Food Storage for Safety and Quality

  • Kendall, Patricia A.;
  • Dimond, Nancy

Quick Facts

  • Foods vary in the degree of temperature and amount of moisture they need to retain quality in storage.
  • Stock only the kind and amount of food you can store properly to retain high quality and nutritive value.
  • Use a thermometer to check that the refrigerator is at 35 to 40 degrees F and the freezer at 0 degrees F or below.


Use fresh, perishable foods soon after harvest or purchase. If storage is necessary, it is important to maintain the proper temperature and humidity. Even under proper storage conditions, however, freshness and nutritive value can be lost if foods are stored too long.

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 are signals that can indicate dangerous bacterial spoilage. However, food can be high in bacteria count without such signals.

Food Selection

Buy food from reputable dealers, 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, 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 and packaged precooked foods should not be torn or damaged.

Avoid cross-contamination when purchasing foods. Place raw meat and poultry in individual plastic bags to prevent meat from contaminating foods that will be eaten without further cooking. Position raw packages of meat and poultry in your shopping cart so 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. Pack them in an insulated container with ice or ice pack if the time from store to home refrigerator is more than one hour.

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.

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

Food Storage Tables

Table 1, Table 2, Table 3, Table 4, Table 5, Table 6, Table 7, Table 8, and Table 9 are adapted from Refrigerator/Freezer - Approximate Storage Times, Karen Penner, Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service, 1990, and USDA publications.

Table 1. Storage times for breads, pastries and cakes.
Product Refrigerator
(35-40 degrees F)
(O degrees F)
Unbaked rolls and bread 3-4 days 1 month Longer storage inactivates yeast, weakens gluten.
Partially baked cinnamon rolls 1-2 weeks 2 months
Baked quick breads * 2 months
Baked muffins * 6-12 months
Baked breads (no preservatives) 2-3 weeks 2-3 months Store in refrigerator to inhibit mold growth.
Waffles 1-2 days 1 month
Unbaked fruit pies 1-2 days 2-4 months
Baked fruit pies 2-3 days 6-8 months
Pumpkin or chiffon pies 2-3 days 1-2 months
Baked cookies 2-3 weeks 6-12 months
Cookie dough 3-4 days 3 months
Frosted baked cakes * 1 month
Unfrosted baked cakes * 2-4 months
Angel cakes * 6-12 months
Flour: white or whole wheat 6-8 months 12 months
* Not necessary to refrigerate unless product cannot be used within 4-5 days or time recommended on package.

Table 2. Storage times for dairy products.
Product Refrigerator
(35-40 degrees F)
(O degrees F)
Butter 2-3 months 12 months Freeze in original carton, overwrap with plastic freezer bag
Buttermilk 1-2 weeks NR Check date on carton. Will keep several days after date.
Cheese: cottage, ricotta 5-7 days 1 month Freezing changes texture of soft cheeses
cream cheese 2 weeks 1 month 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; 2-3 months 6-8 months Natural and processed cheeses can be frozen. Defrost in refrigerator--cheese will be less likely to crumble. Use soon after thawing.
slices or opened packages; 2-3 weeks 6-8 months
Parmesan, Romano (grated) 12 months 6-8 months
Pasteurized process cheese 3-4 weeks 6-8 months
Coffee whitener (liquid) 3 weeks See package
Cream, light or half and half 1 week 3-4 weeks
(UHT processed-unopened) 4 weeks 3-4 weeks
(UHT processed-opened) 1 week 3-4 weeks
Cream, heavy or whipping 1 week NR Whipping cream will not whip after thawing. Whipped cream may be frozen and stored for 1-2 weeks.
Dip, sour cream:commercial 2 weeks NR
homemade 3-4 days NR
Margarine 3 months 12 months Leave in original foil and carton, overwrap in plastic bag for freezer storage.
Milk:evaporated, opened 3-5 days 1-3 months Freezing affects flavor and/or appearance; use for cooking.
fluid whole or low-fat 1 week 1-3 months Same as for evaporated.
reconstituted nonfat dry 1 week 1-3 months
sweetened, condensed, opened 3-5 days 1-3 months
Sour cream 2-3 weeks NR Sour cream will separate if frozen
Whipped topping:in aerosol can 3 weeks NR
prepared from mix 3 days NR
frozen carton (thawed) 2 weeks NR
Yogurt 1 month NR Yogurt will separate if frozen.
NR: Not recommended.

Table 3. Storage times for eggs and products containing eggs.
Product Refrigerator
(35-40 degrees F)
(O degrees F)
Eggs, in shell, fresh 3 weeks NR
Eggs, fresh yolks or whites 4 days 12 months To 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, hard-cooked 1 week NR Decorated 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, opened 4-5 days 1 year
Egg-containing products; Custards, custard sauces, puddings, custard-filled pastries and cakes: 1-2 days NR
Canned puddings, opened: 1-2 days NR
NR: Not recommended.

Table 4. Storage times for fruits.
Product* Refrigerator
(35-40 degrees F)
(O degrees F)
Apples 1-3 weeks 8-12 months
Apricots, cranberries 1 week 8-12 month
Avocados 3-5 days 4-6 months
Bananas 1-2 days, unpeeled 4-6 months Peel, dip in lemon juice, tray freeze; store in freezer bag.
Berries/cherries 1-2 days 8-12 months
Grapes, peaches, pears, plums, and rhubarb 3-5 days 8-12 months
Canned fruits, opened 3-5 days 1-2 months Texture will be softer after freezing. Refrigerate in glass or plastic to avoid metallic taste.
Citrus fruits 3 weeks 4-6 months Wrap cut surfaces to prevent loss of Vitamin C.
Dried fruit, uncooked 6 months 12 months
Dried fruit, cooked 3-5 days 4-6 months
Juices: canned, bottled, frozen concentrate 1 week 12 months Transfer canned juice to glass or plastic container after opening.
Melons 1 week 8-12 months Wrap cut surfaces to prevent loss of Vitamin C and spread of odors.
* Freeze all fruits in moisture- and vapor-proof containers. Follow recommended procedures in SIA 9.331, Freezing fruits.

Table 5. Storage times for meats.
Product Refrigerator
(35-40 degrees F)
(O degrees F)
Roasts: beef 3-5 days 6-12 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 vapor-proof wrap or freezer bags.
Roasts: veal or pork 3-5 days 4-8 months
Roasts: lamb 3-5 days 6-9 months
Steaks, beef 3-5 days 6-12 months
Chops: pork, veal 3-5 days 4-6 months
Chops: lamb 3-5 days 6-9 months
Ground beef, stew meat, ground pork, turkey, veal, lamb 1-2 days 3-4 months
Sausage: pork, beef, turkey 1-2 days 1-2 months
Bratwurst, fresh 2 days 2-3 months
Bratwurst, precooked 5-7 days 2-3 months
Variety meats (tongue, liver, brains, heart, kidneys) 1-2 days 3-4 months
Canned meat, opened 2-3 days NR
Cooked meat and meat dishes 3-4 days 2-3 months Quickly refrigerate all cooked meats and leftovers, use as soon as possible. Cut large roasts into halves to cool in refrigerator.
Gravy and meat broth 1-2 days 2-3 months Fats tend to separate in homemade gravies, stews, and sauces, but usually recombine when heated. Cool leftover gravy and broth quickly, in shallow containers, in the refrigerator.
Processed and Cured
Bacon 7 days 1 month Keep packaged meats in original package. For best quality, use within one week of "sell by" date.
Corned beef, in pouch with pickling juice Corned beef, drained and wrapped 5-7 days 1 month
Frankfurters 7 days* 1-2 months Frozen, cured meats lose quality rapidly; use as soon as possible.
Ham: whole 7 days 1-2 months
Ham: half 3-5 days 1-2 months Small pieces of canned ham (opened) may be frozen for 4-6 weeks.
Ham: canned (unopened) 8-12 months NR
Luncheon meats 3-5 days* 1-2 months
Sausage, smoked 7 days 1-2 months
Dry and semi-dry sausage 2-3 weeks 1-2 months
NR: Not recommended.
* Storage time after vacuum-sealed package is opened. Unopened package may be kept two weeks or according to date on package.

Table 6. Storage times for poultry.
Product Refrigerator
(35-40 degrees F)
(O degrees F)
Chicken and turkey (whole) 1-2 days 12 months
Chicken (pieces) 1-2 days 9 months
Turkey (pieces) 1-2 days 6 months
Duck and goose (whole) 1-2 days 6 months
Giblets 1-2 days 3-4 months
Canned poultry, opened 1 day NR Quick-cool meat and broth separately in shallow containers,. Add ice cubes to concentrated broth to speed cooling and to aid fat removal.
Cooked poultry dishes 3-4 days 4-6 months
Pieces (covered with broth) 1-2 days 6 months
Pieces (not in broth) 3-4 days 1 month
Fried chicken 3-4 days 4 months

Table 7. Storage times for wild game and seafood.
Product Refrigerator
(35-40 degrees F)
(O degrees F)
Wild Game
Venison 3-5 days 6-12 months
Rabbit, squirrel 1-2 days 12 months
Wild duck, pheasant, goose (whole) 1-2 days 6 months
Canned fish, seafood, opened 1 day NR
Clams, oysters (shucked) and scallops 7-9 days 3-4 months Store in coldest part of refrigerator. Do not use if liquid is frothy.
Crab 7 days 2 months
Shrimp 3-5 days 6-12 months
Lobster (shelled or not) 3-7 days 6-12 months
Fresh water fish, cleaned 3-5 days 6-9 months
Fillets: cod, flounder, haddock, pollack (lean): 2-3 days 4-6 months
Fillets: mullet, ocean perch, sea perch, sea trout, striped bass (fatty): 1-2 days 2-3 months
Salmon steaks 3-5 days 2 months
Cooked fish 3-4 days 1 month
Smoked fish 1-2 weeks 4-5 weeks

Table 8. Storage times for vegetables.
Product Refrigerator
(35-40 degrees F)
(O degrees F)
Asparagus 2-3 days 8-12 months
Beans, green or wax; celery 1 week 8-12 months
Beets, cabbage, carrots, turnips 1-2 weeks 8-12 months
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts 1 week 8-12 months
Cauliflower 1 week 8-12 months
Corn, in husks 1-2 days 8-12 months
Corn, without husks 1-2 days NR
Cucumbers 1 week
Lettuce, other salad greens 1 week NR Store in bag or lettuce keeper.
Mushrooms 1-2 days 8-12 months Do not wash before refrigerator storage.
Okra 3-5 days 8-12 months
Onions, green 3-5 days NR
Onions, mature 1-2 weeks 3-6 months
Peas, lima beans, unshelled 3-5 days 8-12 months Store unshelled in refrigerator until used.
Peppers 1 week 8-12 months
Radishes 2 weeks NR
Tomatoes: Fresh, ripe 5-6 days 8-12 months Refer to SIA 9.341, Canning tomatoes and tomato products.
Tomatoes: Canned, open 1-4 days
NR: Not recommended
* Blanch fresh vegetables and freeze in moisture- and vapor-proof materials. Refer to SIA 9.330 Freezing vegetables.

Table 9. Storage times for miscellaneous perishable items.
Product Refrigerator
(35-40 degrees F)
(O degrees F)
Baby food 2-3 days See comment Store covered. Do not feed baby from jar. Reheat only enough for one feeding. Freeze homemade baby food in ice cub trays, covered, use in 2-4 weeks.
Soups, stews 2-3 days 4-6 months
Sandwiches 2-3 days 1 month
Casseroles 1-2 days 1 month
Ground spices 6 months* 6-12 months Can be stored in cupboard.
Candies 6 months 6 months Chocolates may discolor.
Salad dressings, opened 6 months NR
NR: Not recommended
* Refrigeration is not necessary, but will help keep flavor fresher.

Service in Action 9.310, Cooperative Extension, Colorado State University. Published June 1991. Reviewed October 1992. Copyright 1992. For more information, contact your county Cooperative Extension office.

Pat Kendall, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension food science and human nutrition specialist and professor; Nancy Diamond, senior, food science and human nutrition.

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More