Allowing food to be held at inconsistent temperatures increases the risk of foodborne illness when food is later consumed. Sun light possesses another threat to safely maintain temperature control for foods – especially on a patio or balcony.

Having a protective environment for food includes keeping it away from contaminates. Outdoor, curious pets and other animals could contaminate wrapped food that is left sitting out. When food is out of sight you cannot easily monitor it. Rodents pose a real health concern if they come in contact with food outside.

Food stored in a garage can be contaminated by fumes from cars, trucks, tractors and snow blowers. The unsanitary nature of a garage provides additional opportunities for contamination if food is stored near liquids or comes in contact with dust and grime.

Don’t compromise when it comes to chilling and storing food safely. Utilize food storage bags or stackable plastic containers to maximize the interior storage space of your refrigerator. Plan your menu so leftovers are minimal. A wise host makes their party worry free when they keep safe food practices a priority.

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