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How long can I safely keep food in the refrigerator?

Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics

Most items have expiration dates. Look at each item to determine its freshness. Leftovers should not be kept more than three days. Cook meat and poultry before they expire. Milk, cheese and yogurt also have expiration dates. Yogurt tends to keep for about ten days. Many cheeses can stay fresh for over a month. The key to keeping food safely refrigerated is to know what is in there. Leaving leftovers in containers without checking how long they have been there and then piling things on top takes up space and uses more energy to keep the refrigerator cold. Always check expiration dates before eating anything out of the refrigerator.

Clean out the fridge, throwing out food that is expired. Below is a list of how long certain foods should be stored in the refrigerator:
  • Fresh fish -- 1 to 2 days if stored on ice and wrapped tightly
  • Fresh poultry -- 1 to 2 days; 1 day if cut into pieces
  • Beef or Pork -- 3 to 5 days; if ground or chopped, use within 2 days
  • Cream, half-and-half -- 3 to 4 days
  • Luncheon meats -- 3 to 5 days after opening, 2 weeks if unopened
  • Milk -- 5 to 7 days after the sell-by date
  • Soft cheese -- 1 week, if stored in an airtight container (discard if mold develops)
  • Hot Dogs -- 7 days after sell-by date
  • Cream cheese -- 1 to 2 weeks
  • Butter -- 3 weeks if covered, 1 to 3 months unopened
  • Hard cheese -- 3 to 4 weeks opened (6 months unopened)
  • Eggs in the shell -- 3 to 5 weeks if purchased before the date on the carton

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.