Food Storing Guide: Storage Times For The Refrigerator And Freezer

Nothing lasts forever. Least of all our food. We maybe started this on a depressing note but the things as they are – no matter how well packed they are or how fresh they look; all groceries have their due date.

The main reason behind this is food-based bacteria. When in small numbers, these bacteria are usually harmless. However, when they have the right conditions to grow (temperatures between 40 and 140 °F) they quickly poison the food.

It’s obvious that keeping the groceries bellow 40 °F will prolong their life.

But for how long?

That depends on the whole slew of different parameters. Food and beverage manufacturers haven't made our lives any easier with vague, and often confusing "use by," "sell by," and "best before" labels.

What we do know is that refrigerators can solve this problem only to an extent and that once out of the store, food's quality and future lifecycle mostly depend on the type of the product, the way we store the product, and, of course, the length of storage.

Here’s a short guide that should help you to make some sense out of this mess. Just keep in mind two things:

  • The freezer guidelines are for quality only. Frozen food remains safe as long as you want.
  • These estimations may seem a bit conservative, but that’s what make them safe.
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Salads

​Salads are putting on the plate some very healthy nutrients without resorting too heavily on fats and carbs, which makes them the ideal snack for all the people who are trying to lose weight.

Unfortunately, this diversity of ingredients is, at the same time, salads’ only major weakness – while some of them can last forever, the others quickly become spoiled, so they ruin the whole meal.

  • Recommended refrigerator time: 3-5 days
  • Recommended freezer time: Not recommended at all

How to know it’s spoiled: Your smell will be your greatest ally, but you can also identify spoiled salads by dry and brownish leaves. A salad dressing will become soggy the very next day.


Hotdogs

​Although they are often labeled "junk food," hotdogs are not without their merits. They cost little, are easy to prepare; they pack a lot of proteins, and they usually contain a variety of meat.

The good news is that hotdogs are also very refrigerator-friendly, especially if you don’t open their original package. However, since they are moist, their freezer life is not all that impressive.

Opened package:

  • Recommended refrigerator time: 1 week
  • Recommended freezer time: 1-2 months

Unopened Package:

  • Recommended refrigerator time: 2 weeks
  • Recommended freezer time: 1-2 months

How to know they’re spoiled: Spoiled hotdogs usually harden and change their color (they go darker). If a hotdog has been in the freezer for too long, freeze burns will start appearing on it.


Luncheon Meat

This very broad term includes various products like fresh deli meats, pepperoni, salami, etc.

What they have in common is that they’ve all been processed in one way or another (cooked, smoked, etc.) which makes them pretty long-lasting. Bologna can remain in the fridge for 1-2 weeks, while hard salami and pepperoni can last around 2-4 weeks.

Here are some general numbers:

Opened package:

  • Recommended refrigerator time: 3-5 days
  • Recommended freezer time: 1-2 months

Unopened Package:

  • Recommended refrigerator time: 2 weeks
  • Recommended freezer time: 1-2 months

How to know it’s spoiled: The easiest way to uncover the spoiled luncheon meat is to perform the odor test, but if you don't want to sniff, you'll easily recognize it by its moist surface and slimy exterior.


Bacon and Sausage

On the first glance, no one would ever consider bacon a healthy food. Look can be deceiving because bacon packs a lot of benefits, high-protein value and abundance of minerals included.

Still, we will give a special nod to very generous fridge life. On the other hand, sausages feature a lot of different spices and ingredients that drastically reduce their fridge lifespan, which they somewhat make up for with a solid freezer endurance.

Bacon:

  • Recommended refrigerator time: 7 days
  • Recommended freezer time: 1 month

Raw Sausage:

  • Recommended refrigerator time: 1-2 days
  • Recommended freezer time: 1-2 months

How to know they’re spoiled: Spoiled bacon and sausages both have a strong, sour smell, and slimy surface. The only significant difference is that the sausages become grayish, while the bacon’s red streaks become dark brown.


Hamburgers and Other Ground Meat

Ground meat may be the more delicious than the whole muscle cuts, but it is also more perishable, so we should handle it with particular care.

What makes this situation especially tricky is the fact that, if bacteria are present on the meat surface, grinding process will mix it throughout the entire product.

This problem can be addressed with deep freezing so it’s safe to say that you should completely skip the fridge.

  • Recommended refrigerator time: 1-2 days
  • Recommended freezer time: 3-4 months

How to know it’s spoiled: Ground meat goes through a whole range of colors during its lifespan (brownish color, for example, may indicate the absence of air). It’s only safe to say that the redder it is the fresher it is. This time, you’ll have to rely on your nose.

Love meat? Check out Barbara's choices for some of the best meat grinders.


Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb & Pork

This happy bunch can often be seen together on plates, and deservedly so. They are usually bought together, prepared together, and stored together, so it's easy to assume that they all have similar life lifespan.

In regards to the refrigerator, those are the regular few days most of the meats have before bacteria comes knocking at the door.

Freezer, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast and these meats’ lifespan will largely depend on the way we store them.

  • Recommended refrigerator time: 3-5 days
  • Recommended freezer time (Steaks): 6-12 months
  • Recommended freezer time (Chops): 4-6 months
  • Recommended freezer time (Roasts): 6-12 months

How to know they’re spoiled: We’ve covered too much ground here, so odor and mold traces will be your safest bet.


Fresh Poultry

Poultry always had a well-regarded place amongst other food. Very lean, and fatless, chicken packs fewer calories per ounce than, for example, beef.

Turkey is very rich in vitamins B-6 and B-12, choline, selenium, and zinc. These are all essentials for cardiovascular health.

Unfortunately, although it’s an absolute champion in withstanding freezing, poultry doesn’t translate its reputation into the good fridge endurance, which puts it into the “eat it or freeze it” category.

  • Recommended refrigerator time: 1-2 days
  • Recommended freezer time (Whole): 1 year
  • Recommended freezer time (Pieces): 9 months

How to know it’s spoiled: Both chicken and turkey have a very light, cream-like skin color. Any darkening will be a safe sign they're going bad.


Soups and Stews

Soups and stews contain a lot of different ingredients which makes estimating their safe storage time somewhat tricky. But, by cooking them, we have pushed the growth of the bacteria back.

Although that amounts to a pretty average couple of days in the fridge, we can reheat soups and stews more often than other entries on this list.

  • Recommended refrigerator time: 3-5 days
  • Recommended freezer time: 2-3 months

How to know they’re spoiled: You'll notice slight gray or creamy film at the top, quickly followed by mold.


Leftovers

Food leftovers have one thing common with soups – they were also already processed, which enables them to resist bacteria longer than, for example, raw meats.

It is worth noting, though, that some bacteria spores can survive cooking so it is crucial to cool down food leftovers as fast as possible (you can do that by dividing them into several smaller packages).

The average storage times are:

  • Recommended refrigerator time: 3-4 days
  • Recommended freezer time (Cooked meat and poultry): 2-6 months
  • Recommended freezer time (Chicken nuggets or patties): 1-3 months
  • Recommended freezer time (Pizza): 1-2 months

How to know they’re spoiled: The net, once again, has been cast too wide. Rely on your nose and the traces of mold to guide you.


Additional Tips

Last but not least, here are some of the useful tips that will help you to keep your stored food as safe as possible:

  • Put the groceries into the refrigerator as soon as you are back from shopping.
  • Clean your refrigerator regularly, so you eliminate bacteria that can survive on its inner surfaces.
  • Store the products in the appropriate areas.
  • Use the FIFO (First In First Out) method for storing the groceries.
  • Once you open the original packages, move the food into closed, airtight containers.

Not paying attention to the quality of your food isn’t bad only for your health. It can be devastating for your wallet as well. These things are something none of us should allow.

We hope that these few types and information will help you to make the most out of the money you spend!

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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