Properly storing foods helps to maintain quality and prevent foodborne illness. Storing foods for shorter rather than longer periods of time at proper temperatures and away from light will improve quality, taste and safety. Follow these basic rules for safe foods storage:
- Store leftovers in airtight, shallow containers (two inches deep or less).
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of cooking.
- Use or freeze packaged items by the "sell-by" or "use-by" date.
- Set your refrigerator temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Use a refrigerator thermometer to ensure food is stored at proper temperatures.
Freezing is a smart storage option to extend the shelf life of perishable foods beyond expiration dates. But whether you are freezing or refrigerating, one basic rule applies: When in doubt, throw it out!
Eggs and Milk
- Store eggs in the original packaging in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Do not use the pre-made egg cups in the door where they are susceptible to warmer air from opening and closing the door.
- Do not keep raw eggs for more than three weeks in the refrigerator. Hard-boiled eggs can last a week in the refrigerator in or out of the shell.
- Do not store milk in the refrigerator door where it is susceptible to warmer air from opening and closing the door.
- Discard all milk after the container has been opened one week, regardless of the "sell-by" date.
- Promptly store produce that needs refrigeration. Fresh, whole produce such as bananas and potatoes don't need refrigeration.
- Refrigerate fresh produce within two hours of peeling or cutting.
- Throw away cut produce left at room temperature for more than two hours.
- Discard cooked vegetables after three to four days.
Meat and Poultry
- Store meat in the coldest part of the refrigerator or in the refrigerator's meat bin.
- Place raw meat, poultry and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so juices don't drip onto other foods.
- Use fresh, raw meat stored in the refrigerator within three to four days of purchase.
- Use deli meat within four days of purchase.
- Throw away ground meat, sausage and organ meat after two days.
- Use or freeze poultry products by the "sell-by" date. Frozen poultry can be kept for nine months to a year in a freezer set below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Eat or freeze cooked meat within three to four days.
- Refrigerate or freeze seafood immediately after purchasing.
- Store fresh, pasteurized or smoked seafood products in a refrigerator set at 32 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Wrap fresh seafood in cellophane or place in air-tight containers.
- Store frozen seafood in a freezer until ready to use. Keep it in the original moisture and vapor-proof packages.
- Use packaged, frozen seafood before the expiration date. If an expiration date has passed, don't consume the product; throw it away.
- Store canned or jarred goods in cool, dry settings.
- Consume the oldest products in your pantry first.
Reviewed December 2012