People and Pets


Food Storage Charts

Safe Food Handling

Take some simple precautions when preparing food for storage. Always work with well-scrubbed hands and be sure all utensils, cutting boards, etc., are absolutely clean. Then keep food either hot (above 140°F) or cold (below 40°F), never in between for any length of time. Here's why: There are common bacteria present that are normally not troublemakers but can become dangerous if they are given the ideal breeding climate, between 60°F and 125°F, in which they quickly multiply to dangerous levels and can cause food poisoning. Don't leave foods in this danger zone for more than 2 hours.

To Refreeze or Not to Refreeze

You can safely refreeze virtually any partially thawed food as long as it still has ice crystals and has been held no longer than 1 to 2 days at refrigerator temperatures. However, many foods—ice cream and uncooked baked goods, for example—will deteriorate in texture and taste.
Meat, fish, and poultry you've thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen within 24 hours of defrosting. But do not refreeze combination dishes—pies, stews, casseroles, etc.
With the exception of fruit and juice concentrates, foods thawed accidentally in the freezer over a period of days (because of power failure) should not be refrozen unless they still have ice crystals. If food is completely thawed (on purpose or by accident), warmed to room temperature, and left for more than 2 hours, throw it out. Discard any fruit whose flavor is off.

Read the Labels

More and more foods are being sold now with a date that tells you something about their freshness. But just what does it tell you? That depends on the kind of food. Here, are the most frequently used dates and what they mean:

  • Fresh meat and fish are dates with "date of pack or manufacture," which refers to when the food was packed or processed for sale. (See Refrigerator chart, page 3, for storage life.)
  • Dairy and fresh bakery products are labeled with a "freshness, pull, or sell-by" date," which refers to the last day the food should be sold. The date allows you a reasonable length of time to use the food.
  • Frozen foods, fried snack foods, cereals, canned foods, macaroni, rice and other foods are labeled with a "use before or best-if-used by date," after which the quality of the food deteriorates. However, the food would still be safe to consume.

Food Storage Charts Home  |  Pantry Chart  |  Refrigerator Chart  |  Freezer Chart  |  PDF Document

Jean Weese, Professor, Auburn University; Extension Specialist for Food Safety

This document is part of a larger publication titled Emergency Handbook: Preparation and Recovery (ACES-2168).

The Emergency Handbook is available digitally as an iBook and on the web. Use the left-hand navigation bar to access all topics and pages. This publication is not available in print. To download or print the pages you need, please look for Printable PDF Download this information.

For more information, contact your county Extension office.