Does This Smell Bad to You? How Long Foods Last

Photo (cc) by GoonSquadSarah

You got a killer deal on 5 pounds of bacon with your club card. Now you’re wondering how many strips your stomach and heart can take before those delectable applewood-smoked slices go bad.

Have no fear: They will keep for up to a week in the fridge and still be delicious up to a month when frozen.

Knowing how long basic foods remain edible can reduce both the waste of food and your money. Says the Natural Resources Defense Council:

The average American throws away between $28 to $43 in the form of about 20 pounds of food each month. … About two-thirds of household waste is due to food spoilage from not being used in time, whereas the other one-third is caused by people cooking or serving too much.

Fortunately, many staple food items last much longer than you would expect. Sick of grilled cheese for lunch? Those individually wrapped slices of American cheese will keep in the fridge for a month or two.

But while frozen foods are said to keep indefinitely, that does not mean they’ll remain at top quality and be palatable.

If you have a question about a particular item’s shelf life in your freezer or fridge, StillTasty offers a handy “Keep It or Toss It?” feature. Just type in your query or check their listings of pretty much any food or drink imaginable and the magic timing will pop up. The site also explains how to properly store foods to get the best results.

While most of us smell and visibly inspect foods suspected of being past their prime, experts say the absence of mold or foul odors is not a clear indication that an item remains edible.

“You cannot see, smell or taste many harmful bacteria, so although the food may look ‘safe’ to eat, it is not. When in doubt, throw it out,” Weill Cornell Medical College says.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the shelf life of some basic food groups in the refrigerator and in the freezer:

Breads

  • Tortillas, sold refrigerated — one to two months in the fridge; three months in the freezer.
  • White bread — five to seven days in the pantry (not the fridge); three months in the freezer.
  • Unbaked homemade cookie dough — one or two days; four to six months.

Dairy

  • Butter — one to three months in the fridge; six to nine months in the freezer.
  • Hard cheeses — four weeks if opened; six months.
  • Soft cheeses — one week; six months.
  • Milk — seven days; one month.
  • Yogurt — two to three weeks; one to two months.

Meats

  • Raw ground beef — one to two days in the fridge; three to four months in the freezer.
  • Steaks — three to five days; six to 12 months.
  • Lean fish — one to two days; six months.
  • Fatty fish — one to two days; two to three months.
  • Whole chicken or turkey — one to two days; one year. If it’s cut into pieces before freezing, the parts should be used within nine months.

Fruits and vegetables

  • Bananas — five to seven days in the fridge after they’re ripe; two to three months in the freezer.
  • Lemons — one to two months; three to four months.
  • Broccoli — two weeks; eight to 12 months.
  • Carrots — four to five weeks; eight to 12 months.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation says most fruits and vegetables can last from eight months to a year if packaged correctly and frozen at or below 0 degrees.

Miscellaneous

  • Leftover pizza — three to four days in the fridge; two months in the freezer.
  • Tuna salad — three to five days in the fridge. Tuna salad does not fare well in the freezer, FoodSafety says.
  • Opened bottle of Champagne — three to five days in the fridge. Freezer time is not applicable.

In general, leftovers should be eaten within three or four days. The Mayo Clinic says that after a few days, the risk of contracting food poisoning increases. If you don’t think you’ll be able to eat leftovers within four days, freeze them immediately, the clinic suggests.

Here are some tips to reduce food waste and help food last as long as possible:

  • “A good policy to remember and follow is ‘first in, first out.’ Rotate foods so that you use the older items first and enjoy your food at its best quality,” the National Center for Home Food Preservation says. If you’re freezing the food, put a date on the label.
  • For the tastiest foods and best storage, your refrigerator should be set to 40 degrees or colder.
  • It goes without saying that the fresher the produce, the longer it will last once you get it home. Keep that in mind if you don’t plan to eat it right away.
  • The USDA suggests that food be frozen at peak quality for the best taste once thawed.

If you’re freezing food, tips offered by the National Center for Home Food Preservation include:

  • If you’re blanching or cooking first, cool food prior to freezing to help retain flavor, color and texture.
  • Use leak-proof packaging to protect food from other flavors and odors.
  • Use containers or bags made specifically for freezer use.
  • Allow enough space for the food to expand without popping the seal.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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