How Long Will Food Stay Fresh in the Refrigerator?

Sometimes it is obvious when food needs to be tossed. A layer of fuzz covering the cheddar means its time has passed. But other things, like lunchmeat and leftovers, are trickier. Rather than rely on the sniff test, follow these guidelines for how long foods can safely be stored in the fridge.

Meat
Meat can contain illness-causing germs like salmonella, and it’s important to follow safe handling guidelines. Raw meat such as beef, pork, lamb, and veal last three to five days in the fridge. Raw chicken and fish, however, will have a shorter fridge life of only one or two days. Bacon and precooked breakfast links or sausage patties keep for up to one week.

Whether a package of meat has been opened will affect its shelf life. Opened packages of lunchmeat will stay fresh for three to five days. If unopened, they are good for two weeks. The same is true for packages of hot dogs — one week for open, two weeks for unopened.

Veggies
Fresh produce varies widely when it comes to storage times. Depending on the type of greens you use, a simple salad will stay fresh anywhere from one or two days (spinach) to three to seven days (leaf lettuce), and as long as two weeks (iceberg lettuce). Most veggies will stay fresh for a matter of days: usually two to three days for tomatoes, three to four days for green beans, and four to five days for summer squash. If you want to keep veggies even longer, toss the greens in the freezer.

Eggs and Dairy
Fresh eggs will last four to five weeks, while hard-boiled eggs should be eaten within one week. Milk will stay fresh for one week, while an open jar of mayo will last for two months.

Leftovers
Eating leftovers can save both time and money, but make sure you do so while the food is still fresh. Cooked meats, (including steak and chicken) as well as egg dishes, stews, and veggies will be good for three to four days. Gravy, however, has only one to two days. Pizza will keep in the fridge for three to five days; after that, it’s time to reconnect with your delivery guy.

A Word About Expiration Dates
Many consumers are under the false impression that the expiration date on foods like yogurt, sour cream, and eggs indicates when it is safe to eat them. In fact, expiration dates indicate freshness; they have nothing to do with food safety and aren’t related to the risk of food poisoning or foodborne illness. The ”best if used by/before“ date also refers strictly to food quality and is the date recommended for best flavor or quality. You should buy food before this date, but don’t use it as a guide for how long the food is safe to eat.

Your refrigerator can dramatically extend the shelf life of food. However, if you’re ever in doubt about freshness, toss it out.