When you take a peek in your fridge and wonder what to keep or throw away, you might be surprised to know that there is a lot of wiggle room. Almost 40% of food is wasted in the United States each year, and while the “smell test” isn’t reliable for cleaning your refrigerator, these simple tips for 10 popular foods will get you on the right track.
Before you start, make sure your refrigerator is cold enough. Avoid the “cold” dial in your refrigerator and get a thermometer to keep inside on a shelf – the temperature should not exceed 40 degrees to avoid bacterial growth and rapid spoilage of food.
1. Frozen chicken
Did you buy a ton of chicken on sale? Store it in a single layer in a sturdy freezer bag. Squeeze excess air out of the bag and plan to use it within three months. Frozen chicken (and all frozen foods) can be eaten indefinitely, but will lose its taste and flavor as it is stored. If you don’t seal foods carefully, freezer burns can occur, drying out exposed meat – even though it’s still safe to eat.
Related: The USDA Strongly Warns Against This Common Food Preparation Practice.
2. Raw chicken
It is highly perishable. Always use before the date stated on the package (usually up to two days); and use same day or next day when you buy from butcher’s crate in paper packaging without date. Otherwise, freeze it. When you thaw this chicken, place it on a plate to catch the raw chicken juice and let it sit for 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Buy what you need for up to three days. Ask at the deli counter when the large room they are cut from has been opened – not three days from the date of purchase, but three days from the opening of the room. You can try sous vide deli meats that have a long shelf life in the refrigerator – up to a few months if unopened. If they are opened, they still have the same three-day shelf life.
Eat all your leftovers within three days and store them properly – a sealed Ziploc bag is easier, but plastic wrap works well.
5. Frozen bread / bagels
Like all foods stored in the freezer, breads and bagels can be eaten indefinitely. Store them in a freezer bag and consume them within two weeks for optimal taste and flavor. When stored in the freezer, breads and bagels dry out and develop ice crystals and freezer odors.
Ground coffee and whole beans easily absorb moisture, making them a magnet for sucking in odors from other foods stored with them. Store a one to two week supply in an airtight container in the refrigerator. For longer, keep them in the freezer to maintain optimal freshness for about three months.
7. Chicken or beef broth
This recipe called for half a cup of broth, so now you’re stuck with the rest. If the broth was canned, pour it into another container, refrigerate, and use within three days. Or freeze it for up to a month in a small airtight container.
Labeling of egg containers varies widely and can be confusing – from the sell-by date to the expiration date. The best rule of thumb is to use your eggs within two weeks of the date on the package. Always store eggs in a middle shelf of the refrigerator. Avoid storing in the door as this is the hottest part of the refrigerator from the entire opening.
9. Canned tomatoes
Leftovers should be stored in a sealed container, never in the original box. Use them within three days. Although you can freeze them, the texture will change and become mushy, so save them for a soup or stew.
10. Snacks, such as chips and cookies
When you completely seal these packages after opening, they will stay fresh at least until the date stated on the package. When exposed to air, the fats in these foods begin to break down, which affects the taste and crispness. Try a Ziploc bag around the original packaging to maintain optimal freshness. Although the taste and texture may change after a few weeks, these foods are still safe to eat.