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Best tactics for keeping frozen food fresh

Sunday - 4/29/2012, 2:48pm  ET

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Groceries are expensive these days, and it is more important than ever to know how to keep every morsel safe and fresh.

Refrigerators and freezers need to be checked regularly to make sure they are cold enough to store food properly.

"We want to make sure our refrigerators are set at 40 degrees and below, and then our freezers are set at zero degrees and below," says Jennifer Shea, a dietitian with the Shoppers Food Warehouse grocery chain.

She says ground meat, poultry and seafood can spend a day or two in the refrigerator. Steaks, chops and roasts can remain for up to five.

If it's not meant for fairly quick consumption - say there is a great deal on five-pound packages of chicken - it's best to pull out your freezer bags immediately. Shea says the best and easiest way to freeze meat poultry or fish is simply to slide a store container into a bag, get out as much extra air as possible and seal it shut.

She says food placed in the freezer can be safe for long periods of time, though the quality eventually deteriorates. Even freezer burn is not dangerous.

"It is okay to eat foods that have freezer burn, as long as they have been kept at a safe temperature," she tells WTOP.

Temperature is also crucial for storing cooking oils. Light and heat can cause heart-healthy oils to deteriorate before the expiration date on the label. Shea says sesame, canola and safflower oils can be kept in a refrigerator, while bottles of olive oil do best in a cool, dark pantry.

She says be sure to check the dates stamped on the labels of bottles, cans and cartons. A "sell-by" date is the deadline for the store to sell the item. Once the "sell-by" date has passed, she says the product should be consumed within a week.

A "use-by" date is very different. Once it is reached, the product should be tossed.

"You may have a little bit of wiggle room," Shea says, "but I would try and use it by that date."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)