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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:
Bacon 7 days 1 month
Beef, ground 1 to 2 days 3 to 4 months
Beef, steaks and roasts 3 to 5 days 4 to 12 months
Cheese, processed or brick 3 to 4 weeks Can be frozen, but affects taste and texture
Chicken, breasts or legs 1 to 2 days 9 months
Chicken, giblets 1 to 2 days 3 to 4 months
Chicken, whole 1 to 2 days 12 months
Eggs, fresh 3 to 5 weeks Do not freeze
Eggs, hard boiled 1 week Do not freeze well
Fish, fatty (salmon, perch, other) 1 to 2 days 2 to 3 months
Fish, lean (cod, flounder, other) 1 to 2 days Up to 6 months
Gravy 1 to 2 days 2 to 3 months
Ice cream, ice milk Do not refrigerate 2 to 4 months
Lunch meat, opened package 3 to 5 days 1 to 2 months
Lunch meat, unopened package 2 weeks 1 to 2 months
Mayonnaise 2 months Do not freeze
Milk 7 days 1 month
Pizza, cooked 3 to 4 days 1 to 2 months
Pork, chops 3 to 5 days 4 to 6 months
Pork, ground 1 to 2 days 3 to 4 months
Pork, roasts 3 to 5 days 4 to 6 months
Sausage 1 to 2 days 1 to 2 months
Soups, stews (with vegetables or meat) 3 to 4 days 2 to 3 months

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Last Revised October 18, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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