3 min read
Peaches and leaves

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.

Pantry Food Storage Chart

Store foods in your coolest kitchen cabinets, not over your range or near the refrigerator’s exhaust. Dry foods keep fresh the longest in airtight containers, which also keep out insects. When shopping, choose fresh-looking packages; avoid cans with swollen ends or dents. Date your purchases; then check your kitchen cabinets every six months or so to be sure you use the oldest items first. With longer storage, flavors gradually fade and nutrients can be lost.

 

Staples Pantry Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Baking powder, soda18 monthsKeep all dry foods in original package or tightly closed airtight containers in dry spot unless otherwise directed on label.
Bouillon cubes, powder1 yearKeep all dry foods in original package or tightly closed airtight containers in dry spot unless otherwise directed on label.
Bread, rolls3 daysKeep all dry foods in original package or tightly closed airtight containers in dry spot unless otherwise directed on label.
Bread crumbs, dried6 monthsKeep all dry foods in original package or tightly closed airtight containers in dry spot unless otherwise directed on label.
Cereals, ready-to-eatCheck date on package.Keep all dry foods in original package or tightly closed airtight containers in dry spot unless otherwise directed on label.
Cereals, ready-to-cook6 monthsKeep all dry foods in original package or tightly closed airtight containers in dry spot unless otherwise directed on label.
Chocolate, premelted1 yearKeep all dry foods in original package or tightly closed airtight containers in dry spot unless otherwise directed on label.
Chocolate, semisweet2 yearsKeep all dry foods in original package or tightly closed airtight containers in dry spot unless otherwise directed on label.
Chocolate, unsweetened18 monthsKeep all dry foods in original package or tightly closed airtight containers in dry spot unless otherwise directed on label.
Coffee, vacuum packed1 yearRefrigerate after opening.
Coffee, instant (closed)6 monthsKeep 2 weeks after opening.
Coffee lighteners, dry (opened)6 months
Condensed and evaporated milk1 yearRefrigerate after opening.
Flour, cake, all-purpose1 yearKeep refrigerated.
Flour, rye, whole-wheat1 yearKeep refrigerated.
Gelatin, unflavored3 years
Honey, jams, syrups1 year
Molasses2 years
Nonfat dry milk6 months
Oil, salad3 monthsRefrigerate after opening.
Pasta2 years
Peanut butter6 monthsKeep 2 months after opening.
Potatoes, instant18 months
Rice, brown, wild1 year
Rice, white2 years
Salad dressings3 monthsRefrigerate after opening.
Shortening, solid8 months
Sugar, brown, confectioners?4 months
Sugar, granulated2 years
Tea, bags, loose18 months
Tea, instant2 years

 

Packaged Foods and Mixes Pantry Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Cakes, prepared2 days
Cake mixes1 year
Casserole mixes18 months
Cookies, packaged4 months
Crackers3 months
Frosting, can or mix8 months
Hot-roll mix18 months
Pancake mix6 months
Piecrust mix6 months
Pies and pastries3 daysRefrigerate cream, custard, chiffon fillings.
Pudding mixes1 year
Rice mixes6 months
Sauce, gravy, soup mixes6 months
Toaster pop-ups3 months

 

Canned and Dried Foods Pantry Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Fruits, canned1 year
Fruits, dried6 months
Gravies, canned1 year
Meat, fish, poultry1 year
Pickles, olives1 year
Soups, canned1 year
Soups, dried15 months
Vegetables, canned1 year
Whipped-topping mix1 year

 

Herbs, Spices, and Condiments Pantry Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Parmesan cheese, grated1 month
Pasteurized cheese food and spreads3 months
Soft drinks3 months
Vegetables (onions, potatoes, rutabagas, squash (hard-shelled), sweet potatoes1 week at room temperatureFor longer storage, keep at 50 to 60? F. Keep dry, out of sun, loosely wrapped.

 

Miscellany Pantry Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Coconut, can1 year
Metered-calorie products, instant breakfasts6 months
Nuts9 months
Parmesan cheese, grated1 month
Pasteurized cheese food and spreads3 months
Soft drinks3 months
Vegetables: onions, potatoes, rutabagas, squash (hard-shelled), sweet potatoes1 week at room temperatureFor longer storage, keep at 50 to 60? F. Keep dry, out of sun, loosely wrapped.

Refrigerator Food Storage Chart

Keep the refrigerator temperature between 34 and 40° F. If it rises above 40° F, food quickly spoils. Wrap foods in foil, plastic wrap, or bags or place in airtight containers to keep food from drying out and odors from being transferred from one food to another. Food kept longer than the recommended times may be usable but of inferior quality.

 

Dairy Products Refrigerator Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Butter1?3 monthsHold only 2-day supply in a butter keeper.
Buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt2 weeks
Cheese, cottage, ricotta5 daysKeep all cheese tightly packaged in moisture-resistant wrap.
Cheese, cream, Neufchatel2 weeksKeep all cheese tightly packaged in moisture-resistant wrap.
Cheese, cream, Neufchate, hard and wax-coated (cheddar, edam, gouda, swiss, etc.) large pieces unopened3 to 6 monthsKeep all cheese tightly packaged in moisture-resistant wrap.
Cheese, cream, Neufchate, hard and wax-coated (cheddar, edam, gouda, swiss, etc.) large piece opened3 to 4 weeksKeep all cheese tightly packaged in moisture-resistant wrap.
Cheese, cream, Neufchate, hard and wax-coated (cheddar, edam, gouda, swiss, etc.) large pieces sliced2 weeksKeep all cheese tightly packaged in moisture-resistant wrap.
Cheese, parmesan, grated12 monthsKeep all cheese tightly packaged in moisture-resistant wrap.
Cheese, processed (opened)3 to 4 weeksKeep all cheese tightly packaged in moisture-resistant wrap. Unopened processed cheese need not be refrigerated.
Cheese, spreads2 weeksKeep all cheese tightly packaged in moisture-resistant wrap.
Cream?light, heavy, half-and-half1 weekKeep tightly covered.
Dips?sour cream, etc., commercial2 weeksKeep tightly covered.
Dips?sour cream, etc., homemade2 daysKeep tightly covered.
Eggs, in shell1 monthKeep small end of egg down to center yolks.
Eggs, yolks2 to 4 weeksCover yolks with water; cover container.
Eggs, whites2 to 4 weeks
Margarine1 monthOne week for best flavor.
Milk, evaporated (opened)1 weekKeep containers tightly closed. Do not return unused milk to original container. This spreads bacteria back to remaining milk.
Milk, filled, imitation3 to 4 daysKeep containers tightly closed. Do not return unused milk to original container. This spreads bacteria back to remaining milk.
Milk, pasteurized, reliquified nonfat dry, skimmed1 weekKeep containers tightly closed. Do not return unused milk to original container. This spreads bacteria back to remaining milk.
Milk, sweetened condensed1 weekKeep containers tightly closed. Do not return unused milk to original container. This spreads bacteria back to remaining milk.
Whipped topping, in can3 months
Whipped topping, prepared from mix3 days

 

Fruit Refrigerator Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Apples1 monthDo not wash before storing—moisture encourages spoilage. Store in crisper or moisture-resistant bags or wrap. Keep fruit juices tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove canned fruit from the can.?
Apricots, avocados, bananas, melons, nectarines, peaches, pears5 daysDo not wash before storing—moisture encourages spoilage. Store in crisper or moisture-resistant bags or wrap. Keep fruit juices tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove canned fruit from the can.?
Berries, cherries3 daysDo not wash before storing—moisture encourages spoilage. Store in crisper or moisture-resistant bags or wrap. Keep fruit juices tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove canned fruit from the can.?
Citrus fruit2 weeksDo not wash before storing—moisture encourages spoilage. Store in crisper or moisture-resistant bags or wrap. Keep fruit juices tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove canned fruit from the can.?
Grapes, plums5 daysDo not wash before storing—moisture encourages spoilage. Store in crisper or moisture-resistant bags or wrap. Keep fruit juices tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove canned fruit from the can.?
Pineapple2 daysDo not wash before storing—moisture encourages spoilage. Store in crisper or moisture-resistant bags or wrap. Keep fruit juices tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove canned fruit from the can.?

 

Vegetables Refrigerator Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Asparagus3 days
Beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, turnips2 weeksRemove any leafy tops before refrigerating.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green onions, zucchini5 days
Cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers,1 weekIf necessary, ripen tomatoes at room temperature away from light before refrigerating.
Corn1 dayLeave in husk.
Eggplant, green beans, peppers, tomatoes
Lettuce, spinach, all leafy greens5 daysRinse and drain before refrigerating.
Limas, peas5 daysLeave in shell.

 

Meats Refrigerator Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Beef, lamb, pork, veal (chops)3 to 5 daysIf not prepacked, wrap loosely in wax paper so surface can dry slightly.
Beef, lamb, pork, veal (ground meat)1 to 2 daysIf not prepacked, wrap loosely in wax paper so surface can dry slightly.
Beef, lamb, pork, veal (roasts)3 to 5 daysIf not prepacked, wrap loosely in wax paper so surface can dry slightly.
Beef, lamb, pork, veal (steaks)3 to 5 daysIf not prepacked, wrap loosely in wax paper so surface can dry slightly.
Beef, lamb, pork, veal (stew meat)1 to 2 daysIf not prepacked, wrap loosely in wax paper so surface can dry slightly.
Processed meats* (bacon, frankfurters)1 weekStore in coldest part of refrigerator. Unopened vacuum packs keep about 2 weeks. *Treat uncured or nitrite-free meats like fresh; refrigerate only 4 to 7 days.
Processed meats* (hams (whole, halves))1 weekStore in coldest part of refrigerator. Unopened vacuum packs keep about 2 weeks. *Treat uncured or nitrite-free meats like fresh; refrigerate only 4 to 7 days.
Processed meats* (hams, canned (unopened))6 monthsStore in coldest part of refrigerator. Unopened vacuum packs keep about 2 weeks. *Treat uncured or nitrite-free meats like fresh; refrigerate only 4 to 7 days.
Processed meats* (luncheon meat, slices)5 daysStore in coldest part of refrigerator. Unopened vacuum packs keep about 2 weeks. *Treat uncured or nitrite-free meats like fresh; refrigerate only 4 to 7 days.
Processed meats* (sausage, fresh or smoked)2 to 3 daysStore in coldest part of refrigerator. Unopened vacuum packs keep about 2 weeks. *Treat uncured or nitrite-free meats like fresh; refrigerate only 4 to 7 days.
Variety meats (liver, heart, etc.)1 to 2 days

 

Fish and Shellfish Refrigerator Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Fresh, cleaned fish (steaks, fillets)1 dayKeep wrapped in plastic wrap or bag.
Clams, crab, lobster in shell2 daysCook only live shellfish.
Seafood, shucked clams, oysters, scallops, shrimp1 day

 

Poultry Refrigerator Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Ready-to-cook chicken, duck, or turkey2 daysMay be stored in transparent wrap as purchased.

 

Canned Food After Opening Refrigerator Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Baby food2 to 3 daysStore baby food covered. Don't feed baby from jar; saliva may liquify food.
Fish, seafood; poultry1 dayStore all canned foods tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove food from the can.
Fruit1 weekStore all canned foods tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove food from the can.
Gravy, broths2 daysStore all canned foods tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove food from the can.
Meats2 daysStore all canned foods tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove food from the can.
Pickles, olives1 monthStore all canned foods tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove food from the can.
Sauce, tomato-based5 daysStore all canned foods tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove food from the can.
Vegetables3 daysStore all canned foods tightly covered. It is not necessary to remove food from the can.

Freezer Food Storage Chart

Keep freezer at 0 °F, maximum 5 °F. Check temperature with a thermometer or use this rule of thumb: If the freezer can’t keep ice cream brick-solid, the temperature is above the recommended level. If this is the case, use food within a week or two. To wrap for storage for 1 month or more, use moisture-vapor-resistant plastic wrap (may be specially coated or laminated), or heavy-duty foil. After times listed, food is safe, but flavors fade.

 

Home Frozen Foods Freezer Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Breads, baked3 months
Breads, unbaked doughs1 monthUse only special freezer-dough recipes.
Butter, margarine9 months
Cakes, baked3 months
Cookies, baked, dough3 months
Cheese, dry-curd cottage, ricotta1 weekCreamed cottage cheese and cream cheese don?t freeze well. Cut and wrap cheese in small pieces.
Cheese, natural, hard6 monthsCreamed cottage cheese and cream cheese don?t freeze well. Cut and wrap cheese in small pieces.
Cream (all kinds), whipped2 monthsThawed cream may not whip.
Eggs, in shellDo not freeze.
Egg whites, yolks1 yearFor sweet dishes: Mix each cup of yolks with 1 tablespoon corn syrup or sugar. For other cooking, substitute 1 teaspoon salt for sugar.
Fish, shellfish (fatty fish?bluefish, catfish, trout, etc.)3 monthsFor all fish and shellfish: Wrap tightly in heavy-duty foil or freezer wrap.
Fish, shellfish (lean fish?cod, flounder, etc.)6 monthsFor all fish and shellfish: Wrap tightly in heavy-duty foil or freezer wrap.
Fish, shellfish (shellfish)3 monthsFor all fish and shellfish: Wrap tightly in heavy-duty foil or freezer wrap.
Ice cream, sherbet1 month
Main dishes, cooked (meat, fish)3 monthsFreeze in freezer- and oven-proof baking dishes or freezer containers.
Main dishes, cooked (poultry)6 monthsFreeze in freezer- and oven-proof baking dishes or freezer containers.
Meat, bacon1 monthIf meat is purchased fresh and wrapped in plastic wrap, check for holes. If none, freeze in this wrap for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, overwrap tightly with freezer or heavy-duty foil. Keep frankfurters in vacuum packages.
Meat, frankfurters1?2 monthsIf meat is purchased fresh and wrapped in plastic wrap, check for holes. If none, freeze in this wrap for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, overwrap tightly with freezer or heavy-duty foil. Keep frankfurters in vacuum packages.
Meat, ground, stew meat3 monthsIf meat is purchased fresh and wrapped in plastic wrap, check for holes. If none, freeze in this wrap for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, overwrap tightly with freezer or heavy-duty foil. Keep frankfurters in vacuum packages.
Meat, ham2 monthsIf meat is purchased fresh and wrapped in plastic wrap, check for holes. If none, freeze in this wrap for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, overwrap tightly with freezer or heavy-duty foil. Keep frankfurters in vacuum packages.
Meat, leftover cooked3 monthsIf meat is purchased fresh and wrapped in plastic wrap, check for holes. If none, freeze in this wrap for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, overwrap tightly with freezer or heavy-duty foil. Keep frankfurters in vacuum packages.
Meat, roasts (beef, lamb)1 yearIf meat is purchased fresh and wrapped in plastic wrap, check for holes. If none, freeze in this wrap for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, overwrap tightly with freezer or heavy-duty foil. Keep frankfurters in vacuum packages.
Meat, roasts (pork, veal)8 monthsIf meat is purchased fresh and wrapped in plastic wrap, check for holes. If none, freeze in this wrap for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, overwrap tightly with freezer or heavy-duty foil. Keep frankfurters in vacuum packages.
Meat, steaks, chops (beef)1 yearIf meat is purchased fresh and wrapped in plastic wrap, check for holes. If none, freeze in this wrap for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, overwrap tightly with freezer or heavy-duty foil. Keep frankfurters in vacuum packages.
Meat, steaks, chops (lamb, veal)9 monthsIf meat is purchased fresh and wrapped in plastic wrap, check for holes. If none, freeze in this wrap for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, overwrap tightly with freezer or heavy-duty foil. Keep frankfurters in vacuum packages.
Meat, steaks, chops (pork)9 monthsIf meat is purchased fresh and wrapped in plastic wrap, check for holes. If none, freeze in this wrap for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, overwrap tightly with freezer or heavy-duty foil. Keep frankfurters in vacuum packages.
Meat, variety meats4 monthsIf meat is purchased fresh and wrapped in plastic wrap, check for holes. If none, freeze in this wrap for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, overwrap tightly with freezer or heavy-duty foil. Keep frankfurters in vacuum packages.
Nuts3 months
Pies, custard (homemade)Do not freeze.
Pies, fruit8 monthsFreeze baked or unbaked.
Poultry, cooked, with gravy6 monthsWrap in heavy-duty foil or freezer wrap as airtight as possible. Thaw uncooked poultry in refrigerator or under cool running water. Cook within 2 days of thawing.
Poultry, cooked, no gravy1 monthWrap in heavy-duty foil or freezer wrap as airtight as possible. Thaw uncooked poultry in refrigerator or under cool running water. Cook within 2 days of thawing.
Poultry, uncooked (whole) (chicken, turkey)1 yearWrap in heavy-duty foil or freezer wrap as airtight as possible. Thaw uncooked poultry in refrigerator or under cool running water. Cook within 2 days of thawing.
Poultry, uncooked (whole) (duck, goose)6 monthsWrap in heavy-duty foil or freezer wrap as airtight as possible. Thaw uncooked poultry in refrigerator or under cool running water. Cook within 2 days of thawing.
Poultry, uncooked (parts) (chicken)9 monthsWrap in heavy-duty foil or freezer wrap as airtight as possible. Thaw uncooked poultry in refrigerator or under cool running water. Cook within 2 days of thawing.
Poultry, uncooked (parts) (turkey)9 monthsWrap in heavy-duty foil or freezer wrap as airtight as possible. Thaw uncooked poultry in refrigerator or under cool running water. Cook within 2 days of thawing.
Vegetables1 year

 

Commercially Frozen Foods Freezer Food Storage Chart

FoodTimeSpecial Handling
Breads, baked3 months
Breads, unbakedCheck label.
Coffee lighteners1 year
Cakes, pound, yellow cake6 months
Cakes, layer cake, frosted4 months
Cakes, angelfood2 months
Doughnuts, pastries3 months
Fish, fatty fish—mackerel, trout, etc.3 months
Fish, lean fish—cod, flounder, etc.6 months
Frozen dinners6 months
Fruit1 year
Ice cream, sherbet1 month
Juices, concentrates1 year
Main dishes, pies, fish, meat3 months
Main dishes, poultry6 months
Meat, beef, roasts, steaks1 year
Meat, beef, roasts, steaks (ground)4 months
Meat, lamb, veal (roasts, steaks)9 months
Meat, pork (chops)4 months
Meat, pork (roasts)8 months
Pancake, waffle batter3 months
Pies8 months
Poultry, chicken, turkey (parts)6 months
Poultry, chicken, turkey (whole bird)1 year
Poultry, duck, goose6 months
Poultry, turkey rolls, roasts6 months
Shellfish, Alaskan king crab10 months
Shellfish, Alaskan king crab (breaded, cooked)3 months
Shellfish, lobsters, scallops3 months
Shellfish, shrimp, unbreaded1 year
Vegetables8 months

 

 

Jean Weese, Professor, Auburn University

Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. Follow all directions, precautions, and restrictions that are listed. Do not use pesticides on plants that are not listed on the label. Trade and brand names used are given for information purposes only. No guarantee, endorsement, or discrimination among comparable products is intended or implied by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. This publication is for information purposes only and should not be a substitute for recommendations or treatment by a health care provider.

Did you find this helpful?