Featured Image for Countdown to Destruction - Part 2: Handle with Care

A good part of food safety has to do with proper food storage to keep your products safe until you are ready to use them. Knowing how and how long to store foods can help you get the most for your money and ensure that your food is fit for consumption. Part 1 of this series, Expiration Dates Explained, provided an overview of the different types of expiration dates and their meanings. Most importantly, it was established that expiration dates do not indicate when food is no longer fit for human consumption, only when a food item has reached its peak quality, according to its manufacturer. When stored and handled properly, foods can be safely consumed past the date indicated on their packaging.

Beyond simply extending the shelf life of your food, careful food handling is essential to food safety.  Storage requirements for food products depend largely on the type of food. It is generally recommended that most perishable foods should be cooked or frozen within a few days of purchase, or before their “Use-by” date. Once purchased, perishable items should be refrigerated promptly, and cooked or frozen within a reasonable amount of time.

Storage Recommendations for Fresh Meats and Dairy

 Product  Storage   Conditions  Storage Duration
 Poultry  40°F or Below  1 – 2 Days After  Purchase
 Beef, Pork, Lamb, Veal  40°F or Below  3 – 5 Days After  Purchase
 Sausage – Pork, Beef or  Turkey  40°F or Below  1 – 2 Days After  Purchase
 Fish  40°F or Below  1 – 2 Days
 Eggs  40°F or Below  3 – 5 Weeks
 Fresh Variety Meats, Liver, Tongue, Brain,  Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings  40°F or Below  1 – 2 Days After  Purchase
 Milk  40°F or Below  1 Week
 Soft Cheese  40°F or Below  2 Weeks
 Medium/Hard Cheese  40°F or Below  3 – 6 Months

 

Storage Recommendations for Processed and Prepared Foods

 Product  Storage Conditions  Storage Duration
 Cooked Poultry  40°F or Below  3 – 4 Days After  Purchase/Opening
 Cooked Sausage  40°F or Below  3 – 4 Days After  Purchase/Opening
 Sausage, Hard-Dry,  Shelf-stable  Pantry: 50 – 70°F  6 Weeks After Purchase; 3  Weeks After Opening
 Bacon  40°F or Below  2 Weeks After Purchase; 1  Week After   Opening
 Hot Dogs  40°F or Below  2 Weeks After Purchase; 1  Week After Opening
 Lunch Meat  40°F or Below  2 Weeks After Purchase; 3 – 4  Days After Opening
 Canned Ham  Pantry: 50 – 70°F  2 Years After Purchase; 3 – 4  Days After Opening
 Canned Meat and  Poultry  Pantry: 50 – 70°F  2 – 5 Years After Purchase; 3 –  4 Days After  Opening
 Canned Goods – High Acidity  Pantry: 50 – 70°F  18 Months – 2 Years After  Purchase
 Canned Goods – Low  Acidity  Pantry: 50 – 70°F  2 – 5 Years After Purchase
 Leftovers  40°F or Below  3 – 4 Days After Prepared

 

Freezing

Foods bought fresh can be frozen and kept past their expiration date, as long as they are frozen within the time recommended for refrigerator storage. Leftovers can be frozen and kept for up to six months. Keep in mind that some foods do not freeze well, such as eggs and leafy greens.

Storage duration recommendations for frozen foods do not usually extend past one year for reasons of quality. However, foods that are frozen can be kept indefinitely, regardless of their expiration date, so long as they stay frozen continuously. Foods bought frozen should always be kept frozen until ready to prepare.

When in doubt, refer to the handling recommendations on packaging for safe practices when handling and storing processed food.

Fresh Vegetables

Some produce keeps best and longest when stored in the refrigerator. Produce purchased pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated promptly after purchasing. Produce cut or peeled at home should be refrigerated within two hours of preparation. If you are unsure of how to handle or store produce, ask your grocer.

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Part 3 finishes this series with a description of some of the tell-tale signs of spoilage, the point at which food is truly not fit for human consumption.