Food safety 101: Recommended shelf-life of food in your kitchen

Determining the safety of food however isn’t always all that easy - here's what you can store in your pantry, fridge and freezer

Racha Adib

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You open your fridge door, reach for your favorite cheese only to spot a blue mold – sound familiar? Food spoils because it contains tiny micro-organisms, and as food sits beyond its shelf-life, these micro-organisms proliferate and cause food to go bad. Sometimes when food spoils, it can be harmful and lead to food poisoning if consumed.

Determining the safety of food however isn’t always all that easy. Sometimes unsafe food isn’t characterized by the appearance of discoloration, off-odors, and slime. The best way to ensure your food is safe to eat is by knowing how to store it properly and for how long.

Pantry storage

Some foods, such as dry goods and cans, can simply be stored in your pantry. Make sure, however, to store these in your coolest kitchen cabinets to avoid moisture which can spoil food. Although the food stored in your pantry storage could last a long time before spoiling, keep in mind that the longer the storage, the more the flavors and nutrients will gradually be lost. That’s why it’s important to date your purchases and follow the First In, First Out (FIFO) rule, which basically means you’re using the oldest items first. If you’re moving food from their original container, it’s best to store them in food grade or glass containers. As for canned foods, they must be preserved in their original containers and must be thrown out if they have any swollen ends or dents. Below are the shelf lives of the most common foods stored in your pantry:

• Nuts – 9 months

• Sugar – 2 years

• Rice – 2 years

• Beans – indefinite

• Cans – check expiry dates

• Dried fruits – 6 months

• Spices – 6 months, replace if aroma fades

• Flour – 1 year

• Tea, instant – 2 years

Refrigerator Storage

Keep refrigerator temperature between 1 to 4 degrees Celsius to slow down the growth of microorganisms. If your fridge doesn’t contain a built in thermometer, you can track the temperature by placing it in the warmest areas of the refrigerator, usually the door shelf. If it rises above that temperature range, you can guess that food will spoil very fast. When preserving food in the fridge, wrap it in plastic wraps to keep it from drying out and to avoid the transferal of odors from one food item to another. Raw and uncooked meats should be stored in the lowest shelf of the refrigerator. Below are the shelf lives of common food stored in the refrigerator.

• Beef, lamb, veal raw – 3 to 5 days

• Ground meat raw – 1 to 2 days

• Stew meat raw – 1 to 2 days

• Turkey and other cold cuts – 5 days

• Fish filet – 1 day

• Eggs – 1 month, keep small end of egg down

• Cheese, labneh, yogurt – check expiry dates

• Apples - 1 month, do not wash before storing - moisture encourages spoilage

• Citrus fruit - 2 weeks

• Apricots, avocados, bananas, grapes, plums, melons, peaches, pears - 5 days

• Berries, cherries - 3 days

• Beets, carrots, radishes – 2 weeks, remove leafy tops before refrigerating

• Cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, peppers, tomatoes – 1 week

• Lettuce, spinach, and all leafy greens – 5 days, rinse, drain then refrigerate

Freezer Storage

It’s important to keep freezer at a temperature between -15 and -18 degrees Celsius. You can monitor temperatures with a thermometer. Don’t forget the importance of defrosting your freezers regularly to keep the air flow regular.

What about refreezing food? The rule of thumb is to not refreeze foods that have been fully thawed unless they have been thoroughly cooked. You can safely refreeze partially thawed food as long as it still has ice crystals on it and has been held no longer than 1 or 2 days in the refrigerator. Keep in mind that in the freezer, food remains safe because microbial growth is stopped, but flavors can fade with time. Read below for the most commonly stored items in the freezer.

• Bread – 3 months

• Ice-cream - 1 month

• Cooked dishes - 3 months

• Fatty Fish such as salmon, raw – 3 months

• Lean fish such as cod, raw – 6 months

• Cooked meat – 3 months

• Ground or stew meat, raw – 3 months

• Beef, roasts, steaks, whole beef cuts, raw – 1 year

• Cooked chicken – 1 month

• Chicken, whole chicken, raw – 1 year

• Chicken, chicken parts, raw – 6 months