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Food Expiration

Updated on October 7, 2014

How to Know If Your Food is Safe to Eat

Food expiration is a concern we all have and we notice when there's a problem. Like when you unscrew the milk carton lid and the milk has gone bad.

But the safe to eat date of some foods aren't as obvious. Take fruit and vegetables that don't come with a date stamped on them. How long can you keep them?

This prepared pasta salad with fresh avocado and tomato will keep 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator. Personally, something like this, I like to eat the same day or the next, especially with the avocado in it.

Photo Credit: Peggy Hazelwood

For food safety,

set the refrigerator to 40°F or lower.

Refrigerator Thermometer - Keep your perishable food safe

A refrigerator thermometer will let you know if your fridge settings are correct. If not, correct the temp to keep your food fresh.

Storing Food in the Refrigerator Door

According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, "Don't store perishable foods in the door. Eggs should be stored in the carton on a shelf. The temperature of the storage bins in the door fluctuate more than the temperature in the cabinet. Keep the door closed as much as possible."

Perishable foods include eggs, cheese, butter, meat, fish, and anything that can "go bad" in a few days to a few weeks. Store these items inside the refrigerator, not on the door.

You can store these foods safely in the refrigerator door:

- fruit drinks

- bottled soda and water

- condiments like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise

- jars of pickles, pickle relish, olives, jams, jellies, and similar items

Use your experience. Some refrigerators have "cold" or "hot" spots, so keep that in mind when placing food in your own fridge.

Cover food in the refrigerator.

This will keep it fresher and eliminate most strong food odors from invading other foods.

Store Food in Clear Containers - To see what you have on hand

Keep food sealed and safe in the refrigerator and the pantry in plastic or glass containers so you can see what you have on hand. You can also see how much is left so you'll know when to restock.

Food Safety: Let's Talk Meat

  1. Ground meat like hamburger, poultry (chicken and turkey), and stew meats: store for 1 to 2 days
  2. Fresh meat (like beef, pork, and veal) roasts, steaks, and chops: 3 to 5 days
  3. Fresh chicken and turkey: 1 to 2 days
  4. Organ/variety meat like heart, kidneys, liver, tongue: 1 to 2 days
  5. Bacon: 7 days

    Raw sausage (any kind): 1 to 2 days

    Smoked sausage, links or patties: 7 days

    Summer sausage that is labeled "Keep Refrigerated" unopened package: 3 months; opened package: 3 weeks

    Hard sausage like pepperoni or salami: 2 to 3 weeks

  6. Fresh fish including shellfish: 1 to 2 days
  7. Canned ham, labeled "Keep Refrigerated" that is unopened: 6 to 9 months; opened: 3 to 5 days

    Ham, fully cooked, whole: 7 days; half: 3 to 5 days; slices: 3 to 4 days

    Corned beef in pouch with pickling juices: 5 to 7 days

  8. Hot dogs that are unopened in package: 2 weeks; opened package: 1 week

    Luncheon meats in unopened package: 2 weeks; opened package: 3 to 5 days

  9. Deli and homemade salads like egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, ham salad, and macaroni salad: 3 to 5 days
  10. Pre-stuffed meats like chicken breasts, pork chops, lamb chops: 1 day

Use the Meat Drawer for Meat

Additional cool air is provided in the meat drawer

to keep these items extra cold.

Vacuum Seal Food for the Freezer - Save money by properly freezing meats, fruits, and vegetables

Shop Smart

Only buy what you can eat before it spoils.

Another option is to freeze it right away to use in the future whether the food is raw or cooked.

How Long Can I Keep Cooked Dishes?

  1. Cooked dishes with meat, fish, or poultry: Pieces of meat, cooked casseroles, gravy and broth, nuggets, and patties: 3 to 4 days
  2. Cooked soups and stews: 3 to 4 days

Keep Casseroles Safe - With these insulated dishes and warming dishes

Keep Eggs Fresh

  1. Fresh eggs in the shell: 3 to 5 weeks

    Raw egg yolks and/or whites, cracked open: 2 to 4 days

    Hard-cooked eggs: 1 week

    Liquid pasteurized eggs, egg substitutes that are unopened: 10 days; opened: 3 days

    Egg dishes that are cooked: 3 to 4 days

  2. Keep the refrigerator set at 40°F to ensure dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt are kept safe. This temperature keeps bacteria from growing.
  3. Check expiration dates at the store and at home. Use up items that are about to expire. A good way to use up milk that's near its expiration date is to make a cream-based soup like potato soup.

Safe Foods to Take on a Picnic

No need to refrigerate these foods

or put them in a cooler

~ Fruits and vegetables

~ Canned meat or fish

~ Hard cheese, chips, bread, crackers

~ Mustard, peanut butter, jelly, pickles

Source: USDA FSIS

Are you an extreme couponer?

Consider donating canned goods to charity if your family won't eat them before they expire.

Canned and Boxed Goods

Many canned goods and boxed items will keep a long time, years in fact. Here are some of the foods you probably eat and how to store them and for how long.

Be sure to rotate your stock, using the oldest items first.

Source: USDA Food Safety


  1. Foods that will last for years: salt, cornstarch, pure vanilla extract (not imitation), distilled white vinegar, hard liquor, sugar, rice (except brown rice).

    Store all of these foods in sealed containers in a cool, dry place.

  2. Honey has no expiration date. If it crystallizes, set the container in a bowl of hot (not boiling) water to thin it again.
  3. You open a can and the lining is corroded or discolored, which can happen when metal reacts with high-acid foods like pineapple or tomatoes. If the can is in good shape, the contents should be safe to eat, although the taste, texture and nutritional value of the food can diminish over time.
  4. Be smart about storing canned goods. Keep them in a cool, dry spot with even temperatures. Keep them away from the stove. Also, don't store canned goods in a damp area like a garage or basement or under the kitchen sink.
  5. Canned tomatoes and other foods with high acid content can be kept for 1-1/2 years (18 months).
  6. Keep low-acid canned foods like canned vegetables and meat for 2 to 5 years.

Storing Sugar

All sugar keeps on the shelf forever.

To keep it from hardening, store it in

a sealed plastic container that is air tight or put the

original bag inside a heavy-duty bag and seal it.

Pick Your Produce

Know what to buy and your produce will last longer. Consider going to the grocery store or farmer's market once or twice a week if possible to get the freshest produce you can.

  1. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables that are blemish-free, with no bruises or major damage.
  2. If you buy produce that has been cut or separated, be sure it's been kept on ice or refrigerated at the store. Items like half a watermelon or other fruits cut into pieces.
  3. Eat fresh vegetables and fruits as soon as possible to get the most nutrients. Fresh fruits and vegetables also taste so much better.

Eliminate Food Expiration - Store produce correctly

Save money buy storing your fresh fruits and vegetables correctly. If they're fresh, you're more likely to eat them!

Affiliate Disclosure

This author, Peggy Hazelwood, participates in Amazon, eBay, All Posters, and other affiliate advertising programs. When you click an advertising link on this page and make a purchase, I receive a small percent of the sale. Thank you for reading this far!

What are your food safety tips?

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    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 5 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      I don't really have any tips, but I did learn some things here, including the fact that the refrigerator door isn't the best place to store certain foods, like eggs. I'm headed to the kitchen now for some lunch, so I'll be moving my carton of eggs to a shelf.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image
      Author

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @gottaloveit2: Oh darn. I've done that myself!

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 5 years ago

      I forgot that I had potato pancakes in the oven and found them this morning (oven was off!). It hurt my Jewish spirit to throw them in the trash but I was going to safe rather than sorry. Great article (nice name...).

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 5 years ago

      This is so comprehensive! Great guide!

    • Othercatt profile image

      Othercatt 5 years ago

      This summer I stored canned food in our camper (which reached 130+ degrees most days). We ended up throwing it all out because we figured better safe than sorry.

    • Craftypicks profile image

      Lori Green 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Excellent lens. I bet a lot of people needed this.

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