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Food Storage for Safety and Quality – 9.310   Arrow divider image - marks separation between nested pages that are listed as breadcrumbs.

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by P. Kendall and N. Dimond * (6/12)

Quick Facts…

  • Place perishables in the coolest part of your car during the trip home. If the time from store to home refrigerator will be more than one hour, plan ahead and pack an insulated container with ice or an ice pack.
  • Place raw meat and poultry in individual plastic bags to prevent meat from contaminating foods that will be eaten without further cooking.
  • Use a thermometer to check that the refrigerator is between 35 and 40 degrees F and the freezer at 0 F degrees or below. These temperatures are important in that they prevent the growth of bacteria and keep your food from spoiling.

Proper food storage helps to preserve the quality and nutritional value of the foods you purchase, and also helps make the most of your food dollar by preventing spoilage. Additionally, proper food storage can help prevent foodborne illnesses caused by harmful bacteria.

food storage

Use fresh, perishable foods soon after they are harvested or purchased. Signs of spoilage that make food unpalatable but not a bacterial hazard are the rancid odor and flavor of fats caused by oxidation, slime on the surface of meat, and the fermentation of fruit juices due to yeast growth. Off-odors in foods and a sour taste in bland foods can indicate dangerous bacterial spoilage. However, food can be high in bacteria count even without such signals.

Food Selection

Buy food from reputable producers or retailers, with a known record for safe handling. Select dated products only if the “sell by” or “use by” date has not expired. While these dates are helpful, they are reliable only if the food has been kept at the proper temperature during storage and handling. Although many products bear “sell by” or “use by” dates, except for infant formula, product dating is not a federal requirement.

Select products labeled “keep refrigerated” only if they are stored in a refrigerated case and are cold to the touch. Frozen products should be solidly frozen. Packages of precooked foods should not be torn or damaged.

Avoid cross-contamination between potentially hazardous foods and fresh foods like fruits and vegetables. Place raw meat and poultry in individual plastic bags to prevent meat from contaminating foods that will be eaten without further cooking. Put packages of raw meat and poultry in your shopping cart where juices cannot drip on other foods.

Shop for perishables last. Keep refrigerated and frozen items together so they will remain cold. Place perishables in the coolest part of your car during the trip home. If the time from store to home refrigerator is more than one hour, pack them in an insulated container with ice or an ice pack.

Food Storage

To retain quality and nutritive value, stock only the kinds and amounts of food you can store properly. Proper storage means maintaining a clean refrigerator and freezer. Avoid overcrowding the refrigerator. Arrange items so cold air can circulate freely. To reduce dehydration and quality loss, use freezer wrap,freezer-quality plastic bags, or aluminum foil over commercial wrap on meat and poultry that will be stored in the freezer for more than two months.

Table 1 gives short but safe time limits that will help keep refrigerated food from spoiling or becoming dangerous to eat. The time limits for frozen foods are to maintain flavor and texture. It is still safe to eat frozen foods that have been stored longer.

Table 1: Safe food storage guidelines.
Product Refrigerator
(35-40 degrees F)
Freezer
(0 degrees F)
Comments
BREADS, PASTRIES AND CAKES
Breads, baked (no preservatives) 2-3 weeks 2-3 months Store in refrigerator to inhibit mold growth.
     Baked muffins * 2-3 months
     Baked quick breads * 2-3 months
     Partially baked
cinnamon rolls
1-2 weeks 2-3 months
     Unbaked rolls and bread 3-4 days 1 month Longer storage inactivates yeast, weakens gluten.
Cakes: frosted baked
unfrosted baked
*
*
1 month
2-4 months
Cookies, baked
dough
2-3 weeks
3-4 days
6-12 months
3 months
Flour, white or whole wheat 6-8 months 12 months Keep in airtight container.
Pies: fruit, baked
fruit, unbaked
pumpkin or chiffon
2-3 days
1-2 days
2-3 days
2-4 months
2-4 months
1-2 months
Waffles 1-2 days 1 month
*Not necessary to refrigerate unless product cannot be used within 3-4 days or “use by” time recommended on package.
DAIRY PRODUCTS
Butter 2-3 months 12 months Freeze in original carton, overwrap in plastic freezer bag.
Buttermilk 1-2 weeks NR Check date on carton. Will keep several days after date.
Cheese:
cottage, ricotta
cream cheese
5-7 days
2 weeks
1 month
1 month
Freezing changes texture of soft cheeses.
Becomes crumbly when frozen; can be used in cooking when creaminess is not important.
Natural, aged cheeses
(cheddar, Swiss, brick, gouda, mozzarella, etc.):
large pieces, packaged
or wax coated
slices or opened
packages
Parmesan, Romano,
(grated)
Pasteurized process
cheese
 

 

2-3 months
2-3 weeks

12 months

3-4 weeks

 

 

6-8 months

6-8 months

Natural and processed cheeses can be frozen. Defrost in refrigerator; cheese will be less likely to crumble. Use soon after thawing.
Coffee whitener (liquid) 3 weeks See package
Cream, light or half and half
(UHT processed-
opened)
(UHT processed-
unopened)
whipping or heavy
1 week
1 week4 weeks

1 week

3-4 weeksNR Whipping cream will not whip after thawing. Whipped cream may be frozen and stored for 1-2 weeks.
Dip, sour cream, commercial
homemade
2 weeks
3-4 days
NR
NR
Margarine 3 months 12 months Overwrap in plastic freezer bag for frozen storage.
Milk: evaporated, opened
fluid whole or low-fat
reconstituted nonfat dry
sweetened, condensed,
opened
3-5 days
1 week
1 week
3-5 days
1-3 months
1-3 months
1-3 months
1-3 months
Freezing affects milk’s flavor, appearance; use for cooking.
Sour cream 2-3 weeks NR Sour cream will separate if frozen.
Whipped topping:
frozen carton, thawed
in aerosol can
prepared from mix
2 weeks
3 weeks
3 days
NR
NR
NR
Yogurt 1 month NR Yogurt will separate if frozen.
EGGS AND EGG PRODUCTS
Eggs, fresh yolks or whites 4 days 12 months To freeze, break eggs out of shell; stir until yolk is well blended with white or other yolks. Add small amount of salt, sugar or corn syrup to improve keeping quality.
Eggs, in shell, fresh 3-5 weeks NR
Eggs, in shell, hard-cooked 1 week NR Decorated Easter eggs: If you intend to eat them, keep refrigerated. If eggs are at room temperature for more than 2 hours, do not eat them.
Eggs, liquid pasteurized
eggs or egg substitutes,
opened
4-5 days 1 year
Egg-containing products:
canned puddings,
opened Custards,
custard sauces,
puddings,custard-filled
pastries and cakes
1-2 days1-2 days NRNR
FRUITS
Apples 1-3 weeks 8-12 months*
Apricots, cranberries 1 week 8-12 months*
Avocados 3-5 days 4-6 months*
Bananas 1-2 days, unpeeled 4-6 months Peel, dip in lemon juice, tray freeze; store in freezer bag.
Berries, cherries 1-2 days 8-12 months*
Canned fruits, opened 3-5 days 1-2 months Texture will be softer after freezing. Refrigerate in glass or plastic to avoid metallic taste.
Citrus fruits 3 weeks 4-6 months* Wrap cut surfaces to prevent loss of Vitamin C.
Dried fruit, cooked
uncooked
3-5 days
6 months
4-6 months
12 months
Grapes, peaches, pears,
plums, and rhubarb
3-5 days 8-12 months*
Juices: canned, bottled,
frozen concentrate
1 week 12 months Transfer canned juice to glass or plastic container after opening.
Melons 1 week 4-6 months* Wrap cut surfaces to prevent Vitamin C loss, control odors.
*Freeze all fruits in moisture- and vaporproof containers. Follow recommended procedures in fact sheet 9.331, Freezing Fruits.
MEATS
Fresh
Bratwurst, fresh
precooked
1-2 days
5-7 days
2-3 months
2-3 months
Meats may be left in the supermarket packaging for refrigerator storage or for very brief freezer storage. For frozen storage beyond two weeks, rewrap in moisture- and vaporproof wrap or freezer bags.
Chops, lamb
pork, veal
2-4 days
2-4 days
6-9 months
4-6 months
Ground beef, stew meat, ground
pork, turkey, veal, lamb
1-2 days 3-4 months
Roasts: beef
lamb
veal or pork
2-4 days
2-4 days
2-4 days
6-12 months
6-9 months
4-8 months
Sausage: pork, beef, turkey 1-2 days 1-2 months
Steaks, beef 2-4 days 6-12 months
Variety meats
(tongue, liver, brains,
heart, kidneys)
1-2 days 3-4 months
Cooked
Canned meat, opened 2-3 days NR
Cooked meat and meat
dishes
3-4 days 2-3 months Quickly refrigerate all cooked meats and leftovers. Use as soon as possible. Cut large roasts into halves to cool in refrigerator. Fats tend to separate in homemade gravies, stews and sauces but usually recombine when heated.
Gravy and meat broth 1-2 days 2-3 months Cool leftover gravy and broth quickly, in shallow containers, in the refrigerator.
Processed and Cured
Bacon 5-7 days 1 month Keep packaged meats in original package. For best quality, use within one week of “sell by” date.
Corned beef: drained and
wrapped
in pouch with pickling
juice
5-7 days
5-7 days
1 month
NR
Frankfurters (hotdogs) 3-5 days* 1-2 months Frozen, cured meats lose quality rapidly; use as soon as possible.
Ham, canned, unopened
half
whole
8-12 months
3-5 days
7 days
NR
1-2 months
1-2 months
Small pieces of canned ham (opened) may be frozen for 4-6 weeks.
Luncheon meats 4 days* 1-2 months
Sausage, smoked
dry and semidry
sausage
7 days
2-3 weeks
1-2 months
1-2 months
*Storage time after vacuum-sealed package is opened. Unopened package may be kept two weeks or according to date on package.
MISCELLANEOUS PERISHABLE ITEMS
Baby food, prepared or
opened
2-3 days See
comment
Store covered. Do not feed baby from jar. Reheat only enough for 1 feeding. Freeze homemade baby food in ice cube trays, covered. Use in 2-4 weeks.
Candies 6 months 6 months Chocolates may discolor.
Casseroles 1-2 days 1 month
Ground spices 6 months* 6-12 months Can be stored in cupboard.
Salads (store prepared or
homemade) – egg,
chicken, ham, tuna and
macaroni
3-5 days NR
Salad dressings, opened 6 months NR
Sandwiches 2-3 days 1 month
Soups, stews 2-3 days 4-6 months
Soy milk 1 week
after
opening
1-3 months Unopened, aseptically packaged soy milk can be stored at room temperature for several months.
Tofu 1 week 5 months Change storage water every day or two after opening.
*Refrigeration is not necessary, but will help keep flavor fresher.
POULTRY
Fresh
Chicken and turkey, whole 1-2 days 12 months
Chicken, pieces 1-2 days 9 months
Duck and goose, whole 1-2 days 6 months
Giblets 1-2 days 3-4 months
Turkey, pieces 1-2 days 6 months
Cooked
Canned poultry, opened 1-2 days NR Quick-cool meat and broth separately in shallow containers. Add ice cubes to concentrated broth to speed cooling and to aid fat removal.
Cooked poultry dishes 3-4 days 4-6 months
Fried chicken 3-4 days 4 months
Pieces, covered with broth
Pieces, not in broth
1-2 days
3-4 days
6 months
1 month
Chicken nuggets, patties 1-2 days 1 month
VEGETABLES
Asparagus 2-3 days 8-12 months*
Beans, green or wax; celery 1 week 8-12 months*
Beets, cabbage, carrots,
turnips
1-2 weeks 8-12 months*
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts 1 week 8-12 months*
Cauliflower 1 week 8-12 months*
Corn, on the cob 1-2 days 8-12 months*
Cucumbers 1 week NR
Lettuce, other salad greens 1 week NR Store in bag or lettuce keeper.
Mushrooms 1-2 days 8-12 months* Do not wash before refrigerator storage.
Okra 3-5 days 8-12 months*
Onions, green
mature
3-5 days
1-2 weeks
NR
3-6 months*
Peas, lima beans, unshelled 3-5 days 8-12 months* Store unshelled in refrigerator until used.
Peppers 1 week 8-12 months*
Radishes 2 weeks NR
Tomatoes, canned, open
fresh, ripe
1-4 days
5-6 days
8-12 months* See 9.341, Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products.
*Blanch fresh vegetables and freeze in moisture- and vaporproof materials. See 9.330, Freezing Vegetables.
WILD GAME AND SEAFOOD
Wild Game
Rabbit, squirrel 1-2 days 6-12 months
Venison 2-4 days 6-12 months
Wild duck, pheasant,
goose, whole
1-2 days 6 months
Seafood
Canned fish, seafood,
opened
3-4 days NR
Clams, oysters (shucked),
and scallops
1-2 days 3-4 months Store in coldest part of refrigerator. Do not use if liquid is frothy.
Cooked fish 3-4 days 4-6 months
Crab 1-2 days 2 months
Fillets, fatty: mullet, ocean
perch, sea perch, sea
trout, striped bass
1-2 days 2-3 months
Fillets, lean: cod, flounder,
haddock
1-2 days 4-6 months
Fresh water fish, cleaned 1-2 days 6-9 months
Lobster, shelled or not 1-2 days 6-12 months
Salmon steaks 1-2 days 2 months
Shrimp 1-2 days 6-12 months
Smoked fish 14 days or date on vacuum package 2 months in vacuum package
NR: Not recommended.

*P. Kendall, Colorado State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor, and N. Diamond, M.S., R.D.; food science and human nutrition. 3/00. Revised 6/12.

Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Colorado counties cooperating. Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned.

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