Loading... Please wait...

Food Storage Guidelines For Consumers


Renee Boyer, Extension specialist, Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech; Julie McKinney, Project Associate, Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech

Purchase Fresh Food

Provide safe and nutritious food for you and your family by purchasing food within the food manufacturer’s freshness dates.  Meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and fresh bakery products are dated with a “sell by date” to indicate how long the food can be displayed for sale.  Also, the “sell by date” allows a reasonable amount of time after the purchase in which the product can be used.  Consumers should always purchase food before the “sell by date” expires.  Cereals, snack foods, frozen entrees, and dry packaged foods may be marked with a “best if used by date.”  The products are not at their best quality after this date, but can still be used safely for a short period of time thereafter.  Other foods, such as unbaked breads, are marked with an “expiration” or “use by date,” which means the product should not be consumed after that date.  Do not purchase any food not used by that date.  The freshness date is located on the food package and serves as an indicator of product quality.

Some foods, such as canned foods, have a product code stamped on the bottom or top of each container providing information such as “use by date” or  “best quality date,” the name of the plant where the food was manufactured, and the lot number.  The code number may not be consistent from one manufacturer to another.  For instance, food manufacturers may indicate the “use by date” as month and year (APR02) stamped on top of the can.  APR02 means the food should be consumed by April of 2002.  The first letter and number (corresponding to month and year) of the stamped code also may indicate “use by dates.”  F2 would indicate that the product is of highest quality if consumed by June of 2002.  Consumers may contact the food manufacturer directly to determine “use by dates.”  Many food manufacturers provide a 1-800 number for consumer questions.  Generally, canned goods have a one-year expiration date from the date of manufacture before quality diminishes.

When grocery shopping, pick-up refrigerated and frozen foods just prior to checkout.  Refrigerated foods should be cold, and frozen foods should be solid with no evidence of thawing.  Refrigerated and frozen food should be bagged together.  After grocery shopping, drive straight home and store food in the refrigerator or freezer.  It is important to keep refrigerated and frozen foods out of the danger zone of 40°F to 140°F.

Proper Storage Extends Shelf-Life of Food

The shelf-life of food will depend upon the food itself, packaging, temperature, and humidity.  If the food is not sterilized, it will ultimately spoil due to the growth of microorganisms.  Foods, such as dairy products, meats, poultry, eggs, and fresh fruits and vegetables, will spoil rapidly if not stored at proper temperatures.  For optimal quality and safety, dairy products should be stored at refrigerated temperatures between 34°F and 38°F, meats between 33°F and 36°F, and eggs 33°F to 37°F.  Fresh vegetables and ripe fresh fruits should be stored between 35°F and 40°F.  Always store refrigerated foods at temperatures less than 40°F.  Place a thermometer in the refrigerator and monitor the temperature often.  This is especially important during the hot summer months.

Frozen foods should be stored below 0°F in moisture-proof, gas-impermeable plastic or freezer wrap.  Make sure to label and date frozen foods.  Frozen foods may be safe to eat if stored beyond the recommended storage time but quality may diminish.  Sometimes consumers will overload a freezer and  block the circulation of coolant throughout the freezer compartment.  This will lower the efficiency of the freezer in keeping the food below 0°F.

Food that is temperature abused will spoil rapidly as evidenced by off-odors, off-flavors, off-color, and/or soft texture.  For instance, spoiled milk exhibits a fruity off-odor, acid taste, and may curdle, whereas spoilage of fresh fruits and vegetables may exhibit an off-color and soft texture.  Slime on the surface of meat, poultry, and fish indicates spoilage.  As microorganisms grow, they utilize the food as a nutrient source and may produce acids.  There is an increased risk of food-borne illness from consumption of spoiled food.  Food may be spoiled without a detectable off-odor.  Discard all foods that may have been at room temperature more than 2 hours.  Therefore, when in doubt throw it out!

To ensure food stored in the refrigerator, freezer, or pantry is consumed within the expiration dates, practice FIFO (First-In-First-Out).  When stocking food storage areas, place recently purchased items behind the existing food items.  This will help ensure that you are consuming food prior to expiration date/spoilage and will save you money by reducing the amount of food to discard.   Portion leftovers in clean, sanitized, shallow containers, and cover, label, and date.  Generally, leftovers should be discarded after 48 hours in the refrigerator.

Dry food staples such as flour, crackers, cake mixes, seasonings, and canned goods should be stored in their original packages or tightly closed airtight containers below 85°F (optimum 50°F to 70°F).  Humidity levels greater than 60% may cause dry foods to draw moisture, resulting in caked and staled products.  Canned goods stored in high humidity areas may ultimately rust, resulting in leaky cans.  Discard canned goods that are swollen, badly dented, rusted, and/or leaking.

For safety, always store food separate from nonfood items such as paper products, household cleaners, and insecticides.  Contamination of food or eating utensils with a household cleaner or insecticide could result in a chemical poisoning.

What To Do When The Power Goes Out

When the power goes out in the home, minimize opening the refrigerator and freezer.  Refrigerators and freezers are insulated, aiding in keeping foods cold.  However, if the refrigerator or freezer door is opened often, the cooling will be lost.  Perishable refrigerated foods (i.e. foods of animal origin) should be discarded after a 6-hour period.  Using block ice may increase shelf-life of refrigerated foods.  Food stored in fully loaded freezers may last for approximately two days, whereas food stored in partially loaded freezers may last for only one day.  Freezer foods may be refrozen if ice crystals are present.  Exceptions include ice cream, pizza, and casseroles.  If the frozen food has completely thawed but is cold, it must be cooked within a 24-hour period; or foods may be refrozen within 24 hours after thawing.  However, quality may be diminished.  If in doubt about when the food actually thawed in the freezer, discard the thawed food.  Dry ice may be used to keep frozen foods frozen and cold foods cold. Be careful not to handle dry ice with bare hands or breathe the vapors.

Recommended Storage For Various Foods

Breads, Cereals, Flour and Rice

Bread should be stored in the original package at room temperature and used within 5 to 7 days.  However, bread stored in the refrigerator will have a longer shelf-life due to delayed mold growth and may be firmer.  Expect a 2- to 3-month shelf-life of bread stored in the freezer.  Refrigerate cream style bakery goods containing eggs, cream cheese, whipped cream and/or custards no longer than 3 days.

Cereals may be stored at room temperature in tightly closed containers to keep out moisture and insects.  Whole wheat flour may be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to retard rancidity of the natural oils.

Store raw white rice in tightly closed containers at room temperature and use within one year.  Brown and wild rice stored at room temperature will have a shorter shelf-life (6 months) due to the oil becoming rancid.  Shelf-life of raw white and brown rice may be extended by refrigeration.  Cooked rice may be stored in the refrigerator for 6 to 7 days or in the freezer for 6 months.

Fresh Vegetables

Removing air (oxygen) from the package, storing the vegetables at 40°F refrigerated temperatures, and maintaining optimum humidity (95 to 100%) may extend shelf-life of fresh vegetables.  Most fresh vegetables may be stored up to 5 days in the refrigerator.  Always wrap or cover fresh leafy vegetables in moisture-proof bags to retain product moisture and prevent wilting.  Root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, etc.) and squashes, eggplant, and rutabagas should be stored in a cool, well-ventilated place between 50°F and 60°F.  Tomatoes continue to ripen after harvesting and should be stored at room temperature.  Removing the tops of carrots, radishes, and beets prior to refrigerator storage will reduce loss of moisture and extend shelf-life.  Palatability of corn diminishes during cold storage due to elevated starch content.  Corn and peas should be stored in a ventilated container.  Lettuce should be rinsed under cold running water, drained, packaged in plastic bags, and refrigerated.   Proper storage of fresh vegetables will maintain quality and nutritive value.

Processed Vegetables

Canned vegetables can be stored in a cool, dry area below 85°F (optimum 50°F to 70°F) for up to one year.  After one year, canned vegetables may still be consumed.  However, overall quality and nutritional value may have diminished.  Discard badly dented, swollen, and/or rusty cans.

Frozen vegetables may be stored in the freezer for 8 months at 0°F.  Dehydrated vegetables should be stored in a cool, dry place and used within 6 months since they have a tendency to lose flavor and color.  Home prepared vegetables should be blanched prior to freezing.  For more information on home food preservation see VCE Publication 348-576, Freezing Fruits & Vegetables (http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/348-596/).

Fresh Fruit

In general, store fresh fruit in the refrigerator or in a cold area to extend shelf-life.  Reduce loss of moisture from fresh fruit by using, covered containers.  Always store fresh fruit in a separate storage area in the refrigerator, since fresh fruits may contaminate or absorb odors from other foods.  Prior to consumption, rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under cold running water to remove possible pesticide residues, soil, and/or bacteria.  Peeling, followed by washing of fresh fruits and vegetables, is also very efficient in removing residues.

Ripe eating apples should be stored separately from other foods in the refrigerator and eaten within one month.  Apples stored at room temperature will soften rapidly within a few days.  Remember to remove apples that are bruised or decayed prior to storage in the refrigerator.  Do not wash apples prior to storage.

Green pears and apricots should be ripened at room temperature and then stored in the refrigerator.  Expect a 5-day refrigerated shelf-life for these fruits.

Unripe peaches may be ripened at room temperature and eaten after 2 days.  Store ripe peaches in the refrigerator but consume at room temperature.

Grapes and plums should be stored in the refrigerator and eaten fresh within 5 days of purchase.  Store unwashed grapes separately from other foods in the refrigerator and wash prior to consumption.

Ripe strawberries can be stored in the refrigerator separately from other foods for approximately 3 days.  Strawberries should be washed and stemmed prior to consumption.

Citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes, and ripened oranges, can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.  Grapefruit may be stored at a slightly higher temperature of 50°F.

Melons, such as the honeydew melon, cantaloupe, and watermelon, may be ripened at room temperature for 2, 3, and 7 days, respectively.  Store ripe melons in the refrigerator.

Avocados and bananas should be ripened at room temperature for 3 to 5 days.  Never store unripe bananas in the refrigerator, since cold temperatures will cause the bananas to rapidly darken.

Processed Fruit

Canned fruit and fruit juices may be stored in a cool, dry place below 85°F (optimum 50°F to 70°F) for one year.  As with canned vegetables, badly dented, bulging, rusty, or leaky cans should be discarded.  Dried fruits have a long shelf-life because moisture has been removed from the product.  Unopened dried fruits may be stored for 6 months at room temperature.

Dairy Products

The shelf-life of fluid milk stored in the refrigerator (<40°F) will range from 8 to 20 days depending upon the date of manufacture and storage conditions in the grocers’ shelf.  Milk is a very nutritious and highly perishable food.  Milk should never be left at room temperature and always capped or closed during refrigerator storage.  Freezing milk is not recommended, since the thawed milk easily separates and is susceptible to development of off-flavors.

Dry milk may be stored at cool temperatures (50°F to 60°F) in airtight containers for one year.  Opened containers of dry milk, especially whole milk products, should be stored at cold temperatures to reduce off-flavors.  Handle reconstituted milk like fluid milk and store at refrigeration temperatures if not immediately used.

Canned evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk may be stored at room temperature for 12 to 23 months.  Refrigerate opened canned milk and consume within 8 to 20 days.

Natural and processed cheese should be kept tightly packaged in moisture-resistant wrappers and stored below 40°F.  Surface mold growth on hard natural cheese may be removed with a clean knife and discarded.  Rewrap cheese to prevent moisture loss.   Presence of mold growth in processed cheese, semi-soft cheese, and cottage cheese is an indicator of spoilage and thus these foods should be discarded.

Store commercial ice cream at temperatures below 0°F.  Expected shelf-life of commercial ice cream is approximately 2 months before quality diminishes.  Immediately return opened ice cream to the freezer to prevent loss of moisture and development of ice crystals.  Store ice cream  at constant freezer temperatures to slow growth of ice crystals.

Meats, Poultry, Fish, and Eggs

Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are highly perishable and potentially hazardous due to their high moisture and high protein content.  Generally, fresh cuts of meat contain spoilage bacteria on the surface that will grow, produce slime, and cause spoilage after 3 days of refrigerator storage in oxygen-permeable packaging film.  Ground meat products are more susceptible to spoilage due to the manufacturing process and increased surface area of the product.  Bacteria in ground meats are distributed throughout, providing rapid growth in the presence of air.  Ground meats should be stored on the lower shelf of the refrigerator and used within 24 hours of purchase.  Refrigerator storage slows bacterial growth; however, the product will eventually spoil.  Optimum storage temperature of refrigerated meats, including ground beef, is 33°F to 36°F.

Freezing inhibits the growth of bacteria.  Whole cuts of meat may be stored in the freezer ranging from 4 to 12 months, whereas ground meat may be stored for 3 to 4 months.   For maximum storage, wrap meats in moisture-proof, gas impermeable packaging to prevent freezer burn.

Cured meats, such as bacon, should be stored in their original packaging in the refrigerator.  Cured meats have a tendency to become rancid when exposed to air.  Therefore, rewrap cured meats after opening the package.  Expect approximately a 1-week shelf-life for cured meats.  Vacuum-packaging (absence of air) and modified atmospheric packaging (partial removal of air) extends shelf-life of meats and meat products (i.e. luncheon meats).  The shelf-life of vacuum-packaged meats and gas-flushed meats is 14 days and 7 to 12 days, respectively.

Poultry should be prepared within 24 hours of purchase or stored in the freezer.  Poultry may be stored in the freezer (0°F) for 12 months.  Thaw poultry in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave.  Cook poultry parts (i.e. breast and roast) and whole poultry to an internal temperature of 170°F, and 180°F, respectively.  Leftovers stored in the refrigerator should be consumed within 3 days and reheated to 165°F prior to consumption.  Poultry broth and gravy should not be stored more than 2 days in the refrigerator and reheated to a full boil (212°F) before consuming.

Fresh fish, shrimp, and crab stored in the refrigerator (slightly above 32°F) should be consumed within 1 to 2 days.  Never store fresh fish in water due to leaching of nutrients, flavor, and pigments.  Frozen fresh lean fish and seafood (except shrimp) may be stored for 3 to 6 months at 0°F.  Shrimp may be stored for 12 months at 0°F.

Eggs should be purchased refrigerated and stored in the refrigerator (33°F to 37°F) in their original carton.   Storage of eggs in the original carton reduces absorption of odors and flavors from other foods stored in the refrigerator.  Use eggs within 3 to 5 weeks of the “pack date” listed on the carton (1 to 365 representing pack date day within the year).  Leftover egg yolks and egg whites may be stored in the refrigerator covered for 2 and 4 days, respectively.  Cover egg yolks with water.  Hard-boiled eggs may be stored in the refrigerator for 1 week, whereas pasteurized liquid eggs may be stored in the refrigerator for 10 days.  Egg whites and pasteurized eggs may be stored at freezer temperatures for one year.  Shell eggs should never be stored in the freezer.  Dried eggs may be stored in tightly closed containers in the refrigerator for one year.


Commercial bottled water has an extended shelf-life of one to two years due to extensive water treatment (filtration, demineralization, and ozonation) and strict environmental controls during manufacturing and packaging.  Bottled water should be stored in a cool, dry place in the absence of sunlight.  Household tap water has a limited shelf-life of only a few days due to the growth of microorganisms during storage.  Therefore, consumers should purchase bottled water if planning to store water for extended periods.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates commercial bottled water as a food.  For more information on bottled water see VCE publication 356-486, Buying Bottled Water (http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/356-486/).

Recommended Food Storage Chart

The following charts provide general recommended storage times from date of purchase for various food products stored under optimum conditions.  Storage generally is not recommended under conditions where no time is listed in the chart.  For maximum shelf-life, consumers should always purchase fresh food and never temperature abuse food. If a product has a "use-by" date, follow that date. If a product has a "sell-by" date or no date, cook or freeze the product within the times indicated on this chart.


Food    Pantry (Room Temperature)    Refrigerator (33°F to 40°F)    Freezer (0°F)
Bread and Cereal Products
Baked quick breads    4-5 days    1-2 weeks    2-3 months
Bread    5-7 days    1-2 weeks    3 months
Bread crumbs and croutons    6 months         
Bread rolls, unbaked         2-3 weeks    1 month
Cereals, ready-to-eat    1 year
2-3 months*         
Cereals, ready-to-cook    6 months         
Corn meal    1 year    18 months    2 years
Doughnuts    4-5 days         3 months
Flour, all-purpose, white    6-8 months    1 year    1-2 years
Flour, whole wheat         6-8 months    1-2 years
Pasta    2 years         
Pies and pastries         3 days    4-6 months
Pies and pastries, baked              1-2 months
Pies and pastries, cream filled         2-3 days    3 months
Pizza         3-4 days    1-2 months
Rice, brown    6 months         
Rice, white    1 year    6-7 days+    6 months+
Tacos, enchiladas, and burritos (frozen)         2 weeks    1 year
Waffles         4-5 days    1 month
Packaged Foods and Mixes
Biscuit, brownie, and muffin mixes    9 months         
Cakes, prepared    2-4 days         2-3 months
Cake mixes    6-9 months         
Casserole mix    9-12 months         
Chili powder    6 months         
Cookies, packaged    2 months         8-12 months
Crackers, pretzels    3 months         
Frosting, canned    3 months         
Frosting, mix    8 months         
Fruit cake         2-3 months    1 year
Hot roll mix    18 months         
Instant breakfast products    6 months         
Pancake and piecrust mix    6 months         
Pancake waffle batter         1-2 days    3 months
Toaster pastries    3 months         
Sauce and gravy mixes    6 months         
Soup mixes    1 year         
Spices, Herbs, Condiments, Extracts
Catsup, chili, and cocktail sauce    1 year
1 month*    
6 months    
Herbs    6 months         1-2 years
Herb/spice blends    2 years
1 year *         1-2 years
Mustard    2 years    6-8 months*    8-12 months
Spices, ground    6 months         1-2 years
Spices, whole    1-2 years         2-3 years
Vanilla extract    2 years
1 year*         
Other extracts    1 year         
Other Food Staples
Bacon bits    4 months         
Baking powder    18 months         
Baking soda    2 years         
Bouillon products    1 year         
Carbonated soft drinks (12 oz. cans)    6-9 months         
Carbonated soft drinks, diet (12 oz. cans)    3-4 months         
Chocolate, premelted    1 year         
Chocolate syrup    2 years    6 months*    
Chocolate, semisweet    2 years         
Chocolate, unsweetened    18 months         
Cocoa mixes    8 months         
Coconut, shredded    1 year
6 months*    8 months    1 year
Coffee cans    2 years
2 weeks*    2 months    6 months
Coffee, instant    6 months
2 weeks*         
Coffee, vacuum-packed    1 year ^         
Coffee lighteners (dry)    9 months
6 months*         1 year
Cornstarch    18 months         2 years
Gelatin    18 months         
Honey, jams, jellies, and syrup    1 year    6-8 months*    
Marshmallows    2-3 months         
Marshmallow cream    3-4 months         
Mayonnaise    2-3 months    12 months
2 months*    
Molasses    2 years         
Nuts, shelled    4 months    6 months    
Nuts, unshelled    6 months         
Nuts, salted              6-8 months
Nuts, unsalted              9-12 months
Oil, salad    3 months^
2 months*         
Parmesan grated cheese    10 months
2 months*         
Pasteurized process cheese spread    3 months    3-4 weeks*    4 months
Peanut butter    6-9 months
2-3 months*    4-6 months
Popcorn    1-2 years    2 years    2-3 years
Pectin    1 year         
Salad dressings, bottled    1 year^    3 months*    
Soft drinks    3 months         
Artificial sweetener    2 years         
Sugar, brown    4 months         
Sugar, confectioners    18 months         
Sugar, granulated    2 years         
Tea bags    18 months         
Tea, instant    2 years         
Vegetable oils    6 months
1-3 months*         
Vegetable shortening    3 months    6-9 months    
Vinegar    2 years
1 year*         
Water, bottled    1-2 years         
Whipped topping (dry)    1 year         
Yeast, dry    Pkg. exp. date         
Asparagus         2-3 days    8 months
Beets         2 weeks    
Broccoli         3-5 days    
Brussels sprouts         3-5 days    
Cabbage         1 week    
Carrots         2 weeks    
Cauliflower         1 week    
Celery         1 week    
Corn (husks)         1-2 days    8 months
Cucumbers         1 week    
Eggplant         1 week    
Green beans         1-2 days    8 months
Green peas         3-5 days    8 months
Lettuce         1 week    
Lima beans         3-5 days    8 months
Mushrooms         2 days    
Onions    1 week    3-5 days    
Onion rings (precooked, frozen)              1 year#
Peppers         1 week    
Pickles, canned    1 year    1 month*    
Frozen potatoes              8 month
Sweet potatoes    2-3 weeks         
White potatoes    2-3 months         
Potato chips    1 month         
Radishes         2 weeks    
Rhubarb         3-5 days    
Rutabagas    1 week         
Snap beans         1 week    
Spinach         5-7 days    8 months
Squash, Summer         3-5 days    
Squash, Winter    1 week         
Tomatoes         1 week    
Turnips         2 weeks    
Commercial baby food, jars    1-2 years^    2-3 days    
Canned vegetables    1 year^    3-5 days*    
Canned vegetables, pickled    1 year^    1-2 months*    
Dried vegetables    6 months         
Frozen vegetables              8 months
Vegetable soup         3-4 days    3 months
Apples    Until ripe    1 month    
Apricots    Until ripe    5 days    
Avocados    Until ripe    5 days    
Bananas    Until ripe    5 days (fully ripe)    
Berries    Until ripe    3 days    1 year
Canned fruit    1 year    2-4 days*    
Canned fruit juices    1 year    3-4 days*    
Cherries    Until ripe    3 days    
Citrus fruit    Until ripe    2 weeks    
Dried fruit    6 months    2-4 days+    
Frozen fruit              1 year
Fruit juice concentrate         6 days    1 year
Fruit pies, baked         2-3 days    8 months
Grapes    Until ripe    5 days    
Melons    Until ripe    5 days    
Nectarines    Until ripe    5 days    
Peaches    Until ripe    5 days    1 year
Pears    Until ripe    5 days    1 year
Pineapple    Until ripe    5-7 days    1 year
Plums    Until ripe    5 days    
Dairy Products
Butter         1-2 months    9 months
Buttermilk         2 weeks    
Cottage cheese         1 week    3 months
Cream cheese         2 weeks    
Cream-light, heavy, half- and-half         3-4 days    1-4 months
Eggnog commercial         3-5 days    6 months
Margarine         4-5 months    12 months
Condensed, evaporated and dry milk    12-23 months^    8-20 days*    
Milk         8-20 days    
Ice cream and sherbet              2 months
Hard natural cheese (e.g. cheddar, swiss)         3-6 months
3-4 weeks*    6 months
Processed cheese         3-4 weeks    6-8 months
Soft cheese (e.g. brie)         1 week    6 months
Pudding         1-2 days*    
Snack dips         1 week*    
Sour cream         2 weeks    
Non-dairy whipped cream, canned         3 months    
Real whipped cream, canned         3-4 weeks    
Yogurt         2 weeks    1-2 months
Meats, Poultry, Eggs and Fish
Fresh beef and bison steaks         3-5 days    6-9 months
Fresh beef and bison roasts         3-5 days    9-12 months
Fresh pork chops         2-3 days    4-6 months
Fresh lamb chops         3-5 days    6-8 months
Fresh veal         1-2 days    4-6 months
Fresh ground meat (e.g. beef, bison, veal, lamb)         1-2 days    3-4 months
Cooked meat         2-3 days    2-3 months
Canned meat    1 year    3-4 days*    3-4 months
Ham, whole         1 week    1-2 months
Ham, canned    2 years    1 week*    3-4 months
Ham, canned "keep refrigerated"         6-9 months
3-5 days*    
3-4 months
Shelf-stable unopened canned meat (e.g. chili, deviled ham, corn beef)    1 year    1week*    
Ham, cook before eating         1 week    
Ham, fully cooked         2 weeks
1 week*    
Ham, dry-cured    1 year    1 month    
Ham salad, store prepared or homemade         3-5 days    
Bacon         2 weeks
1 week*    1 month
Corned beef, uncooked         5-7 days    1-2 months
Restructured (flaked) meat products              9-12 months
Sausage, fresh         1-2 days    1-2 months
Smoked breakfast sausage links, patties         1 week    2 months
Sausage, smoked (e.g. Mettwurst)         1 week    1-2 months
Sausage, semi-dry (e.g. Summer sausage)         2-3 weeks*    6 months
Sausage, dry smoked (e.g. Pepperoni, jerky, dry Salami)    1 year    1 month*    6 months
Frankfurters, bologna         2 weeks
3-7 days*    1-2 months
Luncheon meat         2 weeks
3-5 days*    1 month
Meat gravies         1-2 days    2-3 months
TV beef and pork dinners              18 months#
Meat based casseroles         3-4 days    4 months
Variety meats (giblets, tongue, liver, heart, etc.)         1-2 days    3-4 months
Vinegar pickled meats (e.g. pickled pigs feet)    1 year^    2 weeks*    
Breaded fish              4-6 months
Canned fish    1 year    1-2 days*    
Cooked fish or seafood         3-4 days    3 months
Lean fish (e.g. cod, flounder, haddock)         1-2 days    6 months
Fatty fish (e.g. bluefish, salmon, mackeral)         1-2 days    2-3 months
Dry pickled fish         3-4 weeks    
Smoked fish         2 weeks    4-5 weeks
Seafood-clams, crab, lobster in shell         2 days    3 months
Seafood-oysters and scallops         4-5 days    3-4 months
Seafood-shrimp         4-5 days    1 year
Seafood-shucked clams         4-5 days    3-6 months
Tuna salad, store prepared or homemade         3-5 days    
Chicken nuggets or patties         1-2 days    
Chicken livers         1-2 days    3 months
Chicken and poultry TV dinners              6 months
Canned poultry^    2-5 years    3-4 days*    4-6 weeks
Cooked poultry         2-3 days    4-6 months
Fresh poultry         1-2 days    1 year
Frozen poultry parts         1-2 days    6-9 months
Canned poultry         1 day    3 months
Poultry pies, stews, and gravies         1-2 days    6 months
Poultry salads, store prepared or homemade         3-5 days    
Poultry stuffing, cooked         3-4 days    1 month
Eggs, in shell         3-5 weeks    
Eggs, hard-boiled         1 week    
Eggs, pasteurized         10 days
3 days*    1 year
Egg substitute         10 days
3 days*    1 year
Egg yolks (covered in water)         2-4 days    1 year
Egg whites (For each cup of egg yolk add 1 Tbs. of sugar or salt)         2-4 days    1 year
Wild Game
Frog legs         1 day    6-9 months
Game birds         2 days    9 months
Small game (rabbit, squirrel, etc.)         2 days    9-12 months
Venison ground meat         1-2 days    2-3 months
Venison steaks and roasts         3-5 days    9-12 months
* Opened
+ Cooked
^ Refrigerate after opening
# After manufacture date

American Meat Institute Foundation. 1994. Yellow pages: answers to predictable questions consumers ask about meat and poultry. American Meat Institute Foundation, Washington, D.C.

Food Marketing Institute. 1999. The food keeper. Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C.

Freeland-Graves, J.H. and G.C. Peckham. 1996. Foundations of food preparation, 6th ed. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Hillers, V.N. 1993. Storing foods at home. Washington State University Cooperative Extension, Pullman, WA. Publ. EB 1205.

National Restaurant Association. 2001. Be cool-chill out! Refrigerate promptly. National Restaurant Association Education Foundation¼s International Food Safety Council, Washington, D.C.

USDA. 1997. Basics for handling food safely. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Washington, D.C.


Originally written by: Tim Roberts, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Food Safety, Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise, Virginia Tech; Paul Graham, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Muscle Foods, Department of Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech