Now that Christmas is over and we are in the full swing of winter (hopefully with some moisture in the forecast), a simple reminder of how to properly store food can be important for dishes served and items not used from the holidays.

Sierra Cain

The first rule in food storage is keep your hands and work space clean. Be mindful to manage dust from food areas and regulate the storage area temperature. Many foods have a recommended storing temperature, check your items to be sure they are not being exposed to extreme temperatures and follow the guides on the packaging.

Canned foods generally can be kept for a prolonged period. However, the quality of food items can deteriorate over time. So as a rule of thumb, use canned food items within the year.

Store cans up off the floor and in a cool dark place. Keep food away from the oven for heat purposes. Food in cans, which have leaks or rust, should be disposed of. Any tampering evidence on the sealing of the can should be observed and thrown away. When choosing items from the store shelf, choose cans that are free of dents on the seam or rim.

Always check the dates on your foods. There could be a “sell by,” “best before” or “use by” date. These are not the same terms. The sell by date is displayed typically on fresh products and is the date the food should be sold in store.

Once home, the product has time to be used. The “best before” date is typically for items being used at a later date, such as cereals, frozen items or canned foods. This date indicates when the product’s quality and flavor start to decline.

The “use by” date is typically on refrigerated products and yeast. This is a date for the last day an item should be used.

For storing cooked food, hot items should be kept above 140 degrees F or cold foods below 40 degrees F. Foods should not be kept in temperatures ranging from 45 degrees F to 135 degrees F as this is referred to the “danger zone.”

Temperatures in the “danger zone” ranging 45 degrees F to 135 degrees F for more than two hours allow for common bacteria growth causing the food to spoil or food borne. When in doubt of the degree of food spoilage, throw it out!

Leftover cooked meats should be covered tightly and stored in the fridge. Meats should be consumed within two days. Eggs should be cooled in cool running water, rather than cold water on the counter for water temperature consistency and be refrigerated immediately.

Side food items should be prepared and cooked separately to avoid contamination. Side items should also be stored in separate containers from meats and other dishes. Be sure to wash your hands properly between the preparation and cooking of different dishes, especially meats.

For overall maintenance of food freshness and quality follow these tips.

  • Buy foods in the appropriate quantity needed for you and/or your family. Overbuying can lead to food spoilage and provide a financial loss.
  • Purchase foods without damage to the packaging. This will reduce the chances of the can rusting and help avoid food contamination.
  • Use the food purchased the earliest first and the most recent last.
  • Properly reseal packages of food items, such as chips or cereal for later consumption.

For more information on food storage and to gain access to the Food Storage Timetable, reach out to your local Extension Office or visit the New Mexico State University College of ACES publication “Storing Food Safely” by Nancy Flores and Schlenker Davies at

Program announcements

To register for an upcoming program, call the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service at 505-565-3002. For more information, visit

  • 4-H Open Enrollment! Open enrollment for Valencia County 4-H ends Jan. 31. Late enrollments are not accepted. For enrollment information, visit or contact Sierra Cain at
  • 4-H State-Wide Food Drive — Clash of the Counties Competition: Our 4-H members received a grant awarded to 26 groups throughout the country through the 4-H Healthy Living Summit. Their mission is to put on a state 4-H food drive competition through New Mexico county 4-H programs. Food items can be dropped off at the Extension Office. All food will be donated to our county. Contact Sierra Cain at for more information.

If you are an individual with a disability who requires auxiliary aid or service to participate in a program, please contact the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service Office at 505-565-3002 two weeks in advance of the event.

New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and education.  NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

(Sierra Cain is the Valencia County 4-H/Youth Development agent for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service.)

What’s your Reaction?
Sierra Cain, guest columnist

Sierra Cain is the Valencia County 4-H/Youth Development agent for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service.