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Food Safety: Storing

Topic Overview

Storing food promptly and correctly can help prevent food poisoning.

  • Set your refrigerator at or below 40°F (4°C) and your freezer at or below 0°F (-18°C).
  • Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, fish, shellfish, ready-to-eat foods, and leftovers within 2 hours or sooner. If the temperature outdoors is above 90°F (32°C), refrigerate within 1 hour. (This is often the case during summer picnics.)
  • Do not keep fresh poultry, fish, or ground meats in the refrigerator for more than 2 days. Cook or freeze them.
  • Do not keep fresh beef, veal, lamb, or pork in the refrigerator more than 3 to 5 days. Cook or freeze them.
  • Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling. Use refrigerated leftovers within 3 to 4 days.
  • Don't pack your refrigerator with food. Cool air must circulate to keep food safe.
  • Never store cooked or ready-to-eat food below raw food in the refrigerator.
  • Always store food in leak-proof, clean containers with tight-fitting lids.
  • In general, high-acid canned food such as tomatoes, grapefruit, and pineapple can be stored in a cupboard for 12 to 18 months.
  • In general, low-acid canned food such as meat, poultry, fish, and most vegetables can be stored for 2 to 5 years. But the can must be in good condition and stored in a cool, clean, dry place.
  • Do not keep canned food if the cans are dented, leaking, bulging, or rusting.

If the food label has a "use by" date, try to eat the food by that date. If that date has passed, it doesn't mean the food is no longer safe. But check it carefully before eating it for any signs that it has spoiled. If the food smells, feels, or looks strange, throw it away.

If it has no date or only a "sell by" date, use the following table. It tells you how long you should keep some popular foods in the refrigerator or freezer. If you follow the recommended refrigeration time, you will ensure that food is safe and doesn't spoil. Freezing food keeps it safe for as long as it is frozen, so the recommended freezer-storage times are only to ensure highest quality.

Recommended refrigeration times footnote 1

Product

Can refrigerate for:

Can freeze for:

Bacon

7 days

1 month

Beef, ground

1 to 2 days

3 to 4 months

Beef, steaks and roasts

3 to 5 days

4 to 12 months

Cheese, processed or brick

3 to 4 weeks

Can be frozen, but affects taste and texture

Chicken, breasts or legs

1 to 2 days

9 months

Chicken, giblets

1 to 2 days

3 to 4 months

Chicken, whole

1 to 2 days

12 months

Eggs, fresh

3 to 5 weeks

Do not freeze

Eggs, hard boiled

1 week

Do not freeze well

Fish, fatty (salmon, perch, other)

1 to 2 days

2 to 3 months

Fish, lean (cod, flounder, other)

1 to 2 days

Up to 6 months

Gravy

1 to 2 days

2 to 3 months

Ice cream, ice milk

Do not refrigerate

2 to 4 months

Lunch meat, opened package

3 to 5 days

1 to 2 months

Lunch meat, unopened package

2 weeks

1 to 2 months

Mayonnaise

2 months

Do not freeze

Milk

7 days

1 month

Pizza, cooked

3 to 4 days

1 to 2 months

Pork, chops

3 to 5 days

4 to 6 months

Pork, ground

1 to 2 days

3 to 4 months

Pork, roasts

3 to 5 days

4 to 6 months

Sausage

1 to 2 days

1 to 2 months

Soups, stews (with vegetables or meat)

3 to 4 days

2 to 3 months

References

Citations

  1. FoodSafety (2017). Storage times for the refrigerator and freezer. FoodSafety. https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html. Accessed February 3, 2017.

Credits

Current as of: July 1, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine

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