Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Refridgerator food safety and expiration dates

It is time to freshen up your refrigerator!  When was the last time you went through your fridge to clean and organize it?  Many of us forget about keeping our cold foods up to date and may not even realize we may be putting ourselves and our families at food safety risk.

Start by taking all the foods out of one shelf and putting them on the counter.  Pull out the fridge shelf if you can, to clean it.  Shut the fridge door in between shelves in order to conserve energy and ensure cold foods stay at the safest temperatures in the fridge.  Use a one-to-one solution of water to white vinegar for a natural, economical way to kill germs and leave shelves shiny clean without a chemical residue left behind.

Next, sort through all the foods you removed and check each one for leakage and freshness.  If in doubt of freshness, throw it out.

A good rule of thumb is to write with a permanent marker the date of the day you open a container of food.  This is especially helpful for condiments like jelly that are susceptible to mold once opened.  Remember, unopened containers of things like deli meat and milk will usually keep fresh until their expiration dates as noted on their packaging.  However, once you open one of these sealed containers, the expiration date changes.  For instance, a sealed package of deli meat may have a stamped date of a few weeks away.  But, once you open that package, that deli meat is only fresh for 1 to 5 days (some sources say 1 to 3, some say 3 to 5…I say max 3 days)!

Return the inspected foods to your fridge and follow the same procedure with the other shelves of food.  You can do the same with your frozen foods, too.  And, don’t forget about cleaning out the ice box!  You’d be surprised how much dust can collect in there, especially if you have family members reaching into the ice box to get ice out.

To help you determine whether a food is fresh or not, here are some food safety guidelines:

  • Prepared salads (i.e. egg, tuna, chicken and macaroni salads) – fresh 3-5 days
  • Opened package of hot dogs – 1 week
  • Hamburger and other ground meats – 1 to 2 days
  • Opened deli meat – about 3 days
  • Raw poultry (such as chicken) and fish – 1 to 2 days (unless otherwise indicated on the packaging)
  • Leftovers (i.e. pizza, cooked chicken, burgers and fish) – 3 to 4 days
  • Hardboiled eggs – 1 week
  • Opened container of liquid egg substitute – 3 days
  • Opened mayo – 2 months
  • Opened jelly/jam – 6 months
  • Butter – 3 months
  • Opened Half and Half – 1 week
  • Opened sour cream – 2 weeks
  • Opened baby food – 2 to 3 days (try not to save baby food that your baby has eaten out of the container)

Here is a link to a great chart you can print out and keep handy near your fridge for reference:

Click to access UCM109315.pdf

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