Does lettuce turn brown and slimy in your refrigerator? Is that two-year-old frozen turkey still safe to eat? Should you dispose of that slightly moldy cheese? “When in doubt throw it out” is definitely a safe practice to follow. However, throwing food out is like throwing money away. A few simple guidelines for food storage can save dollars and time spent on shopping.
Dairy Do’s and Don’ts
- Buy milk in cardboard cartons or non-translucent containers. Translucent containers allow light to seep in, which can cause the milk to spoil. Store milk in a refrigerator that is set at 40° or lower. Don’t store milk in the door of the refrigerator. Items stored in the door of the refrigerator are more susceptible to warm air that enters the refrigerator each time the door is opened.
- Discard unused milk after the container has been opened for a week. Milk may be frozen for up to three weeks.
- Ice cream has a shelf life of two to four months as long as it is stored in a freezer that is set at zero degrees Fahrenheit.
- Yogurt should be used within seven to ten days of purchase.
- Butter may be refrigerated, tightly wrapped, for up to one month and be frozen for six months.
- Hard cheeses will keep for three or four weeks, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator once they have been opened. Processed cheese spreads will keep for three to four weeks after opening.
- Purchase eggs before the sell by date. Store eggs in their original packaging on the middle or lower shelf of the refrigerator. Refrigerated uncooked eggs will keep for three to four weeks from the time they are purchased. Hard boiled eggs in the shell will keep for one week. Don’t freeze hard cooked whole eggs or egg whites. They will be tough and watery when defrosted. Raw egg whites can be frozen in ice cube trays.
Meat and Poultry
- Store meat and poultry in a refrigerator set at 35° to 40° Fahrenheit.
- Put packages of raw meat, poultry, or fish on a plate before refrigerating so their juices won’t drip on other foods. Raw juices often contain bacteria.
- Follow the “use by”, “keep refrigerated”, and “safe handling” information on the packaged meat label.
- Meat should be cooked or frozen within a few days of purchase.
- Use chicken by the sell-by date unless you plan on freezing it.
- Chicken and turkey may be frozen for nine months to a year.
- Cooked chicken or turkey should be eaten or frozen within three to four days of preparation.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Use refrigerated fruits and vegetables within a few days of purchase. Wash vegetables and fruits thoroughly right before eating or preparing.
- Fruits and vegetables stored at room temperature should be stored in perforated bags away from direct sunlight.
Canned Food Items
- Don’t purchase cans that are dented, bulging, or rusted.
- Store canned goods in a cool dry place.
- Rotate canned food items on a timely manner to establish a well-stocked pantry.
- Shelf life is determined by the acid content of the canned food.
To assure safe food storage, USDA recommends an appliance thermometer be installed in all refrigerators and freezer sections. Appliance thermometers are available at local supermarkets or discount stores. The refrigerator section should be set at 40°F and freezer section at 0°F.
Safe food storage is top priority to prevent foodborne illness. So remember, “Store It Right!”
For further information, contact:
Dorothy C. Lee, CFCS
UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County
3740 Stefani Road
Cantonment, FL 32533-7792