Kitchen 101 Quick Tips -- Storage and Heating Basics

Ever feel like a fish out of water in your own kitchen?  Do you "wing it" most of the time, wondering if that leftover pizza was still good to eat or whether that chicken was cooked all the way through?

Without the proper tools and instructions, young adults can fall into bad habits and become repeat offenders of common kitchen don'ts.  Understanding how your kitchen works can lead to more nutritious, satisfying meals – and save you time and money!

The Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) offers these quick storage and heating tips on healthier habits to help you succeed in the kitchen. 

Cool Storage

Did you know?
Among consumers ages 18-34, one third report that "how long to keep and use leftovers" is the biggest kitchen mystery. Also, 28 percent leave food out on the counter to defrost and 16 percent store food in the refrigerator uncovered.

Increase your safe storage IQ

To eliminate guesswork about leftovers, designate a drawer or other area in your kitchen to keep reliable food storage information. Include a permanent marker, freezer tape and labels to write the date on containers of leftovers so that they are used before they spoil. (See our Cold Storage Chart to learn more about how long various foods will keep in the fridge or freezer.)


Equip your kitchen
with plastic containers, wraps and bags
Having a variety of plastic products on hand can help keep food fresh and save time and money. Lightweight and inexpensive plastic bags, wraps and shatter-resistant containers help make it easy to safely store leftovers and pack lunches and snacks on the go. Time-saver: Check the labels and purchase plastic containers designed for use in the microwave, freezer and dishwasher.  (Learn more about the Plastic Essentials for “Starter Kitchens.” )

Wrap and seal food efficiently

Properly sealing and covering your leftovers is essential to keeping them fresh and tasty the second or third time around. Dividing leftovers into convenient, single-serving size plastic containers will allow food to cool faster, helping to prevent bacteria from getting a foothold. Using airtight plastic containers or wraps that completely cover your food will help you protect your leftovers and prevent freezer burn.  (Find out more Kitchen Savvy Dos for Storing and Reheating Leftovers.)

Never leave food out overnight

After eating, it can be tempting to walk away from your leftovers, allowing them to sit out on the counter for hours. To help prevent bacteria from invading your meal, food should be packaged and stored in airtight plastic containers within two hours after cooking – the sooner the better!  (Get more Food Storage Safety Tips for the Fridge and Freezer.) 

Don't defrost at room temperature
Don’t leave food out on the counter to thaw – bacteria grow best at room temperature.   Try to plan ahead and defrost food safely overnight in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped or covered in a plastic bag or wrap.  For quicker defrosting, submerge foods wrapped in air-tight plastics in cold water.  Avoid using the microwave to defrost unless you plan to cook food immediately after thawing. (Learn more about Safe Food Handling.) 

Hassle-Free Heating

Did you know?
Among the consumers surveyed, 18 percent of 18-34 year olds microwave food in containers meant for cold food storage only.

Microwave the right way

From reusable storage containers to food wraps and commercial packages, many plastics are designed with high heat resistance for use in the microwave oven. To determine whether something is microwave suitable, just check the product or packaging label and follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.  (See our Microwave Heating Guide for more info on which plastics to use in the microwave oven.)


Keep it covered

Using plastic wrap to cover food in the microwave allows for even heating and eliminates the need to wipe the inside of your microwave after messy splatters. Most manufacturers recommend that you loosely cover food, leaving about an inch of space between the wrap and the dish, and that you vent one corner to allow steam to escape.  As always, be careful when removing hot food from the microwave.  (Get more Microwave Cooking Basics.)  

Hot…and cold??

Do you have trouble getting last night’s chicken hot all the way through when reheating in the microwave? Make it easier by cutting food into uniform pieces and spreading them evenly around a microwavable plastic dish. If food pieces are different sizes, place the thicker pieces on the outer edge of your dish – they will cook faster!  (Learn more Food-Specific Microwave Cooking Tips.) 

Use once and toss!

Most plastic trays and packaging provided with microwavable meals are intended for one-time use. Although the packaging is not a health risk, certain containers and trays will warp or melt under extreme heat or reuse, which can result in burns if the food is not handled properly. Again, when in doubt, use a plastic container labeled for microwave use.


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