Food Storage for Safety and Quality

by P. Kendall and N. Dimond * (6/12)

Quick Facts…

  • Place perishables in the coolest part of your car during the trip home. If the time from store to home refrigerator will be more than one hour, plan ahead and pack an insulated container with ice or an ice pack.
  • Place raw meat and poultry in individual plastic bags to prevent meat from contaminating foods that will be eaten without further cooking.
  • Use a thermometer to check that the refrigerator is between 35 and 40 degrees F and the freezer at 0 F degrees or below. These temperatures are important in that they prevent the growth of bacteria and keep your food from spoiling.

Proper food storage helps to preserve the quality and nutritional value of the foods you purchase, and also helps make the most of your food dollar by preventing spoilage. Additionally, proper food storage can help prevent foodborne illnesses caused by harmful bacteria.

Use fresh, perishable foods soon after they are harvested or purchased. Signs of spoilage that make food unpalatable but not a bacterial hazard are the rancid odor and flavor of fats caused by oxidation, slime on the surface of meat, and the fermentation of fruit juices due to yeast growth. Off-odors in foods and a sour taste in bland foods can indicate dangerous bacterial spoilage. However, food can be high in bacteria count even without such signals.

Food Selection

Buy food from reputable producers or retailers, with a known record for safe handling. Select dated products only if the “sell by” or “use by” date has not expired. While these dates are helpful, they are reliable only if the food has been kept at the proper temperature during storage and handling. Although many products bear “sell by” or “use by” dates, except for infant formula, product dating is not a federal requirement.

Select products labeled “keep refrigerated” only if they are stored in a refrigerated case and are cold to the touch. Frozen products should be solidly frozen. Packages of precooked foods should not be torn or damaged.

Avoid cross-contamination between potentially hazardous foods and fresh foods like fruits and vegetables. Place raw meat and poultry in individual plastic bags to prevent meat from contaminating foods that will be eaten without further cooking. Put packages of raw meat and poultry in your shopping cart where juices cannot drip on other foods.

Shop for perishables last. Keep refrigerated and frozen items together so they will remain cold. Place perishables in the coolest part of your car during the trip home. If the time from store to home refrigerator is more than one hour, pack them in an insulated container with ice or an ice pack.

Food Storage

food storage

To retain quality and nutritive value, stock only the kinds and amounts of food you can store properly. Proper storage means maintaining a clean refrigerator and freezer. Avoid overcrowding the refrigerator. Arrange items so cold air can circulate freely. To reduce dehydration and quality loss, use freezer wrap,freezer-quality plastic bags, or aluminum foil over commercial wrap on meat and poultry that will be stored in the freezer for more than two months.

Table 1 gives short but safe time limits that will help keep refrigerated food from spoiling or becoming dangerous to eat. The time limits for frozen foods are to maintain flavor and texture. It is still safe to eat frozen foods that have been stored longer.

Table 1: Safe food storage guidelines.
(35-40 degrees F)
(0 degrees F)
Breads, baked (no preservatives)2-3 weeks2-3 monthsStore in refrigerator to inhibit mold growth.
     Baked muffins*2-3 months
     Baked quick breads*2-3 months
     Partially baked
cinnamon rolls
1-2 weeks2-3 months
     Unbaked rolls and bread3-4 days1 monthLonger storage inactivates yeast, weakens gluten.
Cakes: frosted baked
unfrosted baked
1 month
2-4 months
Cookies, baked
2-3 weeks
3-4 days
6-12 months
3 months
Flour, white or whole wheat6-8 months12 monthsKeep in airtight container.
Pies: fruit, baked
fruit, unbaked
pumpkin or chiffon
2-3 days
1-2 days
2-3 days
2-4 months
2-4 months
1-2 months
Waffles1-2 days1 month
*Not necessary to refrigerate unless product cannot be used within 3-4 days or “use by” time recommended on package.
Butter2-3 months12 monthsFreeze in original carton, overwrap in plastic freezer bag.
Buttermilk1-2 weeksNRCheck date on carton. Will keep several days after date.
cottage, ricotta
cream cheese
5-7 days
2 weeks
1 month
1 month
Freezing changes texture of soft cheeses.
Becomes crumbly when frozen; can be used in cooking when creaminess is not important.
Natural, aged cheeses
(cheddar, Swiss, brick, gouda, mozzarella, etc.):
large pieces, packaged
or wax coated
slices or opened
Parmesan, Romano,
Pasteurized process
  2-3 months
2-3 weeks12 months3-4 weeks
  6-8 months6-8 monthsNatural and processed cheeses can be frozen. Defrost in refrigerator; cheese will be less likely to crumble. Use soon after thawing.
Coffee whitener (liquid)3 weeksSee package
Cream, light or half and half
(UHT processed-
(UHT processed-
whipping or heavy
1 week
1 week4 weeks1 week
3-4 weeksNRWhipping cream will not whip after thawing. Whipped cream may be frozen and stored for 1-2 weeks.
Dip, sour cream, commercial
2 weeks
3-4 days
Margarine3 months12 monthsOverwrap in plastic freezer bag for frozen storage.
Milk: evaporated, opened
fluid whole or low-fat
reconstituted nonfat dry
sweetened, condensed,
3-5 days
1 week
1 week
3-5 days
1-3 months
1-3 months
1-3 months
1-3 months
Freezing affects milk’s flavor, appearance; use for cooking.
Sour cream2-3 weeksNRSour cream will separate if frozen.
Whipped topping:
frozen carton, thawed
in aerosol can
prepared from mix
2 weeks
3 weeks
3 days
Yogurt1 monthNRYogurt will separate if frozen.
Eggs, fresh yolks or whites4 days12 monthsTo freeze, break eggs out of shell; stir until yolk is well blended with white or other yolks. Add small amount of salt, sugar or corn syrup to improve keeping quality.
Eggs, in shell, fresh3-5 weeksNR
Eggs, in shell, hard-cooked1 weekNRDecorated Easter eggs: If you intend to eat them, keep refrigerated. If eggs are at room temperature for more than 2 hours, do not eat them.
Eggs, liquid pasteurized
eggs or egg substitutes,
4-5 days1 year
Egg-containing products:
canned puddings,
opened Custards,
custard sauces,
pastries and cakes
1-2 days1-2 daysNRNR
Apples1-3 weeks8-12 months*
Apricots, cranberries1 week8-12 months*
Avocados3-5 days4-6 months*
Bananas1-2 days, unpeeled4-6 monthsPeel, dip in lemon juice, tray freeze; store in freezer bag.
Berries, cherries1-2 days8-12 months*
Canned fruits, opened3-5 days1-2 monthsTexture will be softer after freezing. Refrigerate in glass or plastic to avoid metallic taste.
Citrus fruits3 weeks4-6 months*Wrap cut surfaces to prevent loss of Vitamin C.
Dried fruit, cooked
3-5 days
6 months
4-6 months
12 months
Grapes, peaches, pears,
plums, and rhubarb
3-5 days8-12 months*
Juices: canned, bottled,
frozen concentrate
1 week12 monthsTransfer canned juice to glass or plastic container after opening.
Melons1 week4-6 months*Wrap cut surfaces to prevent Vitamin C loss, control odors.
*Freeze all fruits in moisture- and vaporproof containers. Follow recommended procedures in fact sheet 9.331, Freezing Fruits.
Bratwurst, fresh
1-2 days
5-7 days
2-3 months
2-3 months
Meats may be left in the supermarket packaging for refrigerator storage or for very brief freezer storage. For frozen storage beyond two weeks, rewrap in moisture- and vaporproof wrap or freezer bags.
Chops, lamb
pork, veal
2-4 days
2-4 days
6-9 months
4-6 months
Ground beef, stew meat, ground
pork, turkey, veal, lamb
1-2 days3-4 months
Roasts: beef
veal or pork
2-4 days
2-4 days
2-4 days
6-12 months
6-9 months
4-8 months
Sausage: pork, beef, turkey1-2 days1-2 months
Steaks, beef2-4 days6-12 months
Variety meats
(tongue, liver, brains,
heart, kidneys)
1-2 days3-4 months
Canned meat, opened2-3 daysNR
Cooked meat and meat
3-4 days2-3 monthsQuickly refrigerate all cooked meats and leftovers. Use as soon as possible. Cut large roasts into halves to cool in refrigerator. Fats tend to separate in homemade gravies, stews and sauces but usually recombine when heated.
Gravy and meat broth1-2 days2-3 monthsCool leftover gravy and broth quickly, in shallow containers, in the refrigerator.
Processed and Cured
Bacon5-7 days1 monthKeep packaged meats in original package. For best quality, use within one week of “sell by” date.
Corned beef: drained and
in pouch with pickling
5-7 days
5-7 days
1 month
Frankfurters (hotdogs)3-5 days*1-2 monthsFrozen, cured meats lose quality rapidly; use as soon as possible.
Ham, canned, unopened
8-12 months
3-5 days
7 days
1-2 months
1-2 months
Small pieces of canned ham (opened) may be frozen for 4-6 weeks.
Luncheon meats4 days*1-2 months
Sausage, smoked
dry and semidry
7 days
2-3 weeks
1-2 months
1-2 months
*Storage time after vacuum-sealed package is opened. Unopened package may be kept two weeks or according to date on package.
Baby food, prepared or
2-3 daysSee
Store covered. Do not feed baby from jar. Reheat only enough for 1 feeding. Freeze homemade baby food in ice cube trays, covered. Use in 2-4 weeks.
Candies6 months6 monthsChocolates may discolor.
Casseroles1-2 days1 month
Ground spices6 months*6-12 monthsCan be stored in cupboard.
Salads (store prepared or
homemade) – egg,
chicken, ham, tuna and
3-5 daysNR
Salad dressings, opened6 monthsNR
Sandwiches2-3 days1 month
Soups, stews2-3 days4-6 months
Soy milk1 week
1-3 monthsUnopened, aseptically packaged soy milk can be stored at room temperature for several months.
Tofu1 week5 monthsChange storage water every day or two after opening.
*Refrigeration is not necessary, but will help keep flavor fresher.
Chicken and turkey, whole1-2 days12 months
Chicken, pieces1-2 days9 months
Duck and goose, whole1-2 days6 months
Giblets1-2 days3-4 months
Turkey, pieces1-2 days6 months
Canned poultry, opened1-2 daysNRQuick-cool meat and broth separately in shallow containers. Add ice cubes to concentrated broth to speed cooling and to aid fat removal.
Cooked poultry dishes3-4 days4-6 months
Fried chicken3-4 days4 months
Pieces, covered with broth
Pieces, not in broth
1-2 days
3-4 days
6 months
1 month
Chicken nuggets, patties1-2 days1 month
Asparagus2-3 days8-12 months*
Beans, green or wax; celery1 week8-12 months*
Beets, cabbage, carrots,
1-2 weeks8-12 months*
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts1 week8-12 months*
Cauliflower1 week8-12 months*
Corn, on the cob1-2 days8-12 months*
Cucumbers1 weekNR
Lettuce, other salad greens1 weekNRStore in bag or lettuce keeper.
Mushrooms1-2 days8-12 months*Do not wash before refrigerator storage.
Okra3-5 days8-12 months*
Onions, green
3-5 days
1-2 weeks
3-6 months*
Peas, lima beans, unshelled3-5 days8-12 months*Store unshelled in refrigerator until used.
Peppers1 week8-12 months*
Radishes2 weeksNR
Tomatoes, canned, open
fresh, ripe
1-4 days
5-6 days
8-12 months*See 9.341, Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products.
*Blanch fresh vegetables and freeze in moisture- and vaporproof materials. See 9.330, Freezing Vegetables.
Wild Game
Rabbit, squirrel1-2 days6-12 months
Venison2-4 days6-12 months
Wild duck, pheasant,
goose, whole
1-2 days6 months
Canned fish, seafood,
3-4 daysNR
Clams, oysters (shucked),
and scallops
1-2 days3-4 monthsStore in coldest part of refrigerator. Do not use if liquid is frothy.
Cooked fish3-4 days4-6 months
Crab1-2 days2 months
Fillets, fatty: mullet, ocean
perch, sea perch, sea
trout, striped bass
1-2 days2-3 months
Fillets, lean: cod, flounder,
1-2 days4-6 months
Fresh water fish, cleaned1-2 days6-9 months
Lobster, shelled or not1-2 days6-12 months
Salmon steaks1-2 days2 months
Shrimp1-2 days6-12 months
Smoked fish14 days or date on vacuum package2 months in vacuum package
NR: Not recommended.

*P. Kendall, Colorado State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor, and N. Diamond, M.S., R.D.; food science and human nutrition. 3/00. Revised 6/12.

Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Colorado counties cooperating. Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned.