· Bright Ideas · The Shelf Life Of Common Refrigerated Foods {Free Printable!}
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The Shelf Life Of Common Refrigerated Foods {Free Printable!}

leftovers in fridge
This is not my ACTUAL refrigerator. Mine was much worse!

After I got home from grocery shopping yesterday…I was having the darnedest time trying to put my groceries away in the refrigerator. Nothing was fitting! It wasn’t the most organized its ever been, but it wasn’t too bad either. Then I realized the problem….too many leftovers!

It seems I’ve been doing a lot of cooking lately and I had managed to accumulate quite an impressive number of plastic containers with various leftover meals in them. As I contemplated just emptying them all out into the trash can, I wondered just how long some of these items I was considering throwing were actually OK to still be in the refrigerator.

I decided to do a little digging and came up with a list of REFRIGERATOR items and their shelf life that could serve as a guideline for how long I let a particular leftover sit around in the fridge.

Since I didn’t feel like doing an internet search every time I was curious about one of the staple items in my fridge and how long it would last, I decided to make a handy dandy cheat sheet of sorts to keep on the side of the fridge (or you could keep it in a drawer or taped to the inside of a cupboard door, I do that a lot!)

And while I was at it….I decided to make one for you too. :-)

So here is my quickie “Shelf Life Of Common Refrigerated Foods” list for your downloading enjoyment.

>>>>>>DOWNLOAD FREE PRINTABLE HERE<<<<<<

(This is just an image of the file. Click on the link above for the printable file.)
shelf life printable

Source: USDA

Just something I hope makes all of our lives a little bit easier, safer, and healthier. :-)

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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  • Hi Jillee! thanks so much for this! I for one wouldn’t want to risk it with all the bacteria that can grow on food.

    Any chance of a cheat sheet for frozen foods? Or is it pretty much generally the same period of time?

    Thanks!

  • […] sheet to learn the shelf-life of commonly refrigerated foods. This list was created by Jill at OneGoodThingByJillee.com. Check out her site for GREAT content & more […]

  • Our garbage goes out to the curb on Thursday. So, I clean out the fridge every Wednesday, checking dates & getting rid of that tiny last bit of whatever is in the containers. Since I do this every week I don’t find those horrible green fuzzy things in the back of the fridge.

    I leave larger amounts of leftovers from Sun. through Wed. for our Thursday is Leftovers Night.
    My DH keeps telling me I cook too much food (ok, sometimes he’s right). If there is not enough leftovers, I just cook a small batch of pasta. This is my cheat. Since Friday is Pizza night*, leftovers the night before means I don’t cook 2 days in a row. Yeah me!

    *If your budget concous, We sometimes buy 3 packages of Pizza Dough Mix & a can of Pizza Sauce. Add Shredded Mozzerella & Pepperoni and Frozen or Fresh Veggies and we’ve saved a bundle not ordering from the local Pizzeria.

  • Ok, so the key to deciding if you can “push the envelope” on any of the storage dates boils down to basically one question: can you bring the item to 180 degrees all the way through for a long enough time ,5 minutes or so, sustain that heat for the whole time, and still have something that you can/will eat. If the answer is yes, then go for it. If not, then pass. Keep in mind that temp needs to be every item in it, not just the liquid part, all the solids too. Yes, use a probe thermometer, and yes check the parts and no you can’t just eyeball it..

    Also, how long did you hold it at or below cooked temps after you made it the first time? Did it sit out on the counter for half the day before you brought it to fridge temps? Is your fridge really keeping items at the temp you set it? colder is OK, hotter is not.

    The longer food is in the danger zone the more buggies grow. The more a bug load you ingest, the more likely you are to get sick. Lower load, less likely to get sick. Now all this varies widely on the type of food you are talking about. Is it alkaline, or acidic, is it ph neutral (the most dangerous), does it have a lots of sodium, nitrates or sugar in it? More of these are just as bad for buggies as they are for you. So they can keep longer with lower bug loads and if brought to a good high temp, they’ll have enough bugs destroyed to keep you safe.

    That said, if you or anyone in your household is a member of the “YODIM” group don’t risk it:

    Y-young (small children’s immune systems are not well developed enough)
    O-old (not as many health resources to deal with a bad bug)
    D-diseased(if you are already sick from something else don’t take a risk)
    I-Immune compromised (either from another disease or condition say chemo or radiation therapy or back steroid injections)
    M-maternal (preggers people should also be very careful)

    Don’t fool around with stuff that isn’t going to be thoroughly cooked again or was temperature abused. Our microbiology prof for the Food Safety Education program called ’em “Two bucket diseases” for a good reason and trust me its baaad if you find out first hand.

  • We sometimes eat leftovers past the “expiration”. If you’re not sure then don’t eat it, simple as that. The hubby usually takes the previous nights leftovers for lunch anyway so it hasn’t been any kind of issue.

  • I do what Julie does and freeze my leftovers. individual bowls I take for lunch. I have one large container for vegetables which I make into soup when full. Another bowl collects meats which I cook in the crockpot with BarBQue sauce. It keeps my frig uncluttered.

  • I’d always been annoyed at how many of the fridge leftovers we just never ended up eating in time. It seemed like I could never plan it right and so much food was wasted. I was also wanting to move away from using plastic containers. So last year I made a new system for us. Instead of putting leftovers in the fridge at all, I take an extra step after supper and freeze them in 1 pint, widemouthed canning jars with plastic lids. (We mainly eat stews and soups, but things like pulled pork and shredded roast beef or meat loaf fit in the jars well too.) This way they’re ready to be taken to work for lunches. Because the jars are clear you can see the contents, so we don’t label them. Also, I found some sweet handmade mason jar cozies on Etsy to keep our hands from getting burned when warming these up in the microwave. So far we’ve had good luck using the jars–even though it takes some extra care since they’re glass. Our daughter is grown up now, so that made our transition to this new system easier. We are saving tons of money on lunches and don’t have scary things in the fridge anymore. :)

  • Jillee,

    In my lifetime I have eaten more than my share of ‘expired’ food, I am sure. I agree also with the “see it, smell it” test. I do make sure my meats are cooked to a sufficient temperature, and freeze what I am not using in the next 2 days.

    I also have a fetish about glass dishes instead of plastic. I have replaced all – and I mean all – of my Tupperware and other random grocery store leftover plasticware with glass dishes I can store and re-heat in. I mean, why would anyone want more dishes to wash? I also do not reheat with saran-type plastic covering my food. Just trying to be safe.

    But that being said, I will be going out to buy some freezer tape and a pen to mark everything from now on. And I will display the list on my fridge.

    Thanks!

    Deb

  • Many best before dates are longer than these dates. Are these meant for products that don’t have BB dates? Like from a market or things you’ve cooked yourself or defrosted?

    In addition we routinely eat food up to 6 days after I cooked it even if it has meat in it and we never get sick. Maybe it has to do with higher food safety standards for raw food in Canada so the food I’m cooking has a lower bacteria count to start with? If we had to use milk within a week, based on your chart, that would mean throwing I out before the BB date! How does that make sense!?

    I’ve bought chicken from the store with special gas injected into the packaging with 8 days before the bB date. While I’m sure your list would keep everyone very safe I think I’d lose a lot of $ following it. But if ever I wasn’t sure it would be a good guide.

    • Best before is a manufacturers’ date and only means that the taste and texture of the product will be better if consumed before that date. They are absolutely NOT an indicator of safety.

      You chips may be stale or nuts develop a slightly rancid taste, but they are still safe.

  • Great list to have posted in my kitchen. I’m glad you said that the picture was not of your frig. cause I was about to have frig. envy. Enjoying your tips.

  • Instead of using stickers and a marker, I use a chalk pen or bistro pens to mark all the leftovers. That way I know when I put them in the fridge and there is no guessing how old something is. The writing washes off easily. They work on glass or plastic lids.
    Cheri

  • When you bring home dairy items like yogurt, sour cream or cottage cheese, store them, unopened, UPSIDE DOWN. That will prevent oxygen from getting into them and they’ll keep much longer. This way you can buy extra when they’re on sale.

  • Great Job! I am printing and dressing it front & back with clear contact paper–I am going to stick on the side of the refrigerator but on the inside; now that door shelves accommodate gal containers there is space.
    Love the idea of the grease pencil–where can I get one?
    Also–we always eat leftovers the very next day. They find their way to the table either as a main dish, side dish or added to rice (Jillee’s fried rice recipe comes to mind), pasta or potatoes to add umph. . And then there is always soup. Today we have a little sauteed cabbage leftover & some corn– I will boil too many whole potatoes, slice enough for dinner and fry with the cabbage & corn until I get crispy edges. Tomorrow I know the side will be potato something. I find when I do leftovers on purpose– the meal kinda falls into place with little planning.
    Also about expiration dates–sometimes its just a ploy to get us to use it up so we have to buy more. There are Sell By dates (required by FDA) these are foods that can make you sick if out of date range; and Best if Used By dates (recommendations by the food manufacturer). The B if UB dates you may notice a texture or color difference but they are safe to eat.

    • I use a china marker. Is that also called a grease pencil? They are wrapped in paper that you can peel off as you use it. It’s a great idea I’ve been using for years.

      • Sorry—where to get one? My local WalMart has them in the office supply section.

  • Jillee.. I love you & the stuff you come up with, but not this one.. I respectfully disagree.
    If you had said Best Used By… maybe I wouldnt disagree so much… but total shelf life? No way!

    I’ve been a serious homemaker for about 32 years.. and a gardener, and a farmer/ranchers granddaughter. I have never one time in my life eaten spoiled food from any of our homes and I assure you the only thing that aligns close in my experience with your sheet is probably milk from the grocery store.

    I keep leftovers for about one week and if no one has eaten them by then, they’ve lost their appeal and arent going to. Most of the time there is nothing wrong with them but they definitely lose quality as time goes by.
    I have been known to keep thawed meat in my frig for a week as well as many people who shop for the week do. I almost always put my meat in the freezer when I get home from the grocery but not always. If I followed these guidelines, I’d be throwing all my food away. I think its ridiculous.

    I agree with the readers who said use common sense and your senses… If it doesnt look good, smell good, toss it.. Common sense is what is needed here, not a one shoe fits all chart.

    Meats.. How long do you really think that meat has sat at your grocery store? Heres a peek.. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1370130/Just-fresh-fresh-food-supermarket.html
    Those condiments on the shelf? Those eggs at the market…

    I would love to find a lot of better material.. Everything that comes up is governed by the USDA Food Safety division and those of us who’ve been living a long time know better than to listen to their rhetoric.

    The USDA and I know you too (Jillee) cant advise the general public on manners such as this without creating a very hefty safety net to keep from being sued.. I realized that, but many of your readers may not realize that is why the USDA has these recommendations in place. Its not because its the true mark of food safety.. its the margin of safety they can advise so that they dont wind up in court on the off chance that someones egg went bad in 2 months instead of 3, which can, but rarely happens.

  • Instead of using a sticker just use a dry erase maker and mark directly on your glass container or plastic container. :) It washes off easily and no need to remove stickers or tape. I write reminders on the inside of the fridge doors too. Happy Sunday!

  • This is one of those things that people have differing opinions. Some people have built up tolerances and are able to eat food that have been sitting in the fridge for 4-5 days past what Jillee’s chart mentions. But a lot of people can not do that. If you looked under a microscope you would see why. That is awesome for you. But the rest of us, we appreciate the chart. Our stomachs can’t handle it or like me I don’t want to risk it.
    As for eggs, I bake a lot and learned a long time ago the dates on those cartons are ridiculous. I always just put the eggs in a bowl of cold water. If it lays down awesome!! If it stands up I need to use it that day or soon. If it starts to rise AT ALL throw it out no matter what the date says.
    We don’t really have leftovers…I have teenage boys who play sports, I barely have food.

  • Thanks Jillie for taking time to compile this list. For the nay-sayers, I say to each his own. Perhaps a better idea than keeping things too long is to use things up with a little planning and to buy the large jar just to save some $$. And if a person doesn’t want to do that or thinks s/he can’t do that for some reason, then fine…don’t complain to the author.

    • Traci – absolutely! I either plan for enough leftovers to freeze immediately or to make sure we don’t have left overs. If you are still hungry and there’s nothing left, there is always fruit, bread and butter or jam, or a nice glass of something to drink, like water.

      We have 3 in our family so I always look for recipes that serve 6, 4 or 8. If the serve 6 is generous portions I can freeze half. if not, then prepare for 4 and it’s all gone or 8 and freeze half.

      I really don’t like having to craft a meal from left-overs so I do my best to be sure there aren’t any.

  • Thank you so much for all the work you put into this printable and for sharing it with us. I will definitley print this and put it close to the fridge!! I have enjoyed your blog and the info you offer to be so informative and so apropos to my life right now. I have found that we were wasting food because I bought too much and not planning very well. Now I’ve gotten to where I buy just what we need and a little less just so we don’t waste anymore. This chart will help me especially because I have a little one so I want to be more conservative with the timing of a food’s lifetime.

    Again, I thank you for all the time, effort, and info that you give!! I truly look forward to your posts and I love, love, love your website!!! Thank you so much!!!!

  • Very convenient cheat sheet! Worth laminating.

    I cook a lot and always have leftovers in little containers. Since Tuesday is our weekly trash pick-up day, Monday has turned into “clean out the refrigerator soup day.” Everything that could possibly go into soup – stiff cheese, leftover mashed or baked potatoes, meat scraps, taco meat, casserole scraps, baked beans, gravy, -even milk that has slightly soured. Then I add whatever might enhance the “theme” of the soup, like canned broth, or a tomato sauce plus seasonings, and voila! Nothing gets wasted. If anything seems slightly “suspicious,” it goes into the trash.

  • No Sure where you got all your info but much of it is just wrong and many things will keep much longer then you have listed. For one, eggs will keep almost indefinitely in the fridge in the shell. They are probably months old when you buy them already . We try to get them from home growers for better quality.
    Pasta , you said 2 days , that’s nuts it will keep a week or more , same for many items. Just about everything listed will keep longer then the chart says.
    Just because so called professional gives a time frame doesn’t make it so. Your fridge temp and many other factors play a role. The best way to tell is to do the eye and smell test. If it looks funny in any way (un-normal), or smells off or bad then throw it out. Other wise you should be able to reheat it safely.
    My advice from many years of cooking and saving left overs with no problems is to not get too zealous in throwing away good food. There is enough waste in this country and food prices are going up everyday. Can you afford to be that frivolous? I say use wisdom and common sense .

    • I agree with Karen & Alisha that this list is super conservative. For years, my household consisted of 2, and my daughter. We are not big eaters, so you get lots of left overs – we’ve never ever had an instance of eating food that’s “gone bad” and I assure you that I’ve kept things long past the dates you list here. As already mentioned, Temperature plays a big role, so does how you store the food.

      AIR is a huge enemy of food in the fridge and if left in the open, I’d agree with the information you list here.

      however, if properly sealed and closed (not just COVERED with foil and plastic wrap, but bags and containers – use produce bags and other tips that Jillee has posted for preserving fruits and veggies) food is safe and still tastes good. use containers that are the right size for what you’re storing to minimize the extra air, press out air in plastic bags, and if you have a meal sealer, use it, it works. I’ve begun storing my deli meats and cheeses in a closed container and there is a MARKED difference in how long i can keep them. same with fresh herbs.

    • i raised chickens for many years—rule of thumb, raw eggs will last 90 days—this is 3 months from the date of laying— and most eggs are about one month old before they get to your home—unless you get them faster—lol so take it from there you do the math—-

      just my input on this—-for this I know is true!!!!

    • Karen: pasta, rice and other grains are susceptible to bacillus cerus which can be very debilitating. Much of whether or not cereals will keep has to do with how they were prepared, how long they were held at temperature, how quickly they were cooled and how well they have been heated up prior to re-heating.

      It’s not that any food it safe or not, it’s a matter of how much of a bacterial load has built up and how good your particular immune system is with dealing with that load.

      These are recommend guidelines. Your mileage may always vary but it’s irresponsible to say that pastas and cereals can be kept longer than a week.

      Given reliable document research evidence: most people overestimate how safely they are handling food, how thoroughly they wash their hands and how quickly items can heated or cooled to correct temps. If you are healthy with a robust immune system, you are probably ok. if not, you probably shouldn’t take the chance.

  • You amaze me, Jillee. If I had run into your predicament (not having room to fit my groceries in the fridge) and had the thought to figure out how long I could keep food in the fridge, my groceries would have all had to be thrown out because I would have been off and running in a new direction (research shelf life) and forgotten ALL ABOUT my groceries. LOL. That’s just how I roll. :)

    I think a few of these items on this list are a bit on the ultra-conservative side. For example milk and cream. The expiration dates on these containers is usually 2 to 3 weeks (sometimes longer for cream) and I could never throw out either if the expiration date was still pending. Others, I agree with whole-heartedly. Thanks for being your awesome YOU and helping us out……………….AGAIN. :)

  • Thanks!! I am allergic to mold. I know no one “likes” it. But i am seriously allergic. Haha different types have me react differently. Sometimes I will have a severe asthma attack, other times I faint or stop breathing (my body responds by shutting down… Not fun), sometimes I think I will be ok, but then I will get a huge migraine. :( I am one of those people that can walk into a place and say… There is mold in here. Everyone will think I am crazy, except my family.
    I mention this because refrigerators can be scary places. Haha. I throw everything out. If I missed something in the back, I will not open it, someone can, when I am not there. But I also err on the side of caution and want to throw everything else out too. That bottle? Eh, that might be here too long, see ya. So I started writing on things as I opened them. Because hubby thinks condiments will last until we are old and sitting in rocking chairs. Now we will have a list and try to compromise :) so thank you !!!

  • This is fantastic! I’ve been a preschool/kindergarten cook for almost 17 years of my life. I’m just a home cook, so no real training getting into it, but I do have to know about food safety. Some of these things aren’t common knowledge for most folks and this fact sheet is a brilliant idea! My kitchen at work is shared with other groups in the church and so is the walk-in fridge/freezer. Can you feel my pain, when I try to explain to folks about keeping things in there for too long, and they don’t seem to pay any never mind? And I am the one who has to clean it all out! I’m a pretty firm believer in due dates. If it says, “USE BY: ……..” then I toss out after that date soon as possible. If it says, “BEST BY:……..”, then I use caution. The oils used in products or that occur naturally in them can go rancid after time. Stale chips taste yucky, sure, but besides being stale, the oil can be rancid and that can make you pretty sick. Not to mention bad fridge items that you can’t really tell are bad yet, but just eat them and wait an hour or two……….hello Mr. Toilet! I’m printing this out, making it bigger and taping it to the door! Maybe they’ll believe me now.

    I want to add also about HARD BOILED EGGS. Each year our preschool does egg dying with the 130+ children who come to the school. We let them boil 2 eggs each. Sometimes there are egg left over so I make egg salad sandwiches. I was always under the impression that if the egg was HARD BOILED, it must last longer. Ever since I was a kid, I’d eat 2-or 3-week old hard eggs. Sometimes I’d have terrible lower intestine issues. But never gave it a second thought that it could be the eggs. Then last year I dug around online to check the longevity of hard boiled. Imagine my shock when I see it’s only a few days! Fresh eggs, in shell not cooked, last two or three weeks. But the HARD EGG ONLY A FEW DAYS! I’m glad I never let hard eggs sit around long there at school.

    Sorry this was so long. I love your daily tips, hints, and DIY’s!! :)

    Hugs,
    Stephanie

  • I do my major cooking for the week on Sunday. Thursday is 4 days so we are generally good thru dinner Thursday night. If I am having a super hard work week 50+ hours, we will sometimes go out on Friday. Otherwise Thursday or Friday is crock pot day. If something doesn’t get eaten in the 3 – 4 day range, into the freezer it goes. Then it gets thawed for one of those nights I don’t have something already cooked or when I don’t want to cook.

    To be on the safe side make sure you allow plenty of time for leftovers, to always be heated very thoroughly While most things say 160 degrees. I like to bring everything to 180 just to be on the safe side.

    • Beth, this is exactly what I do. I put each leftover into a plastic freezer and microwavable container with a label (the date and what it is). If it’s not eaten in 3 days, it goes right into the freezer. It’s labeled and ready to go. I do this for invidual portions and portions serving 2 or 3. These are used for lunches and quick meals.

  • Hahahaha! I’m not using this because I would throw away way too many good foods. This is fine if you have money to throw away. I use the see it, smell it, then taste it. If it passes those three test we eat it. My sense of smell is very strong, and of course some things don’t smell bad but they sure look bad, like rice. While this might be helpful for those that don’t have all of their senses (sight, smell, taste) I’m not using it. But thank you for posting because I know of many that don’t have a good sense of smell, taste, or sight. So I may send it to them.

  • I just recently had an epiphany – I was having a hard time coming up with an easy way to date left overs that wasn’t permanent, wouldn’t rub off, and wasn’t more than one step. Grease pencil! I now have one attached to the fridge with a magnetic clip. Dates get written on lids, it takes a quick swipe of the scrubbie to get it off, and no more mystery dishes. I think I’ll stick this chart *under* that same magnetic clip!

  • Thanks Jillee
    This will come in Handy for DH as he is the Home caretaker.
    Mostly our leftovers become his Lunch/brunch the next day , what my downfall is buying something for a recipe it not becoming a keeper & i am stuck with this item in the fridge until I go thought it ( while dh is not around) pitch what ever it is…
    What I started doing last year was downsizing my beets & pickles I find that doing that does 2 things more room & we finish the item …
    Thank you for the sheet.
    Have a good one Ann/alba

  • Thanks for this! My raw milk lasts a bit longer than what is listed in this chart, but I suspect the chart was made for pasteurized milk. My milk will just clabber, is still edible (but sour) and I can make sour cream out of it if left in the fridge too long.

  • I am so surprised! Mine was actually good…shocking! Another thing to check is the expiration dates on all your bottled items i.e. salad dressings, ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc. That is where I get caught and I find at times it is already expired when I buy is so now I am a much better shopper because I check the expiration date on everything before I buy it.

  • Tainted food is common! There is a saying in the food industry, if in doubt, throw it out. I give some foods a superchilling in the freezer before it goes into the fridge. Spoiled greens, fruit, go to my compost. Plastic containers take up space. The volunteer fire dept nearby gets my leftovers. The foods that spoil the fastest are applesauce and spaghetti sauce, I’m sure we’ve all had that experience: big fuzzy green rings.

  • Thanks for creating this handy chart Jillee :) I also like Emma’s ideas of keeping stickers handy for labeling. Will use both. stilltasty.com is a great comprehensive source for information on the shelf life of food.

  • YIKES! We do a lot of “Sunday cooking” and eat leftovers for lunch and dinner some days throughout the week, well-past the “3-4 days” listed for most leftovers! Now I’m worried that what we’re doing isn’t safe :o/

    • `Dont worry.. I would be willing to bet tthat most of the information (one way or another) came from the producers of these products or other officials who want you to buy more more more.. This flies in the face of what I’ve lived my whole life and what I know to be true about foods that are refrigerated.

      You would indeed know very quickly if something you ate was bad.. probably much quicker than that 24 hours Louise mentions..

      • My thoughts exactly!

        Milk…1 week? Really? I’ve kept raw milk in the fridge for more than 2 weeks with no ill effects. I also get my eggs right from the farm and they are still good after 6 weeks. I do think this chart is very much on the cautious side.

    • Beka,

      Honestly, I think these “guidelines” are quite a bit on the safe side. I mean, I certainly don’t want your family or mine to get sick eating food that’s been in the fridge too long, but I also wouldn’t trust the USDA exclusively, either.

  • This morning I was actually thinking about this same thing and how at times we have tons of leftovers and other times I’m scratching my head on what to cook. Question -how many new meals a week do you cook vs. plan to eat leftovers to keep it balanced?

  • Thank you so much for all the Cheat Sheets. I keep a pen and small stickers in the drawer beside my frig to jot the date something is opened or put in frig.

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