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Shelf Life of Food & Best Storage Options - How Long Does Food Last in the Pantry, Refrigerator and Freezer?

Updated on April 9, 2017

Shelf Life of Food

Shelf life is different from the expiration date on packages; shelf life being food quality, while expiration date is linked to food safety (as explained in "Expiration Dates" by Consumer Affairs).

To keep with safety standards there are even some stores that have implemented a warning in their systems to stop the sale of an expired product.

One such store in the United States - CVS - lost a major lawsuit and immediately applied the system to their registers to alert the clerk that a product is expired and the regulation is denial of sale of said product.

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Health Watch: Nutritional Value Lost Over Time

Expiration Dates

Best by, Use by, Sell by... all of these dates can become confusing. Does this mean that something that is best by a certain date is rancid at that point?

No one wants to eat expired foods, or things that can make them physically ill.

It takes a bit of common sense along with following dates to know really what you should do with these labels.

Over at the Kitchn they introduce a small test to try when you're a little unsure and are considering risking going against the big bad label. Of course the test in itself is common sense, but it furthers the information in this article.

That said, let's break down the confusion of "expiration dates":

Do you follow the label or your own nose in determining freshness?

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  • Best By

Best by dates refer to the quality of the product. If your food is labeled with a "best before" dating then you are likely safe to keep the food a little longer after the date has past.

The only negatives to allowing it to go beyond the listed date is that the flavor can deteriorate over the time afterward, and the texture, nutritional value and appearance becomes compromised.

Like it says, it's "best by" that date, so anything after will not live up to it's true potential as a food.

The dates appear on many types of food, but mostly on frozen, canned and dried foods.

Eggs are an oddity in this situation as they may contain salmonella which grows over time. Eggs should be consumed before the best before date or thrown away to prove safe for your health.

  • Use By:

Foods with the use by date labeled on the package mean just that: Use by the date listed and not afterward.

Often foods with this date are products that go south rather quickly and are harmful to your health upon spoiling - storing them properly can help avoid dangerous situations.

Read the labels on your food!

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Easy Raw Food Storage Tips

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Fruits

  • Strawberries - 1-2 days counter/pantry, 5-7 days fridge, 6-8 months freezer
  • Blackberries - 2-3 days fridge, 10-12 months freezer
  • Cherries -4-7 days fridge, 10-12 months freezer
  • Lemons - 2-4 weeks counter/pantry, 1-2 months fridge, 3-4 months freezer
  • Cantaloupe - Until ripe counter/pantry, 1 week fridge, 8-12 months freezer

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  • Oranges - 1 week counter/pantry, 2-3 weeks fridge, 10-12 months freezer
  • Peaches - Until ripe counter/pantry, 2-5 days fridge, 8-12 months freezer
  • Grapes - 3-5 days counter/pantry, 7-10 days fridge, 3-5 months freezer
  • Apples - 2-4 weeks counter/pantry, 1-2 months fridge, 8-12 months freezer
  • Guava - Until ripe counter/pantry, 3-4 days fridge, 10-12 months freezer
  • Banana - 2-7 days counter/pantry, 5-9 days fridge, 2-3 months freezer

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Vegetables

  • Cucumbers - 1-3 days counter/pantry, 1 week fridge, 8-12 months freezer
  • Bok Choy - 3-4 days fridge, 10-12 months freezer
  • Cabbage - 1 week fridge, 12-18 months freezer
  • Celery - 1-2 weeks fridge, 12-18 months freezer
  • Potatoes - 1 month counter/pantry, 3-4 months fridge, 8 months freezer
  • Carrots - 4 days counter/pantry, 4-5 weeks fridge, 8-12 months freezer
  • Spinach - 3-5 days fridge, 10-12 months freezer
  • Corn on the Cob (Husk On) - 1-2 days fridge, 8 months freezer
  • Lettuce - 1 week fridge, DO NOT freeze
  • Tomatoes - 12-18 months counter/pantry, 2 weeks fridge, 8-12 months freezer
  • Broccoli - 2 days counter/pantry, 7-14 days fridge, 8-12 months freezer

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Fresh Fish & Shellfish

Fresh fish like the ones listed below can be stored in the freezer for 6 to 9 months before flavor and nutrition becomes compromised.

  • Cod
  • Salmon
  • Tilapia
  • Basa
  • White fish
  • Haddock
  • Sea Bass
  • Catfish
  • Blue fish
  • Trout

It is recommended that you do not leave fish outside of cold storage any longer than 2 hours.

It is also recommended that you only leave fresh fish in the refrigerator for up to 1 to 2 days.

Overly strong fish scents are signs that the fish is not as fresh as it should be or once was.

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Fresh, raw shellfish like these can be kept in the fridge for 1 to 2 days and frozen for 3-4 months, and sometimes as much as 6 months.

  • Scallops
  • Shrimp (shelled or unshelled)
  • Oysters
  • Shucked mussels

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Food Storage: Preserving Meat, Dairy and Eggs

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Red Meat & Poultry

Fresh red meats and poultry like the ones listed below can be stored in the freezer anywhere from 3 months to 8 months on average (and some even an entire year) before flavor and nutrition becomes compromised.

  • Hamburger Meat (ground) - 2 hours counter/pantry, 1-2 days fridge, 3-4 months freezer
  • Steak - 2 hours counter/pantry, 1-2 days fridge, 6-8 months freezer
  • Bacon - 2 hours counter/pantry, 1-2 days fridge, 1 year freezer
  • Ground turkey - 2 hours counter/pantry, 1-2 days fridge, 3-4 months freezer
  • Pork Chops -3-5 days fridge, 4-6 months freezer
  • Ham - 2 hours counter/pantry, 1 week fridge, 6 months freezer
  • Chicken - 2 hours counter/pantry, 1-2 days fridge, 1 year freezer
  • Turkey - 2 hours counter/pantry, 1-2 days fridge, 1 year freezer

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Snacks & Sweets

While not always a healthy alternative, snacks and sweets can last a very long time due to the additives they contain.

  1. Candy Bars (Wrapped candy bars such as Snickers, Butterfingers, Almond Joy, Hershey's Chocolate Bar, etc) | 10-12 months pantry/fridge/freezer
  2. Chewing Gum - 8-10 months pantry
  3. Milk Chocolate Chocolate Chips - 16 months pantry
  4. Wrapped Chocolate Candies - 10-12 months pantry/fridge/freezer
  5. Corn Chips - Unopened: 3 months pantry Opened: 1-2 weeks pantry
  6. Sherbet -Unopened: 2-4 months freezer Opened: 1-2 months freezer
  7. Sorbet - Unopened: 2-4 months freezer Opened: 1-2 months freezer
  8. Ice Cream (Green tea, peach, mango, vanilla, chocolate, Neapolitan ice creams) - Unopened: 2-4 months freezer Opened: 1-2 months freezer
  9. Potato Chips - Unopened: 3 months pantry Opened: 1-2 weeks pantry
  10. Popcorn (microwave packets) - Unopened: 1 year pantry
  11. Pop Corn (commercial bags) - Unopened: 2-3 months pantry Opened: 1-2 weeks pantry
  12. Tortilla Chips - Unopened: 3 months pantry Opened: 1-2 weeks pantry

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Dairy & Eggs

  • Eggs - few hours counter/pantry, 3-4 weeks fridge, Do NOT freeze
  • Milk - few hours counter/pantry, 5-7 days fridge, 1 month freezer
  • Yogurt - few hours counter/pantry, 2-3 months fridge, 1-2 months freezer
  • Hard Cheese - 1-3 hours counter/pantry, 2-4 months fridge, 6-8 months freezer
  • Soft Cheese - few hours counter/pantry, 2-4 months fridge, 6-8 months freezer
  • Butter - 10 days counter/pantry, 1-3 months fridge, 6-9 months freezer

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Storing Foods

Storing your food to get optimal shelf life is easy by following simple steps and purchasing the proper storage containers.

These articles help in preparing your food for the pantry, refrigerator, and/or freezer.

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    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 4 years ago from Iowa, USA

      So my wife is right- you can leave butter out on the counter. This feels wrong to me and I always try to put it in the refrigerator.

    • Neinahpets profile image
      Author

      Stephanie 4 years ago from Canada

      Yes sir, she is! You know, I thought it was strange too until I met my mother in law a few years ago. My husband's family keeps butter in a dish either in the cabinet with the salt and pepper, or oil and vinegar.

      I thought it was unsanitary until I learned about it and found that it keeps it soft, which is great for spreading on toast, corn on the cob and other dishes -- much easier than trying to use hard butter or melting it until it's nothing but a liquid goo in the microwave!

    • Wacky Mummy profile image

      Wacky Mummy 3 years ago from UK

      Great hub - lots of useful information, will be saving this to favourites!

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