It may seem paranoid, especially in the laissez-faire , relaxed picnic of summer, but when it comes to food, little mistakes, and even innocent instances of ignorance, can have serious consequences, as anyone who has suffered a bout of food poisoning well knows. What's more, so the culinary world is littered with folk lore and fiction, especially when it comes to what's best for safe handling and storage. Personally, I'm a bit of a sucker for sentiment, too. What worked for Mom, who worked so hard to raise us healthfully, can't be wrong.
This past weekend I was second-guessing myself once again on proper refrigeration of leftovers. Do you let the dish cool down a little before refrigerating so as not to lower the temp inside the fridge? Or is this just a surefire way of breeding hoards of bacteria? Does one outweigh the other? Questions like this crop up often enough, always in the moment and begging a quick decision, that I decided to add the USDA Food and Safety site to my list of favorites for easy reference. It's loaded with handy fact sheets on everything from meat, eggs, seafood, and poultry prep to emergency responses. There's even a solid amount of interesting potential trivia, should you ever find yourself with time to linger over a government inspection service website. Since I've found it helpful already, I thought it might be something you'd like to keep on your backburner. Here's the link to the fact sheets page: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/index.asp.
Incidentally, in case you're wondering, the consensus is that leftovers should cool as quickly as possible. The longer food spends above 40 and below 160 Fahrenheit, the more bacteria will grow, so get it cold fast in spite of concerns about raising the fridge temp. Official recommendations suggest putting foodin the fridge while in a shallow pan about 2 inches deep, stirring occasionally so that it cools as evenly and quickly as possible. Another recommendation is to first divide into smaller containers to disperse heat.