What is Perishable Food? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Cooks have to interact with many kinds of food, but not all should be stored the same way. In this lesson, we are going to check out perishable foods and see how to handle them.

Classifying Food

Think about your personal kitchen. Where do you store your food? What foods do you keep in the refrigerator, and what foods do you keep in the pantry? One of the simplest (and yet most important) ways to classify food is by how perishable it is, or how easily it becomes unfit for consumption.

Perishable foods are those that will spoil the most quickly and require refrigeration. Non-perishable foods, on the other hand, are those that will take a very, very long time to spoil and don't require refrigeration. These are important distinctions to make. So, let's see which foods are perishable. Spoilers ahead.

Defining Perishable Food

Let's start by defining what exactly lets us classify food as ''perishable''. When food goes bad, there can be two different things happening (sometimes simultaneously). First, pathogen bacteria could be growing, which are microorganisms that cause foodborne illness. Eating these will make you sick, and could be deadly. Secondly, spoilage bacteria could be forming, which are those that deteriorate or decay the food item, destroying the flavor, color, or smell. These make the food unpalatable.

Perishable foods require refrigeration
perishable food, refrigerator

Technically, all food will spoil and perish given enough time. With items we classify as perishable foods; however, this happens very quickly. In fact, perishable foods require refrigeration or freezing in order to slow the immediate growth of pathogen or spoilage bacteria. To be considered safe, food must be refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius) or frozen at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-17.8 degrees Celsius).

Storing perishable food at these temperatures will not prevent spoilage, but it will slow it down enough for you to store the food for a while and still be able to eat it later. In general, perishable food is good (when stored correctly and unopened) for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the product. Once opened and exposed to air, most perishable foods are only good for 2-5 days, even if resealed. Still, this is much better than if the food was never refrigerated at all. As a general rule, any perishable food that sits out longer than two hours without refrigeration should be treated as unsafe.

What Foods Are Perishable?

Perishable foods must be stored properly, or they risk spoiling very quickly. So, what foods are classified as perishable? Meats, fish, poultry, and dairy are all perishable foods. In addition, foods become perishable after they have been cooked and must be refrigerated.

Dairy products are examples of perishable foods

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