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After six months of joining the meal-prepping community, I had the most derailing experience. I got food poisoning at work (how embarrassing) after eating the lunch I had prepped earlier in the week. However, it’s a couple of years, tons of research, and many practice rounds later. Now, I can confidently provide you with tips for meal prep without your food going bad.
- How to Meal Prep Without Food Going Bad
- Related Questions
How to Meal Prep Without Food Going Bad
You can meal prep without food going bad by planning and only preparing as much as you can consume. Meal prep twice a week to prevent food from going off too quickly. Then, cook and reheat the food at appropriate temperatures and store it in an airtight container.
Making food in advance always risks turning bad before you can eat it – even when stored in the fridge. Fortunately, applying our top tips below will help you avoid making the same mistake I did when I was meal-prepping as a beginner.
Here’s how to make delicious grab-and-go meals for the next few days without turning rancid.
Proper meal planning will help reduce stress and save time by eliminating the stress of decision-making around food, you can also save money when you meal prep because it requires you to buy specific ingredients for your planned recipes. Ensure you only prepare as much as you can eat during the week if you’re storing it in the fridge.
- Create a weekly menu: Set aside some time to calculate how many meals you want to prep and create a menu to determine how much shopping needs to be done. A menu will also help avoid food waste and cut extra time in the kitchen.
- Stick to a consistent schedule: Create a meal prep schedule that fits your weekly routine. The key to effective and efficient meal prepping is to slot out time twice per week to meal prep. Sticking to a regular shopping and cooking routine will keep you organized and prevent you from eating risky meals.
- Use a shopping list: A detailed grocery list does not only save a ton of time. It helps prevent second trips to the store and purchasing too many fresh ingredients at once, which saves costs and reduces wastage.
I have fallen in love with Paprika, a meal prep app that makes life as easy as pie. It includes monthly meal planning, interactive recipes, an intelligent grocery list that sorts items according to the isles, and more.
Meal Prep Twice a Week Instead of Once
Remember that food poisoning story I mentioned earlier? Well, on day seven, I only got to my last batch of grilled chicken and rice. Needless to say, I won’t be doing that any time soon.
According to the USDA, you can keep cooked food in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. After that, harmful bacterial growth rapidly rises, increasing the risk of food poisoning.
Prepping twice a week can help keep your meals fresh and safe. For example, reserve Sunday and Wednesday evenings to cook your meals.
If you don’t have time to spare to stand in front of the stove for two days per week, opt for convenience and head to the freezer. While you may have to compromise slightly on the taste, you can safely freeze cooked food for 3 to 4 months in the freezer.
Here’s a valuable food safety guide on how long prepped foods last in the fridge and freezer.
Use the Right Storage Containers
Proper storage containers are essential tools for meal prep. Something as simple as a container can differentiate between a fresh, healthy meal and one gone bad.
Airtight containers keep your food fresher for longer. They prevent air, moisture, and outside odors from seeping into the container. At the same time, they also lock in the necessary moisture to keep your cooked meal fresh. Airtight food storage containers also help prevent freezer burn.
Before purchasing new Tupperware or glass containers, consider each one’s intended use and your personal preference. Some of the best features include
- Microwave, dishwasher, and freezer safe
- Spill-proof & Leakproof
- Portion controlled & compartmentalized containers
- Mini-coolers to keep meals chilled
I swapped my cupboard full of mismatched containers with high-quality divided glass containers from Fit & Fresh. They are airtight, featuring tight leakproof seals on each compartment that keeps even the messiest of foods separated. They are also microwave, oven, freezer, and dishwasher safe.
Cook Food Safely
Food safety is an often overlooked yet essential component of meal prepping. The Federal government estimates that around 48 million foodborne illness cases occur annually. Fortunately, with the proper precautions, you can prevent being one of them.
Ensure you follow the FDA’s food safety meal prep guidelines when cooking to help prevent foodborne illness.
- Wash your hands before preparing food.
- Rinse your whole fruits and vegetables before use.
- Always wash utensils and surfaces after touching uncooked meat before using them on foods that will be eaten raw.
- Cook meat products to a safe minimum internal temperature.
|Meat Variety||Minimum Internal Temperature|
|Poultry||165 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Beef (steak, veal)||145 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Ground beef (meatballs, burgers, sausages)||160 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Lamb & Mutton||155 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Ground lamb||160 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Pork||145 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Fish & Seafood||145 degrees Fahrenheit|
Store Food Safely
Correctly storing your prepped food is paramount for preserving the integrity and freshness of the food and enjoying it in the days to come. The three enemies of cooked food are air, moisture, and bacteria. Harmful pathogens can be reintroduced to food even after safe cooking.
To combat these factors, ensure you store the food correctly. Use an airtight container and get the food cooled and refrigerated as soon as possible. Follow the USDA’s food safety guidelines and rapidly cool and refrigerate cooked foods at 40 degrees Fahrenheit within 2 hours. However, aim for a maximum of 1 hour if your kitchen’s temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can help speed up the cooling process by separating the dish into smaller portions or spreading it in a thin layer on a baking tray to cool rapidly.
Add Toppings & Dressings Later
When prepping your meals, only add fresh toppings and dressings once ready to eat to ensure your meal stays fresh. Keep the salad dressing in a separate container and quickly chop up your salad greens and avocado when you plan to eat the meal.
Labeling your foods will help remove the guesswork of when you popped them in the fridge or freezer. It will also ensure you do not consume foods after the safety period.
Reheat Food Thoroughly
Ensure you reheat cooked prep meats to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be done on the stovetop, oven, or microwave. It is best only to reheat the portion you need as the quality will decrease each time you reheat it.
Can You Meal Prep for the Whole Week Without Food Going Bad?
Although it’s possible to meal prep foods for the entire week, most meal-prepped foods (especially cooked) can last and remain fresh for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. Consider meal setting time apart to meal prep twice during the week. Alternatively, freeze your meal prep for extended longevity.
At What Temperature Should I Store Meal-Prepped Foods?
Ensure your refrigerator is kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below and your freezer at 0° degrees Fahrenheit or below. You can use an appliance temperature thermometer to test the temperatures.
How Should I Thaw Frozen Prepped Meals?
It’s best to thaw frozen meals in your refrigerator instead of the countertop to prevent bacterial growth. You can speed up thawing the food by submerging the container in cold tap water.
You can effectively prep meals without going bad by following the recommended safety cooking, cooling, and storing guidelines. While food can last up to a week without going bad, rather play it safe and discard it after four days in the fridge – you don’t want to end up with food poisoning as I did.
Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.