Proper home storage can extend the shelf life of most foods, and prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. The refrigerator should always be kept below 40 degrees (F), with the freezer set to 0 degrees (F). Individual foods have different requirements for storage, but in most cases any change in color or texture, or an appearance of slime indicates spoilage. The motto is, “If in doubt, throw it out!”
Fresh vegetables can be stored up to five days at 35-40 degrees in moisture-proof bags. The crisper drawer is the best place for vegetables because the humidity is regulated for optimum storage. Root vegetables (onions, potatoes, etc) should be kept at in a cool, well-ventilated place at 50-60 degrees (not in the refrigerator). Tomatoes continue to ripen after they are picked, so they should be stored at room temperature.
Fresh fruit can be kept up to five days at 35-40 degrees, except strawberries, which are only good for three days. Citrus fruits can be stored for up to two weeks, and apples can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one month. Bananas turn brown when refrigerated, so they are best kept at room temperature.
Dairy Products should be stored between 34-38 degrees. Milk can be kept for up to eight days, and cheese can be kept until moldy. Hard cheeses are difficult for mold spores to penetrate, so surface mold can be cut away and the remaining cheese can be eaten. All cheese should be tightly wrapped in plastic to prevent moisture loss.
Meat, eggs, and fish should be stored between 33-36 degrees. Fresh meat should be used within three days, while cured meats can be stored for up to a week. Ground beef is very susceptible to bacteria growth due to its large surface area and manufacturing processes, so it should be used or frozen within 24 hours.
Poultry should also be used or frozen within 24 hours, while eggs can be stored for 3-5 weeks from the “pack date” on the carton. Always keep eggs in their original carton – this protects them from odors, breakage, and contamination by other foods.
Fish and shellfish must be used or frozen within two days. Live shellfish (clams, mussels, etc.) should be stored in an open container and covered with a damp cloth, while fish should always be tightly wrapped in plastic.
“Fact Sheets.” USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Home . N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2010. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/index.asp.
“Food Storage Guidelines For Consumers – Virginia Cooperative Extension.” Publications and Educational Resources – Virginia Cooperative Extension. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2010. http://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/348/348-960/348-960.html.
“FoodSafety.gov.” FoodSafety.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2010. http://www.foodsafety.gov/index.html/.