Proper Food Storage

While many of us rely on the “sell by” or “use by” date on food to determine if it is safe or optimal for eating, there are some foods that do not come with a label telling us this info and even with the labels, there are some foods that are still usable past their dates. In this post, I will discuss proper food storage and time limits of common household foods.


What does “sell by”, “Use By” and “Expires on” mean, anyway? Is there a difference?

Sell By is the date the store is no longer able to sell the item. It does not mean it is in-eatable past that date, it simply means the food cannot be sold past this date as determined by the USDA.

Use By is the date that the manufacturer determines for best product quality. Again, it is not when the food is in-consumable, but when the quality will start to decrease and optimal flavor and taste is lost.

Expiration is exactly what it means. It is when food is no longer considered generally consumable and can actually be dangerous in some instances.

Now that you understand the differences, lets take a look at some common food people have in their homes and how to properly manage food storage. These calculations are for if you buy fresh at the market, not off the discount section.

Fresh Fruits:

  • Apples, pears and peaches keep about a month. Store in the crisper of your refrigerator
  • Berries keep about 2-3 days
  • Citrus fruits keep about 2-3 weeks

Fresh Meats:

  • Beef, about 1-2 days for ground and 3-5 for steaks and roasts
  • Chicken, 2-3 days
  • Fish, 1 day max


  • Hard Cheese, around a month to 6 weeks
  • Soft Cheeses, 2 weeks
  • Milk,  1 week past sell by date
  • Sour Cream and Cottage Cheese, 10-30 days
  • Butter, 1-2 weeks

Dry goods:

  • Sugar & flour, 2 years if stored in an airtight container. Check your flour for insects if keeping longer than 6 months
  • Pasta and dry beans, 2 years
  • Rice, white will keep for 2 years if stored in an airtight container and brown up to 1 year


  • Casseroles and meat dishes, no more than 3-4 days
  • Soups, 1-2 days
  • Gravies and sauces, 1-2 days in fridge


  • 1 week, and frozen for up to 3 months

Fresh Veggies:

  • 2-10 days depending on type, lettuces tend to turn faster
  • Root veggies like carrots and rutabagas, 2-3 weeks
  • Potatoes, do not refrigerate, kept in cool dry place for 2-3 weeks


Most foods can be frozen from 1-6 months. For optimal flavor, use as quickly as you can and never freeze veggies and fruits with high water content like lettuce or citrus.

It is important to heed these notations on food storage as they will not only make your food taste poor if used past dates, but it can also make you very sick. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease control), over 3,000 people die from food-borne illnesses each year with the elderly, young children and those with compromised immune systems most vulnerable. Even if you do not die from them, 1 in 6 Americans will get a food-borne illness this year causing mild to very severe symptoms.

Image via MorgueFile by hotblack

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