Bad Idea to Store Perishable Food Outdoors
During the winter months when outdoor temperatures are low, the idea of storing some foods outdoors may be a common practice, or at least a logical option. Extension urges you to understand the potential health risks of improperly chilling food which is to be eaten later. There are true risks when food is stored in unconventional methods.
Perishable foods like meat, eggs, dairy products, cut fruit and vegetables, and leftovers are stored in the refrigerator to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria which can cause food poisoning. Refrigeration also extends the shelf life of other products, like condiments, and makes shelf-stable beverages more refreshing.
A refrigerator and freezer provide a controlled, protective environment for foods. These appliances maintain a constant temperature which protects food best. Cold food needs to stay cold. Bacteria begins to grow and multiply quickly in food when temperatures rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When bacteria are active in food their growth compromises the food safety.
The temperature outdoors can fluctuate above and below 40°F day-to-day or overnight. Storing perishable foods placed outdoors, in a garage, on a balcony or patio exposes them to fluctuating temperatures. Allowing food to be held at inconsistent temperatures increases the risk of foodborne illness when food is later consumed. Sunlight possesses another threat to safely maintain temperature control for foods, especially on a patio or balcony. Just because it may feel "cold" outside does not guarantee that the temperature is in the correct safe range for food storage.
There are risks other than temperature to consider as well. If a container of food is placed on an unclean surface, such as the floor of a porch, that contamination can be brought back into the kitchen when the food container is placed on the counter. Outdoor, hungry, curious dogs, cats, squirrels, birds, rodents and other wild animals may be attracted to the smell of food. If animals crawl on top of, open, or eat food, it can become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or physical debris.
Food stored in a garage is equally problematic. Food can be contaminated by fumes from cars, trucks, and snow blowers, the temperature still fluctuates, and critters are still able to access it. The unsanitary nature of a garage provides additional opportunities for contamination if food is stored near liquids or comes in contact with dust and winter grime.
Because of these concerns, anything perishable should be stored in your refrigerator or freezer instead of outside, no matter how cold it is. More than anything, it’s just not worth the potential risk to your health and that of your family. Don’t compromise when it comes to chilling and storing food safely.
Sources: https://extension.psu.edu/is-it-safe-to-store-food-on-the-porch-or-in-the-garage-during-the-winter https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/can_you_safely_store_perishable_food_outside_during_winter_months