This information has been reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by P.H. Schmutz, HGIC Information Specialist, and E.H. Hoyle, Extension Food Safety Specialist, Clemson University. (New 09/04.)
The most frequently asked questions on food safety are about food storage. How long is it safe to store leftovers in the refrigerator? Is it safe to eat that meat found in the back of the freezer? How long is too long to store home-canned jars of vegetables?
The best way to ensure that cold foods are kept safely is to purchase two refrigerator/freezer thermometers. Keep one in the refrigerator and one in the freezer. This way you can make sure that you maintain foods at safe temperatures: 40 °F or lower in the refrigerator, and 0 °F or lower in the freezer. Foods in the refrigerator will begin to freeze at 32 °F, so ideal refrigerator temperatures are between 32 and 40 °F. Refrigerator/freezer thermometers will also help in case of a power outage, because temperature is what determines whether a food is still safe to keep. Once you have your refrigerator and freezer at proper temperatures, then all you will need is information on how long different foods will keep. Of course, if a food looks or smells spoiled, the old adage "If in doubt, throw it out!" still applies.
The following foods will keep only 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator:
These foods will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator:
The following will keep 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator:
The following foods have longer refrigerator storage times as indicated:
Foods will keep safely in the freezer if stored at temperatures of 0 °F or below. However, for best quality follow these guidelines:
Follow these recommended times for storage in the freezer to enjoy the best quality in flavor and texture and to maintain good nutritive value.
1 to 2 months: ice cream, sausage, ham, hotdogs
2 to 3 months: cooked leftover meat, gravy, and meat broth; fresh, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna
3 to 4 months: fresh giblets, fresh (raw) ground meat or stew, shucked shellfish
4 to 6 months: cooked poultry; fresh, lean fish such as cod, flounder, trout
6 to 12 months : fresh beef, poultry, venison, hard cheese, fruits and vegetables.
Store home-canned foods that have been properly processed using up-to-date, approved methods, for up to one year. Commercially canned high-acid foods such as juices, tomatoes, fruits, pickles and sauerkraut will store well for 12 to 18 months. Commercially canned low-acid foods such as meat products and vegetables will store well for 2 to 5 years. Storage does not improve the quality of any food, but the quality of a food will not decrease significantly if stored properly and if the food is eaten within the recommended time frame.
Follow these recommendations for purchasing and storing canned goods to maintain best quality:
For more information about storing food safely, call the Home and Garden Information Center toll-free at 1-888-656-9988 and request HGIC 3480, Food Selection & Storage, HGIC 3505, Safe Handling of Canned Goods, or HGIC 3522, Food Storage: Refrigerator & Freezer.
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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.