Food prep has gained popularity in the last few years, and for a good reason. Prepping means less money spent on food, less waste, and healthier options at your fingertips. Putting the time into researching, planning, cooking and storing your meals can save you plenty of time and ensure you’re eating satisfying and nutritious meals.
If you are a meal prepper, it’s essential that you follow the basics of food safety before, during and after your prep. This starts at the supermarket and ends when you eat your food.
Food safety starts at the supermarket, as we’ve written about previously.
Once you’re home from the supermarket, it’s important to store your food correctly. Even if you are planning on prepping immediately, it’s still a good idea to store your perishable items (like meat, poultry, dairy, eggs etc.) in the fridge until you need them. Check out our tips on how to stack your fridge correctly.
Cross-contamination spreads harmful bacteria that can cause illness. To stop this occurring, ensure you clean and sanitise. Start with your hands, followed by kitchen surfaces and utensils, and always end with another wash of your hands. You’ll also want to wash your fresh produce safely.
Avoid prepping too much at one time. Consider how long you’ll be able to keep your meals in the fridge. Prepping too far in advance will not only reduce the taste and quality of your food, but also increase the likelihood that it will spoil. Be conscious of just prepping what you can realistically eat within a few days, or store appropriate foods in the freezer to extend their shelf life.
Cooking to the correct temperature is key to a safe food-prepping session. The easiest and most accurate way to do this is by using a food thermometer, focusing on the middle or internal temperature. To learn more about safe cooking temperatures, check out this post.
In addition to cooking food at the correct temperature, you also want to ensure your foods are cooled properly. Don’t leave cooked meals out on the counter to cool down; put them straight in the fridge. Portion food into smaller containers to facilitate rapid cooling. This is especially helpful for liquid foods like soup, casseroles or stews. Ensure there is enough space in your fridge for air to circulate the food, and place cooling food on shelves, not the floor of the refrigerator.
Store your meals in clean containers marked with what is in them and their prep date. A failure to store and label your foods correctly can end in food wastage, lost money and possibly a bout of food poisoning. Store the newest meals at the back of the fridge or the freezer, bringing the older meals to the front. Do a fridge check weekly and dispose of any out-of-date or spoiled foods.
Store your prepped meals for the proper length of time. This is usually 3 to 4 days in the fridge, but depends on the ingredients you’ve used. Food stored in the freezer can generally stay there for a couple of months. Remember: eat the oldest meals first.
Taking your meals to work or somewhere else? Think about freezing suitable meals before transporting them and plan for how to keep them cold. Cold foods, whether frozen or refrigerated, need to stay cold during transportation, so consider buying freezer blocks and an insulated bag or box. If available, pop your chilled meals straight into the fridge when you reach your destination.
Not only do you need to transport your prepped meals properly, you also need to reheat them suitably. Whether you’re using a stove top, oven or microwave, reheat your meals to piping hot all the way through (you should see steam). Heat high-risk foods (meat, poultry, dairy and seafood) to an internal temperature of at least 75 degrees Celsius.
Food prep recipe inspiration
Are your staple meals starting to bore you? We’ve collected some tasty recipe ideas for your next prepping day.
- Turkey meatballs in spicy tomato basil sauce with Burrata
- One pan baked fish and vegetables – cooked in 30 minutes!
- One pot vegan pasta with spicy sun-dried tomato sauce
- Cashew chicken quinoa bake – all cooked in one pan for easy prep and clean up.
- One pot Mexican rice – an easy gluten-free option.