How to prepare and store food safely for the whole family

Refrigerating and freezing correctly is crucial

Siobhán Berry with daughters Ashleigh (10) and Jessica (8)

Siobhán Berry with daughters Ashleigh (10) and Jessica (8)

 

Cleanliness is extremely important when it comes to preparing food, in particular when it comes to babies. Adults might be able to withstand the bacteria of week-long leftovers, but your baby will not. 

November is Food Month in The Irish Times. irishtimes.com/foodmonth
November is Food Month in The Irish Times. irishtimes.com/foodmonth

Their immune system is only just developing, so you need to take extra care and attention when preparing and storing the home-made meals you will be giving your infant.

Food preparation
As with any home-cooked meal, your hands, cooking surfaces, utensils and storage containers should all be clean before your food preparation begins. Wash all vegetables and fruit with cold running water and remove any peel, seeds or stems before cooking. Try to use separate cutting boards: one for meat, one for fish and another for fruits, vegetables and bread. Steaming your fruit and vegetables will retain the maximum vitamins for your family.

Food storage
Always store cooked and cooled food in the fridge within two hours of preparation. When you prepare a home-cooked meal and store it in the fridge, you have three days, inclusive of the day of preparation, to safely reheat and consume it. Food that doesn’t require cooking, such as my pesto sauce recipe, will keep in the fridge for up to a week as long as it is stored in an airtight container. My Mummy Cooks portion pots come in a wide variety of sizes to help with weaning, portioning and batch cooking.

Siobhán Berry
Siobhán Berry

Any food intended for the freezer should be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes to get it to the safe temperature of 10 degrees before freezing. Since all frozen food should be used up within three to four months, it’s best to label your portion pots with their contents and date at the time of freezing.

Defrosting and reheating food
I always encourage mums and dads to batch-cook their family meals to save time on busier days. During the initial cooking process, food will reach the safe temperature of over 70 degrees to kill harmful bacteria. When your meal is stored in the fridge or freezer and later reheated, this cooking temperature must be reached again in order to make this food safe for a baby to eat. Then to prevent any accidental burning, this food must also be cooled to a safe temperature of between 21-37.5 degrees before it can be served. By using our ThermoSpoon, parents can easily remove any guesswork out of safely preparing their baby’s food.

It is important to remember that food can only be safely reheated once after it has been cooked. While the general rule is that you can only freeze food one time, there is an exception to this is if you are cooking with defrosted raw ingredients, for example raw mince. In this instance, you can cook your family recipe using the defrosted ingredients and still safely freeze your leftover cooked meal portions.

The four ways to safely defrost food
In the fridge overnight: this is the easiest and safest way to defrost food, and this way you can simply reheat what you need. 
In the microwave: make sure you use the defrost setting on the microwave. You will need to heat the food through until piping hot before serving. 
In the cooking process: the frozen food is unwrapped and cooked while frozen. It should be cooked for a relatively longer time than fresh or thawed food. This method is ideal for frozen vegetables, small cuts of meat, chicken and fish.

RECIPE: MARINARA SAUCE

Marinara sauce
Marinara sauce

Pasta with marinara sauce is a go-to dish for so many busy parents, including me. This classic combination is quick, simple and children adore it. The leftovers even make for a stress-free school lunch the next day. I know it can be tempting during hectic weeks to reach for a shop-bought jar, but I promise you that my tasty home-made marinara recipe is easy and fast to make. Fill my portion pots and freeze so that you have a healthy, nutritious sauce to pour over pasta any night of the week. It is filled to the brim with fresh veggies, which can be sneakily blended to a smooth consistency so fussy eaters won’t notice.

Makes 4 adult portions

Ingredients
2tbs olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
100g cauliflower, roughly chopped
100g yellow pepper, roughly chopped
100g sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped
100g butternut squash, peeled and roughly chopped
2 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Handful of basil, finely chopped

Method
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, over a medium heat. Add the chopped vegetables and cook for 10 minutes with the lid on until the vegetables are soft.

Add in the tinned tomatoes and season with salt and pepper if using. Simmer on a medium to low heat for a further 20 minutes. Place the lid back on during this time but leave it ajar so that some heat escapes.

Stir in the basil and simmer for a further three to four minutes.

Place the sauce in a blender or food processor and blend to your desired consistency.

Serve straight away with pasta or store in your portion pots and freeze for future use.

Siobhán Berry is author and founder of Mummy Cooks

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