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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.

PRODUCTIn Refrigerator
40 degrees Fahrenheit
(5 degrees Celsius)
In Freezer
0 degrees F
(-18 degrees C)
Fresh Meat:
Beef: Ground1-2 days3-4 months
Steaks and roasts3-5 days6-12 months
Pork: Chops3-5 days4-6 months
Ground1-2 days3-4 months
Roasts3-5 days4-6 months
Cured Meats:
Lunch Meat3-5 days1-2 months
Sausage1-2 days1-2 months
Hot dogsUnopened, 2 weeks
Opened, 1 week
Prepared salads (egg, tuna, etc)3-5 daysDon't freeze
Gravy1-2 days2-3 months
Soups or stews3-4 days2-3 months
Lean (such as cod,
flounder, haddock)
1-2 daysup to 6 months
Fatty (such as blue, perch,
1-2 days2-3 months
Chicken: Whole1-2 days12 months
Parts1-2 days9 months
Giblets1-2 days3-4 months
Dairy products:
Swiss, brick, processed
3-4 weeks*
Soft cheese1 week6 months
Milk5 days1 month
Ice cream, ice milk-2-4 months
Butter1-3 months6-9 months
Buttermilk7-14 days3 months
Cream cheese2 weeks-
Cream3-5 days4 months
Sour cream7-21 days-
Yogurt7-10 days-
Eggs: Fresh in the shell3 weeks-
Hard-boiled1 week-
Pasteurized liquid3 days (opened)
10 days (unopened)
1 year
Mayonnaise2 monthsdon't freeze
TV dinners-3-4 months
Store-bought convenience meals1-2 days-
Cooked meat leftovers3-4 days2-3 months
Pizza3-4 days1-2 months
Stuffing, cooked3-4 days1 month
Dough - tube can, cookiesuse-by date2 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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