Food safety

Safe and long-term food storage for food businesses

Food storage is the process of keeping raw or finished products in safe containers with controlled conditions. Proper ...

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  • Food storage is the process of keeping raw or finished products in safe containers with controlled conditions.
  • Proper food storage can help prevent spoilage and contamination of foods that can lead to potentially fatal food poisoning.
  • Food storage can vary among dry, refrigerated, and freezing conditions.

Running a food business means more than just proper cooking and food service. A lot of attention and food safety operation goes into maintaining food storage. This aspect of food safety involves temperature control, cleaning, proper labeling, and storage systems such as the first-in, first-out program. The key to prolonging the shelf-life of foods, preventing food spoilage, and avoiding foodborne illness cases is understanding how long-term food storage works. Some foods can be stored longer than their estimated shelf-life if properly kept and will not cause any harm to public health.


how to storage food long term

At least 22 to 33 billion pounds of losses of food are generated in the US alone. In relation to this, at least 48 million people in the US get affected by common food poisoning illnesses. With these two problems at hand, the US economy loses billions of dollars from healthcare and food waste. Proper food handling can solve sustainability and food safety, including food storage. With a secure supply of food, consumers will be able to sustain their everyday activities without the fear of becoming ill from the food they eat.

Learn how to play your role in safe food storage as a food business owner from this article.



What is long-term food storage?

Food storage refers to the process of keeping cooked food and raw materials in favorable conditions that will prolong their shelf-life while preventing the growth of harmful microorganisms. Every food product and raw material has its maximum shelf-life. The basis for this storage life is how long a food product can withstand storage at optimal conditions.

In a way, food storage is a method of preservation, and its effect may vary depending on the nature of the product and the storage conditions. An objective of food storage is to maintain the wholesome attributes of food to protect consumers from potentially-fatal food poisoning.

Storing foods can help food establishments stock up on ingredients by buying in bulk, reducing food waste, minimizing shipping costs from procurement, and contributing to potential cost savings. Food storage can be either long-term or short-term. 

Long-term storage may refer to a time frame of storing foods for years. This process applies to dehydrated food products or those processed to withstand extreme conditions and have a long-term shelf life. On the other hand, everyday foods or basic food items used for preparing dishes on a daily basis require short-term storage. These foods usually have a shorter shelf life.


What is the best way to store food long-term?

The best way to store any food for the long term is to seal it in airtight containers and kept away from a warm, humid environment. Preferably, foods must be kept away from the temperature danger zone, which is optimal for most foodborne pathogens. 

Generally, if there is less moisture available around and on the food, foodborne pathogens such as harmful bacteria are less likely to contaminate it. Additionally, the environmental factors surrounding the food, such as the quality of air and the presence of other foods, may influence the shelf-life of products.

vegetable food storage


Why is it important to store food correctly?

Correct methods of food storage help preserve the safety and nutritional value of finished products and raw materials. This process prevents pathogens and environmental factors from spoiling the food or changing its intended characteristics.

For example, food storage can protect foods with high oil content or even common cooking oils from oxidation when protected from too much sun and air exposure. Additionally, fresh meats and fruits are less likely to become contaminated by bacteria and spoil when stored in a refrigerator.

Proper food storage requires controlling the environment around the food to prolong its shelf-life. This also involves protecting food from cross-contamination. Specifically, food storage can help in controlling the following:

  • Foodborne illnesses. When foods are properly stored, the likelihood of pathogens contaminating the food and posing harm to consumers becomes less. In refrigerated conditions, the growth of bacteria and other pathogens is significantly controlled, whereas it is stopped at freezing. In terms of storing dry ingredients, putting them inside an air-tight container prevents the product from absorbing moisture and attracting pathogens. Proper storage also involves regular cleaning and sanitation of the storage areas. 

  • Cross-contamination. Excluding factors outside the storage area, stored foods must be appropriately organized to prevent contact with potentially hazardous foods. For a storage area such as a refrigerator, foods of the same category, such as raw or ready-to-eat foods, are grouped to prevent the risks of food poisoning from cross-contamination.

  • Food spoilage. As mentioned, storage such as in low-temperature areas prevents the growth of bacteria and delays food spoilage. Even high-risk foods might last for months or even years if prepared hygienically in freezing temperatures.

  • Loss of freshness and nutritional value. In addition to spoilage from pathogens, improperly stored foods can also lose their eating qualities. Take an apple, for example. The apple will turn brown once sliced and kept at room temperature due to enzymatic reactions. If the apple slices are refrigerated, the browning can be slowed down. The same scenario applies to long-term storage. 

Although food storage promises a longer shelf life, this result can only be obtained if the process is done correctly. Food safety must constantly be monitored to ensure that the conditions during storage are correct. Factors such as temperature, organization, and cleanliness are critical ingredients for successful food storage.

To help your team ensure food safety during storage, implement a comprehensive food safety management system that is smart enough to do the job for you or at least alert your food handlers. At FoodDocs, our digital food safety management system uses artificial intelligence to automatically generate digital monitoring logs for evaluating storage conditions. In addition, our system is equipped with a notification feature that sends alerts to food handlers, reminding them of a food safety task.


FoodDocs food safety system


How does the storage affect the food?

The complex nature of food makes it sensitive to external factors. Bacteria and other pathogens are likely to contaminate your food when left uncovered in ambient conditions. The air, nearby products, or food handlers who did not wash their hands can contaminate the food and make spoilage faster.

Proper storage protects food from such conditions. When general steps on food storage are followed, you can rest easy that the ingredients will still be wholesome until their use-by dates, or even longer in some cases. The main idea behind proper food storage is to exclude external factors and protect food in a controlled condition.


How do you ensure proper food storage?

Food business owners can ensure proper food storage all the time by having a basic food storage plan within a comprehensive food safety management system. Proper food storage is a combination of the controlled temperature, suitable container, organization, food handling, and cleanliness of the environment. Food handlers must be trained to understand the best storage conditions for particular products. This will help them appreciate the significance of storing foods properly to prevent foodborne diseases.

In addition, constant monitoring will help food handlers track the condition of foods in storage. Even if your food products are considered shelf-stable in dry conditions, monitoring is still necessary. A very slight change in the environment can significantly affect food safety for a long time. 


principles for storing food safely


What are the 3 most important principles for storing food safely?

Food storage has been a practice of humanity for centuries. Over the years, its process has been refined with much focus on principles that govern the operation's success and serve as proper storage guidelines. It is now also used as a means of emergency preparedness for the community as a food source in case of natural disasters.

Proper food storage is applied at multiple sections of the food supply chain. It can be applied for postharvest before the raw materials are delivered to food businesses, such as in practical grain storage. Similarly, food businesses such as restaurants also use correct storage methods to keep a stock of raw materials and even finished products.

To understand food storage in a deeper sense, here are three of the most essential principles of food storage:

  • Control over external factors. Factors such as the surrounding temperature and humidity affect the growth of pathogenic organisms. Proper food storage relies on controlling these variable factors to provide the food with a stable environment unfavorable to bacterial growth. Take perishable meats as an example. Meats may naturally contain a certain amount of pathogens which could grow to dangerous levels if left in ambient conditions. Products must be maintained at low temperatures through refrigeration or freezing to preserve meat quality.

Temperature ranges such as the temperature danger zone are favorable for the growth of bacteria and will speed up spoilage. Proper storage hinders this from happening through the use of controlled temperature. The maximum freezer storage time will depend on the conditions applied during food handling.

In the case of semi-dried meats, humidity is controlled to prevent the reabsorption of moisture. Simply-dried meats are less likely to spoil because they have less moisture content to be used by the present bacteria, making them suitable for longer-term storage. If the dry location condition or humidity around the storage area is not controlled, the products may reabsorb moisture and can potentially spoil the products, leading to a shorter shelf-life. The same principle is applied to freeze-dried foods for longer-term food storage.


  • Exclusion from potential contaminants. Foods that are meant to be used later are protected from potential contaminants by storing them in a secure container or their original packaging. The container must also be properly sanitized to ensure that cross-contamination will not occur. Containing food in storage boxes limits food interaction with other raw materials in a storage area with limited space. To maximize the space of a food storage area, the stored materials may have to be placed close to each other. Without external protection, different food materials will be in constant contact during storage, increasing the risks of food poisoning and spreading contamination. Containing foods also protects them even from the smallest pests such as fruit flies that could contaminate them.
  • Preservation of wholesome quality. In addition to food safety, food storage prevents qualitative food losses. In controlled conditions, the characteristics of food such as texture, color, aroma, and flavor are less likely to deteriorate. This allows food handlers to stock up on food for a continuous cycle of food production for a prolonged time. Food storage allows individuals to stock up on emergency food supplies that do not necessarily have to be bland and unappetizing for personal use. For foods such as freeze-dried vegetables, the external characteristics of the material are perfectly preserved from freeze-drying. Storage further protects these characteristics, such as loss of color, making the materials unappetizing for business.

Even high-risk foods can stay fresh and wholesome longer than their expiration dates when food storage is properly done. Both quality and safety can be preserved if the correct conditions for food storage are consistently monitored and maintained. Food businesses may benefit both in terms of keeping customers safe and maximizing their resources without any unnecessary outflow of profits from food waste.


What are the rules for storing food cold?

High-risk foods must be appropriately stored in the refrigerator if they are not consumed immediately. When using cold storage, the temperature must be consistently maintained at 41°F (5°C) or below to slow down the growth of bacteria and preserve the shelf-life of foods. 

Before storing cooked foods in a refrigerator, always remember that the food must be rapidly cooled before placing it inside. Keeping hot foods along with other cold food products will inevitably increase the refrigerator's temperature. Outside the recommended temperatures, food spoilage from the activity of pathogens is more likely and will happen faster. 


How far off the floor should food be stored?

According to the FDA Food Code, all food materials must be stored at least six inches above the floor. This regulation aims to protect the food from any potential hazards such as pests or damages to the packaging, which can compromise food safety.

This regulation mainly applies to dry goods. It aims to protect packed foods from carriers of food contamination such as dust and dirty surfaces. Regardless of how often you clean and sanitize floors, they will still be used as a walkway that attracts dirt that could be transferred to food. 


What are food storage methods?

Food storage is a process that can be applied to any food at any point in the food supply chain. Appropriate conditions for storage may vary depending on the nature of a food product. Raw, fresh materials often require cold to freezing storage, whereas dried ingredients would do better in dry, cool conditions.

Depending on the nature of the food being stored, an appropriate storage method can be used. Generally, storage conditions can be dry, refrigerated, or frozen. The effectiveness of a storage method will depend on its suitability for a product. Some products such as starchy foods are often not recommended to be frozen as this will damage their texture, even if they remain safe.


What are the 3 types of food storage? 

A food business is recommended to have a wide range of storage conditions. The complexity of the types of food being used in a food establishment would indeed require different storage conditions. You can store food ingredients using the following methods of food storage:

  • Dry. This type of storage condition is perfect for more shelf-stable products and long-term storage. A variety of rice, dry beans,  canned meats, flour, spices, sugars, and other relatively low-moisture foods will do well in a dry storage area. This condition is mainly achieved using a cabinet dedicated to food storage.

This type of condition does not need controlled temperature ranges but would do better if the humidity level is controlled. Some dried ingredients such as sugar and spices tend to be hygroscopic. This term means that the food ingredient attracts moisture around it and absorbs it. This can lead to caking or even loss of quality. Once dried foods become rehydrated, they become prone to bacterial contamination.

  • Refrigerated. Foods that fall under the category of time/temperature control for food safety or TCS food need refrigerated storage. This type of storage must maintain a temperature of 32°F to 41°F (0°C to 5°C) to protect foods from spoilage. It is best for keeping foods with intermediate moisture levels and raw foods such as vegetables, fruits, and ready-to-eat foods. Refrigeration can be achieved through different types of machines with varying accommodation levels.

Most restaurants may have a standard roll-in or reach-in refrigerator that resembles your home ones. Alternatively, for bigger operations, a walk-in refrigerator is suitable. Refrigeration is most helpful in preserving the safety of foods for weeks but will need to be correctly maintained and monitored to be effective.

food storage refrigerator

  • Frozen. This type of storage offers the feature of preserving the safety of fresh foods for the longest time. Highly perishable foods such as cooked and fresh meats, peas, fish, dairy products, and leftover food. At freezer temperatures below 32°F (0°C), most food bacteria and other pathogens cease to reproduce. Similarly, enzymatic reactions that may lead to the breakdown of food are also slowed down. This is most evident with raw, perishable meats. This type of food is commonly frozen if it will be used later to preserve its firm texture and protect it from spoilage microorganisms. 

Freezer temperatures may also lower the risk of common food poisoning illness. During freezing, the formed ice crystals within the food help puncture bacterial cells and injure them. This process weakens the bacteria and slows down their growth rate once the food is out of the freezer. Foods that would usually last for one week in a refrigerator can last up to 2 months if stored in a freezer instead.

In addition to considering the nature of foods and knowing how to store food safely, food handlers must be aware of the target time of use of a product. This will help them decide whether to put foods in the freezer or just the refrigerator. Frozen foods need to thaw before they can be used again for processing. Whichever type of food storage method you use, the storage area's environmental conditions must be consistently monitored for proper maintenance.


What is food storage equipment?

Food storage equipment is any vessel that can accommodate or hold a large number of buffer materials or bulk foods for an extended period of time. Different types of food storage equipment are used to protect a broad range of food types in the food industry. Depending on the intended use, type of product, and target storage life, the storage equipment may vary. When storing products, it is important to consider their compatibility with the target storage condition and equipment.

For dry storage, the equipment must be able to handle solid and rigid secondary packaging such as glass jars, cans, and hard plastics. Stainless steel is the preferred material for dry storage equipment as it will not quickly get molds or attract moisture from the kitchen. Dried foods that require controlled humidity but no temperature moderation may need the following types of storage equipment:

  • Overhead shelves
  • Speed rack
  • Glass cabinets


The storage unit must be equipped with a built-in thermometer for proper recording for refrigerated storage. It must also be able to maintain the recommended temperature constantly and withstand power outages. Some types of commonly used refrigerators in food businesses include:

  • Roll in refrigerator
  • Walk-in refrigerator
  • Undercounter refrigerator
  • Display refrigerators (for merchandise)
  • Reach-in cooler

Some units for low-temperature storage are built-in with both refrigerator and freezer sections. For freezing conditions, restaurants or freezer plants commonly use the following types of equipment:

  • Blast chiller
  • Walk-in freezer
  • Ice cream cabinet
  • Chest freezer
  • Drawer freezer

Ideally, a food business must have all types of food storage equipment. For a food establishment that serves a wide range of dishes and products, varying conditions for storage are a must. This will help your business stock up on food for a long time without the risk of food spoilage and causing foodborne illnesses. Having different food storage equipment also increases the possibility of serving more varieties of products.

In addition to the main food storage facilities, foods must also be stored in a secondary container such as a food storage box. Such containers help protect the food from other products in the same storage equipment. A secondary container helps prevent cross-contamination and further controls the environment of food products. As foods typically have irregular shapes, containing them in secondary packaging allows them to fit perfectly in larger storage equipment.

Different types of food storage containers have varying degrees of protection. Some containers may be resistant to heat or more chemically inert than others. The suitability of a food container depends on the intended storage time and the nature of the food. Here are some of the most common food storage containers:

  • Glass jars. This type of container is mainly preferred when storing foods with very high moisture, such as dressings, pickled vegetables, and jams. Glass containers are very inert, which means that they would not react to ingredients such as vinegar and fruit juices making them perfect for refrigeration. Alternatively, they can also be used to store dried beans, pasta, and even rice. Most glass jars feature airtight enclosures that help prevent moisture and contaminants from entering the container. 

food storage in glass containers

  • Plastic food storage container. Chosen mostly for their relatively cheap price, plastic food storage containers are versatile secondary storage containers. Some types of plastic containers are very resistant to going soft even if used for hot foods. They also come in different sizes and shapes. It is a good material for protecting food from dust, oxygen, and other external contaminants. The problem with plastic food storage containers is that they can sometimes retain residual food odors when reused.
  • Metal containers. Metal cans or metal boxes are very durable and resistant to dents and damage. Metal storage boxes can be used for storing dry or dehydrated food products. For storing acidic foods, certain types of metal boxes or cans coated with resistant lining must be used. Normal cans can accumulate rust when used for pickled foods. 

Food packaging materials usually have variations. For example, glass containers can come in amber color for maximum protection against light. On the other hand, plastic containers can come in the form of pouches which can be used to store single-use products. In addition, food containers can also be added with active components such as oxygen absorber packet or silica gels for dry storage to control the oxygen content and humidity.

In choosing which container to use, always consider food storage requirements such as the type of food and the storage conditions. Glass jars would not work well in freezing storage as they can break. Such a case could lead to physical contamination in food or personal injury to food handlers and can cause food recall.


How do you store food in a commercial refrigerator?

There is more to storing foods in a refrigerator than just simply dumping them inside and forgetting them. The foods in the refrigerator are bound to be too cramped up in a food service food storage area. To prevent food-to-food cross-contamination, foods must be properly organized

Organization, in this case, involves grouping foods based on the level of processing they need. That is, food handlers must place all foods that require thorough cooking such as leftover food, casseroles, and poultry meat at the bottom. On the top shelf of the commercial refrigerator, ready-to-eat foods and those that require minimal processing are placed.

This organization prevents food to food contamination to occur. If you place raw meats beside fruits and vegetables, the chances of the meat juices getting into the fruits is very likely to happen. Since fruits require little, to no processing, customers will be in direct contact with foodborne illness-causing pathogens.

Teach your food employees how to use a fridge layout poster as part of food safety guidelines on how to properly store food in a commercial refrigerator. 

A walk-in refrigerator is significantly larger than a normal refrigerator. Food handlers can go inside this storage area and it can accommodate a large number of food materials. Foods inside a walk-in refrigerator must be properly organized.

Specific areas must be dedicated to raw meats, vegetables, fruits, and other fresh foods. Relatively less perishable foods can also be stored in a walk-in refrigerator but are advised to be placed in the warmer sections such as near the door. Despite being larger, the same principle for storing foods in a regular refrigerator must also be applied to a walk-in. Ready-to-eat foods are always placed at the top and raw foods require thorough cooking at the bottom.

In addition to organization, foods must be properly labeled with names and use-by dates. Proper organization of foods in a walk-in can help food handlers detect low stocks or any problems with the essential foods in stored.


What foods can be stored for 10 years?

Generally, the less moisture content that food has, the longer it can be stored without spoiling. Bacteria and pathogens require moisture to multiply and perform their biological functions. When there is no available water, such as in dry kitchen ingredients, food spoilage is less likely to occur. This is why dry basic food items make up for a good basic supply of emergency food as they have a long-term shelf life in storage.

Staple foods such as the following can last up to 10 years when properly stored:

  • Grain products (e.g., dried white rice)
  • Cornmeal
  • Oats
  • All-purpose flour
  • Pasta
  • Dried beans
  • Powder eggs
  • Powder butter
  • Dry milk

Other essential foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and even a wide variety of meat can be dehydrated or freeze-dried to prolong their storage life. Food dehydration will make products more stable. Freeze-dried meats can last up to a couple of years when compared with frozen ones. Despite this, they still cannot last for up to 10 years if they are not stored properly. Foods such as fruits tend to reabsorb moisture faster than pasta and brown rice. 

As such, the key to prolonging the storage life of food significantly is a combination of correct methods of food preservation and storage.


storing ready to eat food


What are the important tips for proper storage?

Proper food storage requirements must be included in food safety training and include constant monitoring. It is a food handling operation that will ensure your food business's source of food materials for continuous food service. Below are some more tips and guidelines to monitor and ensure proper food storage

  • Always maintain adherence to temperature guidelines and humidity levels for storage.
  • Keep a record of temperature and humidity readings.
  • Keep foods at least 6 inches off of the floor.
  • Storage equipment must not lean on walls to allow ventilation.
  • Adopt a regular cleaning schedule.
  • Always properly label foods transferred from their original packaging
  • TCS food must be date-marked.
  • Organize foods to minimize cross-contamination.
  • Raw foods must be placed in airtight containers.
  • Apply the FIFO method,
  • Always check and follow expiry and use-by dates.
  • Store raw foods at the bottom of the refrigerator, whereas the ready-to-eat foods are at the top.

It is important to regularly monitor the conditions when it comes to food storage. Temperature and humidity are critical factors to ensure that the store foods are still wholesome. Food handlers must be trained on how to monitor these parameters and similarly perform regular checking of use-by dates. 


Digital solution for food storage

The shelf-life of a food product, whether raw or cooked, significantly depends on the storage conditions. Even if a product is classified as dried and shelf-stable, storing it in the wrong conditions such unsanitary environment and fluctuating temperatures can hasten contamination and spoilage. The key to having a sound food storage facility is to properly monitor the conditions with a comprehensive food safety management system.

At FoodDocs, we have developed a digital solution to help food handlers monitor food storage conditions in the most efficient way possible. Get monitoring forms specifically based on your food safety operations such as refrigerator or freezer storage monitoring forms as well as a digital cleaning checklist.

No need to fear the word digital because our system makes the transition super easy. You do not have to be tech-savvy to get this digital solution as our system uses artificial intelligence to generate the monitoring forms.

Our digital solution offers the following automatically generated monitoring forms and smart features:

  • Temperature log monitoring form. Our digital solution offers an automatically generated temperature log form that can be used to monitor the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer. This monitoring form is equipped with an auto-fill feature that can help save your team's time from filling them up. Using previously logged information, our system prefills the monitoring forms. All you have to do is to verify the data.

Temperature log FoodDocs

FoodDocs Temperature Log

  • Cleaning checklist. You also get an automatically generated cleaning checklist that includes all of the important areas and routines for your kitchen, including your food storage area. You can customize this checklist to add or improve the information for a more accurate checklist.

Sanitation checklist FoodDocsFoodDocs Sanitation and Cleaning Checklist

  • Smart notification system. To help food handlers remember every task at the right time, our digital solution features a smart notification system through our mobile app. Our system sends an intuitive alert message to assigned food handlers to remind them of a task. This feature can also be used for marking foods and reminding your employees of use-by dates. 

You can use our mobile application to scan QR codes on your products and track their status. With our digital solution, keeping your food storage in compliance with food safety standards is easy. Additionally, our system can also accommodate customizations for all monitoring forms for further improvement. You can also create your own digital monitoring forms for unique operations for food storage control such as a humidity monitoring form.

You can get all of these features and more when you avail of our digital Food Safety Management System at FoodDocs. The best part is that the whole process would only need 15 minutes to finish! Digitizing your FSMS with us would only require you to answer a few basic questions that describe your operations to our system.

With our digital FSMS, you can also get a real-time dashboard that will give you an overview of your food safety operations. You can use this feature to identify areas that need more improvement and attention. When you join us at FoodDocs, you will never have to worry about running out of space for your food safety documents as you can store all digital forms in your dedicated cloud storage.

Our digital solution was built by food safety experts who have been in the industry for decades. We understand how important food storage is and have incorporated the most important management documents into our digital solution. You can experience our services firsthand for free when you avail of our 14-day trial now. Experience how our digital solution can make food safety compliance easier for you now!



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