Raiding the fridge: Food labels, storage and best practices

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We teamed up with Weiss for a fun food challenge: Raid two Valley fridges to find out more about the best fridge practices, food storage and date labels. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) We teamed up with Weiss for a fun food challenge: Raid two Valley fridges to find out more about the best fridge practices, food storage and date labels. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Never put your gallon in the door! (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Never put your gallon in the door! (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
You should always put meats on the lowest shelf you can! (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) You should always put meats on the lowest shelf you can! (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Storing leftovers in a big container isn't the best route to keep it fresh. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Storing leftovers in a big container isn't the best route to keep it fresh. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
If you have a jam-packed fridge, your food won’t cool as quickly and that means certain items could go bad! (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) If you have a jam-packed fridge, your food won’t cool as quickly and that means certain items could go bad! (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Are you strict about food labels? Do throw out food as soon as the expiration date passes?

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans waste $165 billion each year on food.

Food labels can be confusing but you might want to think twice before tossing out your meats, fruits and vegetables!

[SPECIAL SECTION: GMAZ]

“A lot of people see these dates and say 'oh my gosh, I got to get rid of my food,'” Joli Weiss with the Arizona Department of Health Services said.

We teamed up with Weiss for a fun food challenge: Raid two Valley fridges to find out more about the best fridge practices, food storage and date labels.

First, Weiss examined Andrea Lofgran’s fridge in Mesa and right away, Weiss was impressed.

“Your eggs are in the center of the fridge, they are still in the original packaging,” Weiss said.

According to Weiss, it’s best to keep eggs in the coldest part of the fridge along with milk. Never put your gallon in the door!

[VIDEO: The truth behind food labels]

“We open this door all the time and we want our fridge to always be at 40 degrees or below, so when we’re opening the fridge door, this is exposed more to room temperature,” Weiss said.

Milk and eggs aren’t the only items you should be worried about. You should always put meats on the lowest shelf you can!

“Meats we know can carry some bad bacteria, they often have juices that can drip on other items," Weiss said. "You don’t want it to be on this top shelf, dripping down onto all your ready-to-eat foods."

Weiss said to put your fruits and veggies above your raw meats.

What about those dates plastered all over foods? Use-by? Sell-by? Best-by?

[READ MORE: Having calorie counts on menus will make us healthier]

“The date on the product is really to tell you the quality and the freshness of the product, when it’s going to be at its peak,” Weiss said.

Often we’re the ones who spoil our food by opening and closing our fridges frequently or leaving items out on the counter.  

Weiss said food can usually be good past the date on the product if it’s handled properly.

According to foodsafety.gov, steaks can last three to five days while chicken is usually only good one to two days. Bacon will usually last about a week. These are just guidelines. Weiss said it’s up to the consumer to examine your food.

“If it smells weird, looks weird, I say when in doubt, throw it out,” Weiss said.

[RELATED: FDA puts brakes on rule requiring new 'nutrition facts' label]

If you have a jam-packed fridge, your food won’t cool as quickly and that means certain items could go bad!

“You want to keep your fridge at 40 or below, bad bacteria can really start to grow,” Weiss said.

Weiss recommends putting your own labels on some of the foods in your fridge to help you keep track of how long items have been in there or when you had leftovers.

After raiding Lofgran’s house, we headed to central Phoenix to raid Biby Carbonneau’s house.

“Sort of at first glance here, one thing I do notice is how the eggs are stored," Weiss said. "Eggs can be contaminated with bacteria like salmonella so when they’re not in their original packaging, we can cross-contaminate other items in the fridge."

What about leftovers? We all have them but are we storing them properly?

As Weiss looked inside Carbonneau’s fridge, she noticed a big container of leftovers. She says that’s not the best way to store them!

[MORE: Obamacare's calorie count rules go into effect, what that means for you]

“When we have leftovers and foods that need to get chilled again, we recommend putting them into a couple smaller containers or very thin containers. It's really hard for the center of the food item to chill to the proper temperature,” Weiss said.

Like many of us, Weiss thought Carbonneau should re-arrange her food.

“One of our recommendations is that we try to separate our raw meats from our fruits and vegetables. We like to store our meats on the lower shelf so that the juices can’t drip onto the ready-to-eat foods, so I would switch to have the meat on this shelf and the lettuce above,” Weiss said.

Carbonneau got a thumbs up for the way she stores her meat.

“When you are storing raw meat in the fridge that you keep it in a bowl or on a tray to prevent the juices from leaking on your ready-to-eat foods so this is a good practice here,” Weiss said.

Some of the items in Carbonneau’s fridge are past the expiration date. Weiss says that’s fine. The dates simply let consumers know when the product is freshest. It all depends on how the product is packed as well as the preservatives in it. Items like salad dressings can usually keep well past the sell-by date.

[MORE: April's & Gina's Comfort Food Recipes Turned Healthy]

“You want to sort of inspect your food, is there any mold growing on it? Any signs of spoilage?” Weiss said.

Weiss says it's a quality issue, more than a food safety one. Can you get sick if you eat food that's expired? Not typically, if your food is handled properly!

As we gear up for another Arizona summer, Weiss wants to remind people that food and heat don’t mix well.

“You never want to leave food out more than two hours. They say if it gets over 90 outside, you really want food out no more than an hour,” Weiss said.

Weiss reminds people to always wash your fruits and vegetables even if the label says they've been pre-washed.

If you don’t have an electric thermometer in your fridge, buy one so you can monitor the temperature. You want it at 40 degrees or below!

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Kylee CruzArizona native Kylee Cruz joined CBS 5 News as a reporter in August 2014. You can catch her reporting every morning on CBS 5's "Wake Up Arizona!" and 3TV's "Good Morning! Arizona." She's also a fill-in weather anchor.

Click to learn more about Kylee.

Kylee Cruz

Before working in Phoenix, Kylee spent three years reporting for KXLY in Spokane, WA During her time in the Inland Northwest, Kylee reported on a wide variety of topics from winter snowstorms to summer wildfires, and regularly filled in on the anchor desk. Kylee grew up in Yuma and graduated summa cum laude from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. While in college, Kylee covered her first big story in Tucson when Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot. She was selected as the Cronkite School’s Outstanding Graduate and was even the university’s Homecoming Queen her senior year. Growing up, Kylee always knew she wanted to be a reporter. When she was just 6, her neighbor started calling her "Cub Reporter" because she asked so many questions. That curiosity has only grown over the years! When Kylee’s not reporting, she loves traveling, home decorating and trying out unique restaurants. She’s a bit of a foodie! Kylee’s always looking for a good story. If you have an idea, email her at kylee.cruz@cbs5az.com.

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