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Spring-Clean Your Refrigerator and Freezer

Tips for keeping foods fresh, safe, and tasty

Food Storage Dos and Don'ts

Here are some tips to remember when storing and using foods:

  • Wrap foods tightly with two layers of freezer wrap before putting in the freezer or use shrink wrapping for an air-tight seal around the food.
  • Store eggs in their cartons -- and don't keep them on the refrigerator door.
  • Don't wash fresh produce until you're ready to use it. Store it in perforated plastic bags, and use within a few days. Bananas should not be refrigerated.
  • To allow for air circulation in either your fridge or freezer, don't overfill the compartments. Without good circulation, it's difficult to maintain the proper temperatures.
  • Store leftovers in tightly covered containers within two hours after cooking. Use in 3-5 days.
  • Store food and cleaning supplies separate.
  • Keep potatoes and onions in a cool, dry location. Don't refrigerate them or keep them under the sink, where moisture from pipes can cause damage.
  • Check use-by or sell-by dates on food packages. Remember, these dates don't apply once the package is opened.
  • Best-if-used-by dates are the most reliable ones to follow. They take normal handling into account.
  • Put raw meat on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator, in a plastic bag. This will keep the juices from dripping onto other foods.

How Long Can I Freeze It?

Food kept in the freezer so long that ice crystals dominate its appearance is safe to eat, since no organisms can live in subzero temperatures. And the nutritional quality remains intact. Still, you probably don't want to eat it -- the quality of this frozen tundra will certainly be less than ideal.

To prevent freezer burn, make sure that the food is tightly wrapped or shrink wrapped with freezer-quality wrap, and get as much air out between the food and the wrap.

For some guidelines on how long you can safely keep food in the refrigerator or freezer, I consulted the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Here's a chart with the times for various foods.

STORAGE PERIOD
PRODUCT In Refrigerator
40 degrees Fahrenheit
(5 degrees Celsius)
In Freezer
0 degrees F
(-18 degrees C)
Fresh Meat:
Beef: Ground 1-2 days 3-4 months
Steaks and roasts 3-5 days 6-12 months
Pork: Chops 3-5 days 4-6 months
Ground 1-2 days 3-4 months
Roasts 3-5 days 4-6 months
Cured Meats:
Lunch Meat 3-5 days 1-2 months
Sausage 1-2 days 1-2 months
Hot dogs Unopened, 2 weeks
Opened, 1 week
Prepared salads (egg, tuna, etc) 3-5 days Don't freeze
Gravy 1-2 days 2-3 months
Soups or stews 3-4 days 2-3 months
Fish:
Lean (such as cod,
flounder, haddock)
1-2 days up to 6 months
Fatty (such as blue, perch,
salmon)
1-2 days 2-3 months
Chicken: Whole 1-2 days 12 months
Parts 1-2 days 9 months
Giblets 1-2 days 3-4 months
Dairy products:
Swiss, brick, processed
cheese
3-4 weeks *
Soft cheese 1 week 6 months
Milk 5 days 1 month
Ice cream, ice milk - 2-4 months
Butter 1-3 months 6-9 months
Buttermilk 7-14 days 3 months
Cream cheese 2 weeks -
Cream 3-5 days 4 months
Sour cream 7-21 days -
Yogurt 7-10 days -
Eggs: Fresh in the shell 3 weeks -
Hard-boiled 1 week -
Pasteurized liquid 3 days (opened)
10 days (unopened)
1 year
Mayonnaise 2 months don't freeze
TV dinners - 3-4 months
Store-bought convenience meals 1-2 days -
Cooked meat leftovers 3-4 days 2-3 months
Pizza 3-4 days 1-2 months
Stuffing, cooked 3-4 days 1 month
Dough - tube can, cookies use-by date 2 months (don't freeze tube cans)
* Cheese can be frozen, but freezing will affect the texture and taste.
SOURCES: Food Marketing Institute for fish and dairy products, USDA for all other foods
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