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The ultimate food-storage guide

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A handbook with all you need to know to keep the stuff in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry in peak condition.

Real Simple consulted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), food scientists, food manufacturers, and a host of other experts—including fishmongers, cheese sellers, coffee roasters, bakers, and bartenders—to establish these storage guidelines. The first consideration was safety. But because you want your food to be delicious, too, for some products, Real Simple chose the conservative storage time for optimum freshness.
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How to Store Meat, Poultry, and Seafood

Keep meat and poultry in its original packaging in the refrigerator. To freeze, slip the packaging into a resealable freezer bag. If you’re freezing for several months, it’s best to wrap pieces individually in plastic before bagging; this will make them less vulnerable to freezer burn. Another way to cut the risk of freezer burn is to buy vacuum-packed meats and poultry (which can also last about 2 days longer in the refrigerator). Leave seafood in its original packaging and, if possible, place on a bowl of ice in the refrigerator. However, live shellfish (like clams) should not be put on ice; open or poke holes in the packaging. To freeze seafood, slip the original packaging into a resealable freezer bag.

Beef and Lamb

Ground meat and premade patties
Refrigerator: 2 days
Freezer: 4 months

Roasts and loins
Refrigerator: 3 days
Freezer: 6 months

Steaks
Refrigerator: 3 days
Freezer: 6 months


How to Store Dairy Products

These items should be kept in the refrigerator, though cheeses benefit from a little extra TLC.Place soft ones, like Brie and mozzarella, in an airtight container once open. Wrap semihard and hard cheeses, once open, in wax or parchment paper, then stow in a resealable plastic bag. (If you’re freezing, replace the paper with plastic wrap.) Good news for those who like to stock up on milk and yogurt when they’re on sale: Both can be frozen. Just transfer them into freezer containers or freezer-proof glass jars, leaving 1 inch of space at the top to allow for expansion; once thawed, mix to redistribute the solids.

Butter

Butter spreads and dairy spreads
Refrigerator: 3 months
Freezer: Do not freeze.

Butter, sticks
Refrigerator: 3 months
Freezer: 6 months

Cheeses, Hard

Such as Parmesan and pecorino
Block
Refrigerator: 4 months
Freezer: 6 months

Grated
Refrigerator: 1 month
Freezer: 4 months

Cheeses, Semihard

Such as Cheddar, Gouda, and Swiss
Block, packaged
Refrigerator: 6 months (unopened); 1 month (open)
Freezer: 6 months

Slices, deli
Refrigerator: 1 week
Freezer: Do not freeze.

How to Store Fruits and Vegetables

Leave refrigerated produce unwashed in its original packaging or wrapped loosely in a plastic bag. (Exceptions, such as mushrooms and herbs, are noted below.) If your greens seem sandy or dirty—think lettuce from the farmers’ market—rinse and dry them well, then wrap them in a paper towel before placing in a plastic bag. Fruits and vegetables stored at room temperature should be removed from any packaging and left loose. The guidelines below assume that your produce is ripe and ready to eat. Some items, like apricots and avocados, will ripen faster in a paper bag on the countertop. The bag traps ethylene gas, which is released by the produce and acts as a maturing agent. Want to speed the process up even more? Put an apple in the bag, too.

Apples
Refrigerator: 3 weeks

Arugula, bunch
Refrigerator: 5 days
Tip: If the bunch has roots, wrap it in a damp paper towel before bagging.

Asparagus
Refrigerator: 3 days
Tip: Trim the ends before wrapping the spears in a damp paper towel, then in a plastic bag.

Avocados
Refrigerator: 3 days
Tip: To ripen, keep at room temperature in a paper bag until soft.

Bananas
Countertop: 5 days
Tip: Ripe bananas can be frozen for baking (the skins will blacken, but the flesh will be fine).

How to Store Snacks, Baked Goods, and Crackers

Whether you’re keeping baked goods at room temperature or freezing them, make sure they’re tightly wrapped or in an airtight container, with the following exceptions: Dairy-based cakes and pies, such as cheesecake and lemon cream pie, and cookies with uncooked dairy fillings, like whipped cream or cream cheese, should go into the refrigerator. Bakery-style breads and baguettes should be kept in their original packaging (an airtight bag will turn crusts soggy) at room temperature; if freezing, transfer to a resealable freezer bag. Any crackers or snack foods that don’t disappear within a couple of days will also stay fresh longer in an airtight container or bag.

Baked Goods

Bagels
Pantry: 2 days
Freezer: 3 months

Baguette
Pantry: 1 day
Freezer: 3 weeks

Biscuit dough, store-bought in can
Refrigerator: Until use-by date
Freezer: Do not freeze.

Bread, bakery loaf
Pantry: 2 days
Freezer: 3 weeks

Bread, sandwich loaf
Pantry: 4 days
Refrigerator: 2 weeks
Freezer: 3 months

Brownies—supermarket, bakery, and homemade
Pantry: 2 weeks (supermarket); 5 days (bakery and homemade)
Refrigerator: 1 month
Freezer: 3 months

How to Store Wine, Beer, and Other Beverages

Most unopened drinks sold at room temperature should be kept in the pantry or in a cool, dark place. Items from the refrigerator cases should be refrigerated at home, even if they’re labeled shelf-stable: Fluctuating temperatures can compromise flavor.

Beer, bottles and cans
Pantry: 9 months (unopened)
Refrigerator: 1 day (open bottles)

Champagne and sparkling wine
Pantry: 1 year (unopened)
Refrigerator: 1 day (open)

Juice, bottled shelf-stable
Pantry: 1 year (unopened)
Refrigerator: 10 days (open)

Juice, boxes
Pantry: 6 months (unopened)
Refrigerator: 10 days (open)

Juice, pasteurized refrigerated
Refrigerator: 3 weeks (unopened); 1 week (open)

Liquor
Pantry: Indefinitely (brown spirits, such as whiskey and scotch); 2 years (clear spirits, such as gin and vodka)

Soda, bottles and cans
Pantry: 6 months (unopened)
Refrigerator: 2 days (open bottles)

Wine, red and white
Pantry: 1 year (unopened)
Refrigerator: 3 days (open)
Note: These time frames apply to everyday table wines.

Click here for more of Real Simple's storage tips, including pantry items and condiments. 

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