Gregor HalendaDecay, mold, and odors can spread among foods in the refrigerator. Follow these rules to keep foods fresher longer and reduce the risk of contamination.
- Keep all fresh meat, fish, and poultry in its store wrapping. (Re-wrapping increases the risk of exposing the food to harmful bacteria.) If the item didn't come in a Styrofoam tray, slide a plate underneath it to catch any drippings.
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- Leave cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream, milk, and cream in the containers they came in. But after transferring milk to a pitcher or sour cream to a serving bowl, don't return them to the original containers. Instead, tightly cover the pitcher or bowl with plastic wrap.
- Store hard cheeses in the store wrapping until you use them, then wrap them in wax paper, foil, or loose plastic.
- Plastic milk bottles make more sense than cardboard cartons, since bacteria can grow near the cardboard spout and enter a glass of milk every time you pour. Nevertheless, as long as you use the milk within its shelf life, it should be safe to drink.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Keep fruits and vegetables separate and store like with like: apples with apples, carrots with carrots. Fruits and vegetables give off different gases that can cause others to deteriorate.
- Store fruits and vegetables susceptible to drying out in perforated or unsealed plastic bags to maintain a moist environment yet still allow air to circulate.
- Don't wash produce before refrigerating it. The dampness can make it mold and rot more quickly.
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Keeping Leftovers Fresher Longer
- Store all leftovers in airtight, leakproof clear containers or wraps.
- Divide leftovers into small, flat containers so that they cool faster. (Some bacteria spores survive the cooking process and may germinate if the food is at room temperature long enough.)
- Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking. And there's no need to wait for piping-hot foods to cool down before storing them -- modern refrigerators can handle the heat.
- Remove the stuffing from the turkey and refrigerate it in a separate container. Left together, they may not cool fast enough, which can be unsafe.
- Don't refrigerate leftover cranberry sauce or other foods in cans. Once a can is opened, residual metal on the rim can leach into food and leave a metallic taste.
- Don't stuff the refrigerator as full as you are. Cool air needs to circulate to keep food at a safe temperature.
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How Long It Lasts
These times are for a refrigerator set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Shelf life also depends on the freshness of foods at the time of purchase.
- Cheese, hard 6: months
- Butter 1 to 3: months
- Olives and pickles: 1 month
- Fresh eggs (in shell): 3 to 5 weeks
- Cheese, soft, unopened: 3 to 4 weeks
- Cheese, soft, opened: 1 to 2 weeks
- Bacon, cooked: 1 week
- Hard-boiled eggs: 1 week
- Steaks, roasts, uncooked: 3 to 5 days chops
- Bread dough: 3 to 4 days
- Fish, cooked: 3 to 4 days
- Mashed potatoes: 3 to 4 days
- Meat, cooked: 3 to 4 days
- Poultry, cooked: 3 to 4 days
- Stuffing, cooked: 3 to 4 days
- Soups and stews: 2 to 4 days
- Fruit or pumpkin pies, baked: 2 to 3 days
- Chicken or turkey, fresh: 1 to 2 days
- Fish, fresh: 1 to 2 days
- Fruit or pumpkin pies, unbaked: 1 to 2 days
- Gravy, meat broth: 1 to 2 days
- White wine, recorked: 1 to 2 days
For a comprehensive cold-storage chart, consult the federal food-safety website, www.foodsafety.gov.