Spring is in the air, so for many of us this means spring cleaning is right around the corner. Don’t forget to add the refrigerator and freezer to your spring cleaning list. Waiting deep inside them could be scary “science experiments.” Food kept too long or at improper temperatures can become contaminated with bacteria, which can cause illness. According to the CDC, last year alone, there were more than 76 million cases of food-borne illness in the United States.
To begin, take everything out of the refrigerator, clean it and then reorganize it, throwing out old and outdated items. You can’t always tell if a food is spoiled by the way it smells or looks. The best advice is “when in doubt, throw it out.” Make sure your refrigerator is at 40 degrees or less and your freezer 0 degrees or less. The middle and top shelves of the refrigerator are the coldest. This is where protein foods should be stored, since they are the most likely to cause food borne illness.
IN THE REFRIGERATOR
Milk keeps for five days after opening and eggs about three weeks (hardboiled eggs only seven days), unless the use-by date is earlier. Eat fresh fish the day of purchase, meat within two days. When you bring either home, keep it in the original packages in a place it in a deep bowl to catch drips. Leftovers generally are safe for three to five days. Hard cheese will last up to eight weeks, soft cheese only two weeks. Contrary to popular belief, hotdogs, bologna only last for three to five days in an opened package: two weeks in an unopened package. DO NOT scrape the mold off – throw meats away! In general, food with mold should be tossed and absolutely not sniffed, because the mold can cause respiratory problems.
You should store vegetables in drawers because they preserve the water content and thereby reduce wilting. Vegetables should last one week in the vegetable crisper.
What about those jars of condiments that have been open and around for years? Most will stay fresh for two months in the door of the refrigerator, which is the warmest part. The door is designed for storing condiments, because their acidic content tends to make them more resistant to bacterial contamination than other foods. Still, their quality is likely to decrease with time. Most condiments stay safe for about two months – not two years.
IN THE FREEZER
Be sure to wrap foods in two layers of plastic to avoid air exposure, which causes freezer burn. Well wrapped cooked meats will last one to two months; uncooked meats up to one year; butter and cheese six to nine months; and vegetables eight to ten months.
Here is some helpful shelf-life lingo to be familiar with for spring cleaning:
Pack Date – When a product was packages. It’s not necessarily an indicator of freshness.
Sell-by Date – The last day a retailer can display the product for sale; the food should remain safe to eat for as many as 10 days afterward if refrigerated properly.
Use-by Date – A food is safe to eat until this date. However, mishandling at home or the store, which could cause damage, is not considered.