Shelf Life of Food & Best Storage Options - How Long Does Food Last in the Pantry, Refrigerator and Freezer?
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.
Health Watch: Nutritional Value Lost Over Time
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":
Food and Beverage Stability and Shelf Life
Do you follow the label or your own nose in determining freshness?
- 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!
Easy Raw Food Storage Tips
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
- White fish
- Sea Bass
- Blue fish
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.
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.
- Shrimp (shelled or unshelled)
- Shucked mussels
Food Storage: Preserving Meat, Dairy and Eggs
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
Snacks & Sweets
While not always a healthy alternative, snacks and sweets can last a very long time due to the additives they contain.
- Candy Bars (Wrapped candy bars such as Snickers, Butterfingers, Almond Joy, Hershey's Chocolate Bar, etc) | 10-12 months pantry/fridge/freezer
- Chewing Gum - 8-10 months pantry
- Milk Chocolate Chocolate Chips - 16 months pantry
- Wrapped Chocolate Candies - 10-12 months pantry/fridge/freezer
- Corn Chips - Unopened: 3 months pantry Opened: 1-2 weeks pantry
- Sherbet -Unopened: 2-4 months freezer Opened: 1-2 months freezer
- Sorbet - Unopened: 2-4 months freezer Opened: 1-2 months freezer
- Ice Cream (Green tea, peach, mango, vanilla, chocolate, Neapolitan ice creams) - Unopened: 2-4 months freezer Opened: 1-2 months freezer
- Potato Chips - Unopened: 3 months pantry Opened: 1-2 weeks pantry
- Popcorn (microwave packets) - Unopened: 1 year pantry
- Pop Corn (commercial bags) - Unopened: 2-3 months pantry Opened: 1-2 weeks pantry
- Tortilla Chips - Unopened: 3 months pantry Opened: 1-2 weeks pantry
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
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.
- Refrigeration tips - how to store food safely in the refrigerator plus tips on maintaining a clean a
General tips, advice and information on how to safely and correctly store all types of food products in the refrigerator plus how to keep the refrigerator clean and bacteria free.
- How To Use Leftovers Safely, Dinner Leftovers, Food Leftovers, How To Use Leftovers Safely, Thanksgi
Leftover" foods are cooked foods that you or your family do not eat within 2 hours after they are cooked. Leftovers include foods that you may eat before or after they have been stored in the refrigerator or freezer. The chance of food poisoning...
- Dairy Safety Tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Keep dairy products safe to eat: review these storage and food safety tips before the next trip to the grocery store. Information from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Food safety - storage | Better Health Channel
Incorrect storage of food can cause spoilage and food poisoning. High-risk food should be kept at 5 °C or below, and above 60 °C to avoid the 'temperature danger zone', where bacteria multiply fastest. Do not refreeze food that has been frozen and...