Food Storage Safety Tips for the Fridge and Freezer

Proper storage practices can help you keep foods fresher longer and minimize the risk of foodborne illness.  These tips can help you get started.

  • Check your temperature. Use a food appliance thermometer (available at most supermarkets) to make sure temperatures in your fridge and freezer are within recommended guidelines. Food safety experts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommend keeping refrigerators at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) and freezers at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit (minus 18 degrees Celsius).  Allowing your fridge or freezer to get too warm can decrease foods’ shelf life and increase the growth of unhealthy bacteria.
  • Produce: Store first, wash later. In most cases, it is better to wash produce just before eating. If washed prior to storing in the refrigerator, the moisture can accelerate spoilage. (Unlike most produce, lettuce and other leafy vegetables should be washed and drained before storing in a sealed plastic bag with paper towels to absorb excess moisture.)
  • Two-hour max. Foods should be contained and stored in a refrigerator or freezer within two hours after cooking.
  • Choose shallow containers. Divide and store leftovers in shallow containers less than two inches deep, for rapid, even cooling. Larger or deeper containers take longer to cool.
  • Wrap it Tight.  Be sure stored foods are tightly wrapped.  When using a sealable bag, try to squeeze out as much air as possible. This will conserve space and help to prevent freezer burn. If using a plastic container, choose the smallest container that will hold your food. (Get more Food-Specific Storage Tips.)
  • OK to Refreeze. While it is generally safe to refreeze partially thawed foods, keep in mind that refreezing can cause foods to become watery or soft.  Also remember that freezing does not eliminate bacteria or parasites. Although it does prevent the growth of microbes, freezing won’t eliminate those that already exist in your food.
  • Keep cool during a power outage.  If the refrigerator power goes out, foods should keep for 1-2 days depending on the contents.  Fuller refrigerators generally preserve foods longer than empty ones. Be sure to keep the refrigerator door(s) closed as much as possible until power is restored.
  • Plan ahead.  Make a point of using stored foods before opening or purchasing more and get to know how long various foods last in the fridge or freezer. Check the expiration dates and see our food storage chart for more information.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. If you’re not sure whether a food item has gone bad, remember that smelling or tasting the food is not a good indicator of safety. That’s because most harmful bacteria can’t be seen, smelled or tasted. The best policy is to simply throw it away.


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