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food shelf life: how long foods last

How long does food last?

You know when some the food in your fridge has turned: The lettuce is more brown than green.

Milk has an unmistakably sour smell. But what about all those other items your fridge? 

Many refrigerated items can last well beyond their use-by date without smelling funky or looking weird, but they could easily be past their prime - and you don't want to find out the hard way.

Since it's hard to know how long food lasts based on labels (if an item has one), this food shelf life guide can help you decide what's safe for dinner - and what's not.

Food Shelf Life of Pantry Items

Food shelf life of pantry items:

  • Condiments: Because most condiments have a nearly indefinite shelf life when unopened, the printed date goes entirely out the window when opened and refrigerated. While every condiment has a different threshold, a visual check for changes in the consistency and color as well as a sniff test should keep you and your family safe.
  • Flour, all-purpose: Unopened (on the shelf): 6 to 8 months.
  • Jams, jellies, preserves: Unopened (on the shelf): 1 year; opened (in the fridge) 6 months.
  • Pasta, dried: Unopened (on the shelf): 2 years.
  • Rice, white or wild: Unopened (on the shelf): 18 months to 2 years; opened (in the fridge): 1 year (uncooked).
  • Soda and carbonated water: Unopened (on the shelf): 3 to 9 months; opened (in the fridge): 2 to 3 days.
  • Tuna: Unopened (on the shelf): 3 years; opened (in the fridge): 2 to 4 days.

How long  Perishables Keep

  • Apples: On counter: 1 to 2 days; in fridge: 3 weeks.
  • Baking potatoes: On shelf: 2 to 3 months.
  • Bananas: On shelf until ripe; in fridge: 2 days.
  • Cheese (mozzarella or cheddar): 3 to 6 months (unopened).
  • Eggs: 3 weeks.
  • Lettuce: 3 to 5 days.
  • Milk: 4 days.
  • Onions: 3 weeks to 1 month on shelf; 2 months in fridge.
  • Raisins: 9 months on shelf; 18 months in fridge.

How Long Refrigerated Food Lasts

  • Raw Poultry: Raw poultry lasts just a day or two in the refrigerator. Cooked poultry can be refrigerated for a few days longer.
  • Red Meat and Pork: Red meat and pork can remain in the fridge for up to five days. Leftover cooked meat will last three to four days in the refrigerator. 
  • Ground Meats: Ground meats, such as beef, veal, pork, or poultry can be refrigerated for one to two days.
  • Hot dogs: Hot dogs, unopened are safe in the fridge for up to two weeks. Once opened, the window drops to one week.
  • Mayonnaise: Once opened, should be used within two months. 
  • Leftovers: When stored properly in air-tight containers - should be used within two to three days of storing them.
  • Leftover Wine: Once you open a bottle of wine, oxygen starts breaking down the compounds in wine. Even with airtight storage in the refrigerator, a bottle of red or white wine will lose most of its flavor in one to two days, and is unsafe to drink in six or seven days.
  • Tomato Sauce: Tomato-based sauce - as soon as the pressurized container or jars are opened and the contents exposed to the air, tomato-based sauces begin to deteriorate, regardless of the use-by date printed on the lid. This date refers to the unopened product. Consume opened tomato sauce within five days.
  • Deli Meats: While the plastic packaging might appear to keep your sandwich meats fresh, as soon as the slices are separated at the deli counter, their freshness begins to wane. Most meat producers recommend their products be consumed within 7 to 10days of the sell-by date. Signs your deli meat has gone south: It feels extremely slimy, it smells remotely of vinegar, ammonia, or yeast, and if there is any mold or other growth on the meat or inside the package. 

How Long Frozen Food Lasts

  • Breads: 2 months in freezer.
  • Butter: 9 months in freezer; 1 week in fridge after thawing.
  • Chicken: 6 months in freezer; 1 day in fridge after thawing.
  • Fish and shellfish: 3 months in freezer; 1 to 2 days in fridge after thawing.
  • French fries: 6 months in freezer; 1 day in fridge after thawing.
  • Ground beef: 2 to 3 months in freezer; 1 to 2 days in fridge after thawing.
  • Ice cream: 8 months in freezer.
  • Vegetables: 8 months in freezer; 3 to 4 days in fridge after thawing.

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› Food Shelf Life Guide