How Long Does This Last? – A Guide to Leftovers and Food Storage

Keep your food fresh and healthy with this helpful guide!

Store your prepped meals in the right containers to make sure they last you all week.

Ever wondered how long your leftovers actually last in the fridge? Maybe you’ve had that can of beans for quite some time now and you’re wondering if you can still cook with it. Or you could just be wondering where you’re actually meant to store those potatoes to keep them from sprouting! With these questions– and many more in mind– we’ve created an easy guide to leftovers and food storage so that you can store food safely in the freezer, refrigerator, and pantry. Proper food storage will not only keep it fresh for longer based on the USDA’s food safety guidelines, but it will also prevent foodborne germs from growing (because no one wants that). Say farewell to the dreaded “sniff test”, too. You won’t have to do that ever again! 

Why Be Concerned?

Why should you be concered with proper food storage?

Eating food that has been stored incorrectly or for too long can lead to some pretty unruley negative side effects such as food posioning, bacterial infections, and in severe cases, even death. That is why it is just so important to make sure that your food is properly stored and eaten while it’s still good.

How to Store your Food Items

Store produce however it is stored at the grocery store.

Here’s a quick break down on how and where to store different foods! Taking a few minutes to read this now can save you tons of time and money later on!

What Goes Where?

A little rule of thumb that I like to use is wherever you found it in the grocery store is where it should be stored in your home. So items that aren’t in the coolers can be stored at room temperature, while the food found in the coolers should be refrigerated. However, some things that can be swapped are fruits like apples, citrus, or berries. These are typically bought at room temperature however they can be refrigerated if you’d prefer. That said, fruit like bananas and avocados should not be refrigerated because they will ripen too quicky. 

Also, anything that has been opened or cut into should be refrigerated. This includes prepped fruit, opened glass jars, bottles, and even tortillas. I even refrigerate my bread because I find that it lasts longer. 

Another thing I’d like to note is that everything except for canned goods and shelled eggs can be frozen. However, if you tranfer the canned goods to a different container or remove the shells from the eggs, they can be frozen, as well. 

Best Temperatures

Below we’ve listed the ideal temperatures for each of your food storage spaces:

Refrigerator: 40 degrees fahrenheit or below.

Freezer: 0 degrees fahrenhiet or below.

Pantry: 50-70 degrees fahrenheit.

Refrigeration Shelving

Something you may not have known is that the way you organize your fridge matters! Store poultry on the bottom shelf to prevent drippage onto other foods, and then put red meat and fish above. Try to keep you produce separate– most fridges come with a crisper or produce drawer for this! Lastly, do not store perishable foods such as meat, eggs, or dairy in the door because the temperature fluctuates more than the temperature in the main compartment. Instead, I put all of my closed beverages, and already-opened jars in my door shelving as they are more stable.

Produce and Pantry Tips

When storing items at room temperature, it’s important to make sure that the room you are storing them in is actually room temperature (between 50 and 70 degrees) to make sure the quality of your food remains. It’s also important to make sure that you are storing your produce in the correct place. For example, fruits like bananas and avocados should be stored in open air (such as the counter), while onions and potatoes can be stored in a cool, dark place (such as a cupboard or pantry). 

How Long to Store Your Food Items

Learn how to store your food properly to make it last as long as possible.

Unsure of how long something lasts in the fridge? Here’s a quick guide for leftovers and food storage. 

Meal Prepping and Leftovers

 So you’ve just gotten into meal prepping, but just how long can you prep for? Well, based on the USDA guidelines, cooked meals should be wrapped well and airtight, and can last 3-4 days. This means that a meal prepped on Sunday should be eaten by Thursday! That goes for any type of leftovers, as well. However, you can freeze these meals. See below for more info on frozen food!

Meat, Poultry, and Seafood

Meat should be stored in the refrigerator at all times. Thawed, uncooked poultry, ground meat, sausages, and seafood should be cooked within 1-2 days, while steaks, chops, and roasts can be stored for up to 5 days. Cooked meats are all good for 3-4 days.

Cheese and Deli Items

Cheese storage times fall into different categories depending on the level of hardness and if it has been opened or not.

  • Hard Cheese: unopened, they can be stored for up to 4 months in the fridge. Once opened, they are good for up to 6 weeks
  • Medium Cheese: once opened, they need to be eaten within 2 to 3 weeks. However, they will last 1-2 months if not opened.
  • Soft Cheese: Since these cheeses are the least stable, they need to be eaten within 2 weeks after purchasing.

Deli meats that have not been opened can be used for up to 2 weeks. Once opened, they are good for 3-5 days. Eggs in their shells can last for 3-5 weeks. 

Baked Goods

Leftovers of baked goods should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature and can be eaten for 3-5 days. They can also be frozen- more info below!

Pantry Items

Food that can be stored at room temperature, or “on the shelf,” are called “shelf stable” or “non-perishable”. These non-perishable products include jerky, country hams, canned and bottled foods, dried grains, flour, sugar, spices, oils, and foods processed in aseptic or retort packages and other products that do not require refrigeration until after opening. Many of these items will last 1-2 years as long as they are not opened. For example, low acid canned goods including meats, soups, pastas, beans, and vegetables will last 2-5 years, while high acid canned goods including fruits, tomatoes, juices, and pickles will last 12-18 months. Canned tuna will also only last for 18 months at most. Dried grains such as rice and pasta will last for up to 2 years in the pantry.

Frozens

Fun fact, foods that are frozen consistently and safely can be used indefinitely. However, after some time, the quality may be affected. Most things lose their quality after 3-4 months, which is my general rule of thumb when cleaning out my freezer. However, if I find that the item I want to use is a few months older and is not freezer burned, then I’ll use it!

How to Keep Track

Clean out your pantry and refrigerator regularly to make sure nothing goes to waste.

All in all, there’s a lot to be learned about food storage! While it can be somewhat overwhelming, it’s actually very important to make sure you’re following this guide for leftovers and food storage to stay on top of where and how long you’ve had your food to avoid getting sick. Some tricks that help me keep track is bimonthly fridge and pantry clean outs, quarterly freezer cleans, and making sure I take inventory of what I have before I go to the grocery store to make sure I don’t buy too much (more info about that in our article about grocery store hacks!) 

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Kelsey Butler, MS, RDN

Kelsey Butler is a Registered Dietitian and recipe developer. From a young age, Kelsey found a love for creating delicious recipes. Now, with a Master's in Nutritional Sciences, Kelsey uses her culinary skills to create healthy and unique recipes for many different diets. She is passionate about creating a healthy relationship with all foods and recipes that everyone can enjoy. Kelsey has a passion for cooking, but she also enjoys the outdoors, staying active, and traveling. She is currently living with her partner in New Zealand.

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