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Toi Degree: How long will items last in freezer, or refrigerator?

Have you ever wondered how long your frozen food will last? Or, can you eat a canned good after the expiration? Maybe even which method of storage is the best? Well, if you have ever wondered about any of these things, keep reading for more information on food storage.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), proper home food storage helps maintain safety and food quality by keeping flavor, color, texture and nutrients in food.

Pantry items:  Many staples and canned foods have a relatively long shelf life. However, foods stored for longer than recommended times or beyond the date on the package may change quality, color, and flavor.

Refrigerated foods:  Refrigerators should be kept at a temperature of 40°F (4°C) or below. At that temperature, bacterial growth is slowed and quality is maintained. Time limits will keep refrigerated food from spoiling or causing someone to become ill. Because product dates are not a guide for the safe use of a product, here are a few tips to follow:

• Purchase the product before “sell-by” or expiration date.

• Follow handling recommendations on product.

• Keep meat and poultry in their package until just before using.

• If freezing meat and poultry in its original package longer than two months, cover these packages with heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper. Or, place the package inside a freezer bag.

“Best if Used By” on the package labeling if the date is simply related to optimal quality, not safety. If the products have changed noticeably in color, consistency, or texture, consumers may want to avoid eating them.

“Use By” date-labels you see on packaged foods relate to the quality of the product, but predicting when food will no longer be of adequate quality for consumption is not an exact science.

Freezers should be kept at 0°F (-18°C) or lower. Because freezing keeps food safe indefinitely, the following recommended freezer storage times are for quality (flavor, color, texture, etc.) only. It is also very important to purchase thermometers for both your refrigerator/freezer. You can find them in the housewares section of department, appliance, culinary, and grocery stores. Buy two! Place one in your refrigerator and one in your freezer.

Place the thermometer in the front of the refrigerator/freezer in an easy-to-read location.

Check temperature regularly — at least once a week.

If the freezer compartment isn’t a separate freezer compartment but is inside the refrigerator, it may be impossible to obtain a 0ºF temperature. One sign of this will be soft ice cream. Plan to use food within a few weeks.

For more information on storage times, visit –


• https://food.unl.edu/free-resource/food-storage#milkdairyproducts

• https://food.unl.edu/free-resource/food-storage#fruit

• https://food.unl.edu/free-resource/food-storage#vegetables

• https://food.unl.edu/free-resource/food-storage#condiments

• https://food.unl.edu/free-resource/food-storage#bakedgoods

• https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/cold-food-storage-charts

Toi N. Degree is Associate Family & Consumer Education Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension.  Call her at 704-216-8970 or email her at toi_degree@ncsu.edu.

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