Food-Life

How Long Will It Last?

Food-Life ~ Kitchen Tricks

How Long Will It Last?

How long to keep what's in your cupboards, fridge, and freezer

It smells okay.

You don't see any green fur growing on it.

So what if that bottle of barbecue sauce has been sitting in the back of your fridge since July 4, 2004?

And that frost covered pork chop that's been chillaxing in your freezer since last year, it's still good, right?

There's always going to be something of indeterminate age in your kitchen, and you may be tempted to sniff, poke, and then taste it.

But not so fast, you could be taking a risk you'll regret by testing this way.

Each year, 76 million Americans fall sick with food borne illnesses and 5,000 die of them, estimates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many of those illnesses are a result of improper food handling at home, which includes eating food that has spent too much time on the refrigerator shelf.

The fridge isn't the only problem spot, either.

Food that's been in the freezer too long won't make you sick, but it certainly won't taste its best.

And though canned and dried foods that are past their prime usually aren't a threat, they will lose nutritional value over time.

(Eating food from a bulging can, however, could be potentially fatal because the swelling could signal bacterial contamination.)

"You can't count on sight or smell to tell you if food is safe or good to eat".

Pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning, which can cause a variety of ailments, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and body aches.

So skip the smell it, prod it and taste it test, and follow our food-life guide.

In the Fridge

If a few items in your refrigerator have been there since the last millennium, you're not alone.

When Tennessee State University researchers peeked into the refrigerators in 210 homes, they found moldy, spoiled, or outdated foods inside 24% of them.

Many consumers don't understand that while refrigeration slows bacterial growth, it doesn't stop it.

Upon conclusion of a recent study, we were horrified to read that 31% of respondents ate leftovers that were more than a week old.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeew!

The first step to ensuring the safety of your food supply is keeping track of when you purchased and opened each item.

One easy way is to stash masking tape and a marking pen in the kitchen so you can label all edibles with "purchased on" and "opened on" dates.

The next step is to pay close attention to the recommended storage times.

Also note that any fridge temperature warmer than 40 degrees F. is a breeding ground for bacteria.

In a Tennessee State study, an alarming 28% of the refrigerators tested were warmer than 40 degrees F.

(For less than $12, you can buy a refrigerator thermometer that will help you keep food at the optimal temperature.)

Some refrigerated foods have expiration dates on their packages.

But food-life dating regulations vary from state to state, and many products come with no date at all.

To avoid confusion and possibly food poisoning, use the rules of thumb at the end of this article.

Food-Life in the Freezer

As long as food remains frozen, it will stay safe to eat.

The flavor and texture, however, can deteriorate substantially over time, so you may want to think twice before serving your dinner guests that 2-year-old T-bone.

Also keep in mind that freezing doesn't kill bacteria; it just puts them to sleep for a while.

Once you thaw it out, follow the guidelines for refrigerated food.

Like refrigerator temperatures, freezer temperatures can vary.

The recommended storage periods assume that your freezer is set at 0 degrees F.

For every 5-degree increase in temperature, you should cut storage time in half.

An important caveat: If you have the type of refrigerator with a small freezer compartment inside (one that doesn't have its own exterior door), don't keep anything in it longer than a week because these freezers cannot maintain temperatures as low as 0 degrees F.

For best quality, follow the guidelines for frozen foods at the end of this article.

Food-Life in the Pantry

Because pasta, rice, and other dried foods don't contain enough moisture for bacteria to thrive, and canned food is airtight, pantry storage is also more a question of quality than safety.

Toss any cans that are rusting, leaking, or bulging, and always put newly purchased items on the back of the shelf, so you use the oldest ones first.

Then heed the food-life rules that follow.

(Unless otherwise noted, they apply to opened products that are kept in airtight containers after opening.)

No matter how fastidious you are, there's always going to be something that slips through your dating system or doesn't appear on any of the lists.

In that case, remember this mantra: When in doubt, throw it out.

Fridge Food-Life

Raw poultry and ground meat...............Eat or freeze within 1-2 days

Leftovers................................3 to 4 days; with gravy, 1 to 2 days

Lunch meat.......................Opened, 3 to 5 days; unopened, 2 weeks

Hard cheese...........Opened, 3 to 4 weeks; unopened, up to 6 months

Soft cheese....................................................................1 week

Condiments..........................................................Up to 6 months

Freezer Food-Life

Ice cream...............................................................2 to 4 months

Cooked meat...........................................................3 to 4 months

Raw poultry, pork...................................................Up to 12 months

Raw ground beef.......................................................3 to 4 months

Steaks and roasts..................................................up to 12 months

Vegetables and fruits..............................................Up to 12 months

Pantry Food-Life

Oils................................Opened, 1 to 3 months; unopened, 6 months

Vanilla and other extracts.........Opened, 12 months; unopened, 2 years

Spices & herbs..Herbs & ground spices, 6 months; whole spices, 2 years

Baking powder.................................................................3 months

Baking soda, sugar, bouillon, pasta, rice..............................12 months

Canned soups, stews, meats...........................Unopened, 2 to 5 years.

We hope this helps in your endeavor to get the most from your food purchases.

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