Safely Storing Food

You may be asked: 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?

Cold Food Storage

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 your refrigerator and freezer are 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, follow the old saying "If in doubt, throw it out!".

Refrigerator Storage

The following foods will keep only 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator:

  • fresh (raw) ground meats and stew meats
  • gravy and meat broth
  • fresh poultry and fresh fish
  • shrimp, scallops, crayfish, squid
  • shucked clams, mussels and oysters

These foods will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator:

  • fully cooked ham slices
  • cooked meat and meat casseroles
  • cooked chicken and chicken casseroles
  • pizza
  • cooked fish and cooked shellfish

The following will keep 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator:

  • opened packages of luncheon meats or deli-meats
  • fully cooked ham portions
  • fresh meat steaks, chops and roasts

The following foods have longer refrigerator storage times as indicated:

  • fresh eggs in shell -- 3 to 5 weeks
  • hard-cooked eggs -- 1 week
  • commercial mayonnaise after opening – 2 months
  • hard cheese (such as cheddar, Swiss), opened -- 3 to 4 weeks
  • soft cheese (such as brie, feta), cottage cheese, ricotta, milk -- 1 week
  • yogurt -- 7 to 14 days.

Freezer Storage

Foods will keep safely in the freezer if stored at temperatures of 0°F or below. However, for best quality follow these guidelines:

  • Use moisture-proof, freezer-weight wrap (bags and containers specifically intended for use in the freezer, heavy duty foil or freezer paper).
  • Label and date all packages with a permanent marker.
  • Practice the FIFO (First-In, First-Out) rule.

Follow these recommended times for storage in the freezer to enjoy the best 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.

Canned Food Storage

 Storage does not improve the quality of any food, but the quality of a food will not decrease significantly if it is stored properly and if it is eaten within the recommended time frame.

  • 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.

This information came from HGIC 3520. Safety of Stored Foods. P.H. Schmutz, HGIC Information Specialist, and E.H. Hoyle, Extension Food Safety Specialist, Clemson University.

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