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What's the Best Temperature To Store Food?

Pay attention to the temperature at which you store food as this affects its nutrient value

YOU may not have given this much thought, but the temperature at which the food we eat is served really influences its taste. Beer tastes good only when it is chilled and a samosa is most delicious when served piping hot. Eating chocolate mousse at room temperature or a cold naan is true sacrilege.

In fact, each item of food seems to have an inherently built optimum temperature requirement to make it palatable.

However, it is just as important to pay heed to the task of ensuring that foods do not just taste right, but also retain their nutritional benefits.

And in this matter too, temperature plays a key role; scientific knowledge insists we need to ensure that our food gets prepared and stored at the right temperatures.

AVOID OVERHEATING

THE most important guiding principle is that almost always high temperatures for long period mean trouble for most foods. An extended period of cooking can destroy several nutrients in the food and reduce its value.

Microwave cooked spinach, retains almost all its folate as compared to stove cooked spinach which loses up to 77 per cent of its folate due to the longer cooking period involved. Low temperature roasting/ grilling of meats greatly reduces the Heterocyclic Amines (HCA) content. HCA are the DID IF microwaving plastic a label proof' the food adversely, wrong.

there chemicals implicated in the development of certain cancers.

Similarly, it has been observed that Ultra High Temperature (UHT) treated milk has reduced nutritional quality of protein as compared to pasteurised milk.

DON'T FREEZE IT FOR LONG

ANOTHER reason for loss of food value is to allow food to be stored for extended periods. For instance, vegetables produced in one part of the country may need to be transported to the other end for marketing. However, the poor conditions of storage in ordinary trucks exposed elements can drain the nutrient content of a fresh product.right temperature to store food in fridge

Take for example, spinach which prized for its nutrient content of folate and carotenoids. A couple of days of being on the road and being poorly stored can cause the spinach lose a great deal of nutritional value. So don't be misled by the apparently fresh appearance of the spinach which is due to it being sprinkled with cold water when on display.

COOKING OIL

The best way to store cooking oil is in the fridge once the packet has been opened and exposed to air. Although you are unlikely to find cooking oil in the fridge in most homes, this is still the best way to store it. The most practical method would be to take out the amount of oil that you would require in a day and store the rest of the opened packet of oil in the fridge.

SPINACH & LEAFY VEGETABLES

Spinach is best stored in the fridge at about 4.4 degrees Celsius than at higher temperatures.

Even at this temperature, however, it will lose nutrients after eight days. Therefore the practice of storing vegetables in the fridge for long periods may not be the best.

Thus refrigeration is not to be confused with the license to store food indefinitely.

NUTS & OIL SEEDS

Oil seeds such as flaxseed and sesame turn rancid when stored over a period of time as the fat present in this category of foods make them susceptible to spoilage. Storing them in the fridge will delay the enzymatic action responsible for spoilage.

If the seeds are ground for consumption, they will deteriorate even faster since the cell walls have been broken to release enzymes. Store these and nuts such as almonds, peanuts and walnuts in the fridge. They can even be frozen if you plan to store them for a long period.

ITEMS MEANT FOR ROOM TEMP

CERTAIN foodstuffs such as sugar, salt, wheat kernels can be stored indefinitely at room temperature or below room temperature but more processed foods need to be stored carefully. For example, flours are very prone to infestation by mites. Storing them in plastic bags is not a good idea as the mites can easily make tiny holes in the plastic wrapper. It is far more prudent to put the flour in the freezer for 48 hrs and then transfer it into an airtight glass/ plastic container. Such a practice will inactivate any mites that may be present.

Bay leaves added to the flour in the containers will keep the bugs out.

Similarly for storing rice, add bay leaves/ dried neem leaves to keep the mites away.

CHOOSE COLD PRESSED

MOST of us aren't aware of the manner in which our cooking oil has been processed.

The use of high temperature for extraction and refining of oil is disastrous from a nutritional viewpoint. Harmful chemicals get released into the oil at high temperatures. But since this is relatively an inexpensive method for extracting oil than cold pressing the seeds, most oils don't provide the best possible nutrition.

Do keep in mind that cold pressed oils are far healthier.

DID YOU KNOW: Microwave proof plastic containers don't exist

IF YOU imagined that microwaving food items in plastic containers that had label of ' microwave proof' would ensure that the nutritional value of food wasn't affected adversely, you are highly wrong. The reality is that there are no microwave proof plastic containers.

In fact, it is best to avoid plastic utensils for hot food. Both storing and serving very hot food preparations in plastic containers of a dubious quality is bad for the health as harmful chemicals tend to leach from the plastic containers at high temperatures. Moreover, serving hot tea in styrofoam cups should also be avoided, as it has been recently established that styrofoam can leach harmful carcinogens when hot liquids are poured into them.

WHEN PICKING FROM THE SHELF

A frequently asked question is: how long can food be stored before its quality deteriorates? It is well known that heat, moisture and light degrade the nutritional value of food.

So consider the length of time on the shelf before the food item is bought as well as the temperature of storage and the kind of packaging used.

Keeping foods beyond their expiration date may not sound like a great idea but food scientists have shown that certain foods may last for years and much longer than has been hitherto believed. It has been found that foods low in moisture, such as dried apples, are safe to eat even years after their expiry dates, if properly sealed during storage. This is good news for those who are prone to stocking food items on pantry shelves and later reluctantly dispose the ' expired' food items.

A recently discovered fact is that fluorescent lighting used in supermarkets can actually improve the value of some nutrients in veggies. Usually consumers tend to look at the back of the shelf to find fresh veggies but this study led by the USDA may actually change the way people shop. The study suggests that it may be wiser to look for packages that receive the greatest exposure to fluorescent light i. e. the ones most accessible on the shelves. Happy shopping in artificial light!