Now we know that the dates on food don’t necessarily mean that it magically becomes inedible the next day. But there are still some food storage things that you should be aware of to ensure food safety up to and past the package dates.
Remember, the dates on food packages are determined by the manufacturer, and are indicators of best quality. The manufacturers assume that you will properly store the food once you purchase it. So what does properly stored food look like?
Always, always, always refrigerate your perishables as soon as you can once you get them home. Your refrigerator temperature should be set to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Some areas of your refrigerator will stay colder than others. The door, in particular, is one of the warmest places in the refrigerator. Even though it may be convenient, it’s better to keep your milk and eggs inside the refrigerator rather than on the door.
Most milk will stay good until a minimum of 3-5 days after the “sell by” date. Kept in a cold part of the refrigerator, you may be able to keep it up to a week after the “sell by” date. The lower the fat content in milk, the longer it will stay fresh.
If there is a “use by” date on your package of raw poultry (chicken, turkey, or duck), use or freeze it by that date. If you have a “sell by” date, you should use or freeze within 1-2 days of that date. If there is no date on the package, you should use or freeze it within 1-2 days of purchase.
Beef, pork, lamb, or veal
These will last in your refrigerator a little longer than chicken. Again, if there is a “use by” date, go by that for use or freezing. If you have a “sell by” date, you should use or freeze these meats within 3-5 days of that date. And, if there is no date, use or freeze your meat within 3-5 days of purchase.
Ground meat or poultry
This includes ground beef, ground chicken, ground pork, ground turkey, or any other ground meat you can find. Follow the guidelines for poultry for ground meats (1-2 days).
Pork sausage, turkey sausage, whatever is your choice. Follow the guidelines for poultry for uncooked sausages (1-2 days).
These have the longest refrigerator shelf-life of anything we’ve talked about yet. Eggs are good in your refrigerator (at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below) for 3-5 weeks after the “sell by” date, or after you purchase them if there is no date on the package. (PS, eggs don’t freeze well. Use them up or toss them out.)
I’ll admit, I don’t deal with these at our house. But I know plenty of people who do, and they swear that if you cook them right they’re delicious. But that’s not the topic today… We’re talking about tongue, liver, that kind of thing. These organ meats have the same guidelines as poultry (1-2 days).
Regardless of the dates on the packages, your senses are your most important tools in food safety at home. Does the food have a different smell than normal? Does it look different – is there visible mold, or is the milk chunky (yuck), or does the meat have an uneven appearance? Any of these are signs that the food has gone bad, and should not be eaten.
I’m all for not wasting food, but it’s better to be safe than sorry in most cases.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service has some more information about storage times for pre-cooked or processed foods that are pre-packaged by the manufacturer. This table has information on foods like lunch meat, pre-cooked chicken, and bacon.
What other food safety questions do you have? Is there something you have always heard that you should or should not do?