Courtney Davis

Most of us like to save money. We do our best to stretch our dollars and look to get as much out of our purchases as possible. However, where food is concerned, the old saying that all good things must come to an end holds true.

It’s a common practice of many to store certain foods in the refrigerator to extend the quality of the foods. However, the question of how long we can keep foods refrigerated is often a mystery.

Research shows that the length of time you can store foods in the refrigerator depends on whether or not the food is fresh, unpackaged food or packaged. It is also important to note whether the package has been opened or whether the food was previously cooked.

Generally speaking, fresh foods, opened foods and cooked foods should not be kept refrigerated longer than four to seven days.

If you want to keep the food longer, it is best to freeze the food and use it later. Doing so will significantly reduce the risk of contracting a food-borne illness. This includes opened packages of things such as lunch meat.

Although the date on the package may say that the lunch meat expires one month from today, once opened, it should be used within seven days.

It is also important to keep in mind that even frozen foods do not last forever. For best quality, a general rule to follow is that fresh meats should be stored frozen for no longer than three to four months (fresh fish can be stored for up to six months).

Items such as bacon, cooked fish, bread and rolls can be stored for up to one month. Frozen eggs, butter and margarine can be stored for up to one year. Natural and processed cheeses can be stored from four to six months in the freezer.

Refrigerating/freezing is a great way to save. Here are a few additional tips:

  • Research indicates that most of the products claiming to extend the life of vegetables, cheeses and greens in the refrigerator do not actually stop the decay caused by the natural release of gases from the food items. It’s better to store leftovers in the original packaging and tape the bag shut to ensure freshness.
  • The shelving on the door of your refrigerator is the warmest part of the refrigerator. The back of your refrigerator is the coldest part. Store foods in the refrigerator accordingly and place a refrigerator thermometer in the door to ensure that your entire refrigerator is maintaining your food at an internal temperature of 40 degrees.

For more specific guidelines for safe home food storage, visit For more information, contact me at 940-349-2888 or

COURTNEY DAVIS is the family and community health county extension agent with Texas AgriLife Extension.

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