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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 has a "use by" date, consume the food by that date or throw it out. 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
Product Can refrigerate for: Can freeze for:
Bacon7 days1 month
Beef, ground1 to 2 days3 to 4 months
Beef, steaks and roasts3 to 5 days4 to 12 months
Cheese, processed or brick3 to 4 weeksCan be frozen, but affects taste and texture
Chicken, breasts or legs1 to 2 days9 months
Chicken, giblets1 to 2 days3 to 4 months
Chicken, whole1 to 2 days12 months
Eggs, fresh3 to 5 weeksDo not freeze
Eggs, hard boiled1 weekDo not freeze well
Fish, fatty (salmon, perch, other)1 to 2 days2 to 3 months
Fish, lean (cod, flounder, other)1 to 2 daysUp to 6 months
Gravy 1 to 2 days 2 to 3 months
Ice cream, ice milkDo not refrigerate2 to 4 months
Lunch meat, opened package3 to 5 days1 to 2 months
Lunch meat, unopened package2 weeks1 to 2 months
Mayonnaise2 monthsDo not freeze
Milk7 days1 month
Pizza, cooked3 to 4 days1 to 2 months
Pork, chops3 to 5 days4 to 6 months
Pork, ground1 to 2 days3 to 4 months
Pork, roasts3 to 5 days4 to 6 months
Sausage1 to 2 days1 to 2 months
Soups, stews (with vegetables or meat)3 to 4 days2 to 3 months

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: October 18, 2012
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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