Storing foods safely is an important food consideration. Here are answers to some of the most common questions asked about storing and using food.
Refrigerated and Frozen Storage
How long can I store Leftovers?
Leftovers should be frozen or eaten within 3-4 days of cooking. Freezing leftovers quickly will give a higher quality, safer food item to eat at a later date. If you know you are not going to eat the leftovers right away, it is better to freeze them than to risk spoilage.
Thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator or the microwave and eat promptly after the food is thawed. Always reheat food to an internal temperature of 74°C (165°F). Only reheat leftovers one time. If they are not completely eaten once heated, discard the remaining food.
Look at the Health Canada website for more information on the safe handling of leftovers.
What is the best way to store fruits and vegetables to make them last longer?
Store any fresh produce in original packaging (plastic clamshells or plastic bags) in the refrigerator. The best place for produce is in the crisper drawers. Wash produce just before you are going to use it as washing prior to storage can cause faster spoilage. Read more in Top Tips for Storing Fresh Food.
How long can foods stay frozen?
Freezing is an excellent way to safely store food for long periods of time. It should be noted that a fridge freezer is not as cold as a large chest freezer. Therefore, if you are storing foods for an extended period of time, chest freezer storage is preferred for maintaining optimal quality and limiting freezer burn.
The following chart of cold storage times for common foods includes shorter refrigerated times for foods to encourage use before spoiling, and longer freezer times for foods to maintain optimal quality. Frozen foods can technically be stored indefinitely if they are kept continuously frozen at below -18°C (0°F), but they will start to lose flavour, texture and quality after the recommended times below. When you are putting foods in the freezer, label the packaging with the date items are frozen so you can practice First In, First Out (FIFO) and use your frozen foods while they are still at their highest quality.
COLD STORAGE TIMES
|Refrigerated items||Time Spent in Refrigerator|
(4°C or lower)
|Time Spent in Freezer|
(-18°C or lower)
|Eggs (kept in carton)||Best before date or 3 weeks||Don’t freeze in shell, out of shell 4 months|
|Milk||Best before date||6 weeks|
|Ground Meats (uncooked)||1-2 days||2-3 months|
|Small pieces of meat||2 days||3-6 months|
|Opened lunch meat||3-5 days||1-2 months|
|Steaks/Roasts||3 days||6-12 months|
|Chicken/Turkey||2-3 days||6 months – pieces|
1 year – whole
|Bacon||1 week||1 month|
|Shrimp (cooked)||1-2 days||2 months|
|Fresh fish (salmon)||3-4 days||2 months|
|Soups||3-4 days||2-3 months|
|Leftovers||2-3 days||2-3 months|
|Most vegetables and fruit||1-2 weeks||10-12 months|
To search for more specific food items, look at the Food Storage Chart from Health Canada.
Does freezer burn make food unsafe?
Freezer burn is not a food safety concern. The dry, slightly lighter coloured areas, or “burn” seen on frozen foods affects the texture and taste of the food, but it is not dangerous to eat. Freezer burn is caused by a loss of moisture in the food product from exposure to cold, dry air.
There are a few ways to prevent freezer burn. First, keep foods sealed tightly in freezer bags or aluminum foil when freezing. Secondly, for foods that are going to be stored for any length of time, place them in a chest freezer (instead of your fridge freezer) as the frequent opening/closing of the fridge freezer door will increase the likelihood of freezer burn.
How do I safely thaw frozen meats and seafood?
There are three ways to defrost food safely:
1. Overnight in the refrigerator
2. Under cool water (running water or submerged in water)
3. In the microwave on defrost setting
Never defrost raw meats at room temperature.
It is important that raw meat is entirely thawed before you cook it. If you cook partially frozen meat it will heat at an uneven rate, making it difficult for every part of the meat to reach safe cooking temperature.
Once you have thawed any meat, poultry or seafood, it must be cooked before refreezing. Do not refreeze raw foods that have been completely thawed. Foods that are thawed should be cooked right away.
Dry and Canned Food Storage
Where is the best place to keep canned goods?
Canned foods last a very long time, but there are important things to consider when storing canned or preserved foods.
- Store canned foods in a cool, clean, dry place.
- A cool basement is a good place to store cans and jars.
- If storing in the basement, place the cans off the floor onto shelves to avoid rusting on the bottom edges. Rusting can cause tiny holes in the can that may cause food to spoil.
- Shelves next to the oven or near a radiator or furnace pipe are not a good place to store food. The risk of spoilage increases as the storage temperature rises.
- When stocking your pantry, rotate your foods to put the newest purchases towards the back of the shelves and bring the oldest food to the front.
Prior to opening cans, inspect them for dents, swelling, leaking lids and rust. If the can appears to be damaged in any way, throw it out. If there is any unnatural odor or mould growing on the food surface or the inside of the lid, discard the contents.
The University of Minnesota Extension has excellent resource information on storing canned foods and how to identify and handle spoiled canned food.
Food manufacturers recommend that for best quality, canned foods should be used within one year or before the best before date printed on the can. If stored properly, canned foods will last well beyond one year. The University of Minnesota Extension gives the following storage times as limits for use:
Canned Storage Times
|Canned meat and seafood||3 years from date on label|
|Low acid canned goods like vegetables or soup||3 years from date on label|
|High acid foods like fruit, tomatoes and pickles||2 years from date on label|
|Canned fruit juices||1 year from date on label|
Note that the colour, flavour and nutritional value of food may deteriorate after recommended storage times.
What is the best way to store dry foods?
Dry goods are staples in your kitchen and should ideally be stored in airtight containers in a dry, cool place to maintain quality and protect contents from insects. Packages of food that are unopened (flour, sugar, pasta, etc.) can remain in the original packaging until you use it. If you want to continue to keep it in the original package after opening, steps should be taken to carefully seal the package to protect the contents from absorbing moisture and odors from the kitchen.
Never store dried goods above the stovetop, under the sink or in a damp garage or basement. Keeping foods dry and away from moisture is the most important aspect of maintaining freshness. Airtight containers can include plastic containers, glass jars (mason or any sealable glass jar – check your local thrift store) or plastic sealable bags. It can be helpful to add your own labels or cut a portion of the original packaging to tape onto the container for identification and to save the cooking instructions.