You can avoid throwing food (and money) down the drain with our informative food storage guide.

By Rosemary Black

Does fresh parsley turn slimy in your fridge? Is that two-year-old frozen turkey still safe to eat? Should you get rid of that slightly moldy cheese? The old adage "When at a loss, give it a toss" is certainly a safe bet. But you can avoid throwing food (and money) down the drain with our food storage guide.

Dairy Do's and Don'ts

  • Buy milk in cardboard cartons or nontranslucent jugs. Translucent containers allow light to seep in, which can cause milk to spoil. Store milk in a refrigerator that is set below 40 degrees, and don’t store it in the door. Items stored there are susceptible to warm air that enters the fridge each time you open it.
  • Discard unused milk after the container has been open for a week, no matter what the sell-by date is. Milk may be frozen for up to three months.
  • Ice cream has a shelf life of two to four months, as long as it’s stored in a freezer that is set at 0 degrees.
  • Yogurt should be used within 7 to 10 days of purchase.
  • Butter will keep in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for one month and may be frozen for up to six months.
  • Hard cheeses like cheddar, Gouda and Swiss will keep for three to four weeks, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator once they’ve been opened.
  • Remove mold from cheese by cutting a one-inch square around it. The rest is safe to eat.
  • Processed cheese spreads will keep for three to four weeks in the refrigerator after they’ve been opened. Cream cheese will keep for about 2 weeks, ricotta cheese for 5 days, cottage cheese for 10 to 30 days.
  • Purchase eggs before the sell-by date has passed. Store them in their original packaging on the middle or lower shelf, where the temperature tends to remain relatively steady.
  • Stored in the fridge, uncooked eggs will keep for three weeks from the time your bring them home, hard-boiled eggs (in the shell) for one week, egg whites for up to four days, raw yolks (covered with water) for up to two days in a tightly sealed container.
  • To freeze uncooked whole eggs, lightly beat them, pour into a freezer-safe container, seal and date. These eggs can be frozen for up to one year.
  • You can freeze egg whites in an ice cube tray and then transfer them to a freezer bag or container.
  • Don’t freeze hard-cooked whole eggs or egg whites. They’ll be tough and watery when you defrost them.

Much Ado about Meat

  • Always shop for meat and poultry right before you leave the store. Place meat in a plastic bag to keep it from dripping onto other foods in your shopping cart.
  • Store meat and poultry in a refrigerator set between 35 and 40 degrees.
  • Raw meat should be placed in a plastic bag and set on a plate on the lowest shelf to keep the juices from dripping onto other foods.
  • Always follow the “Use By,” “Keep Refrigerated” and “Safe Handling” information on the package label. If you can’t remember when you put meat in the refrigerator, throw it out.
  • Use beef, roasts and deli meats within three to four days of purchase. Beef for stews or stir-fries should be used within two to three days, ground beef within one to two days.
  • Ready-to-cook corned beef will keep in the fridge for one week, hot dogs and deli meats for three to five days, smoked sausage for one week.
  • Bacon will keep for five to seven days in the refrigerator unopened and can be frozen for one month.
  • If you don’t plan to use meat within a few days of purchase, freeze it by overwrapping the package with aluminum foil or heavy freezer paper.
  • Roasts, steaks and beef for stews or stir-fries will keep for 6 to 12 months in the freezer, ground beef for 3 to 4 months, corned beef for 2 weeks, hot dogs and deli meats for 1 to 2 months. Smoked and semi-dry sausage don’t freeze well.
  • Commercially dried and cured meat like beef jerky will keep for up to one year without refrigeration if unopened, but should be refrigerated once opened.
  • Cured ham, which should be cooked before eating, will keep for five to seven days in the refrigerator.
  • Use chicken by the sell-by date unless you plan on freezing it. Chicken and turkey may be frozen for nine months to a year in a freezer set at 0 degrees. Cooked chicken or turkey should be eaten or frozen within three to four days of cooking.

Seafood Savvy

  • Shop for seafood right before you leave the store and use it within one to two days of purchase.
  • Fresh seafood should be wrapped in plastic or placed in an air-tight container in a refrigerator set below 40 degrees. Store fresh, pasteurized or smoked seafood at 32 to 38 degrees. Check the temperature with a food thermometer.
  • Store frozen seafood in its original packaging immediately after you buy it, in a freezer set at 0 degrees. Frozen seafood can be defrosted in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave (follow manufacturer’s instructions).
  • Use packaged frozen seafood before the expiration date. If the date has passed, discard it.

Fruit and Veggie Lowdown

  • Many fruits and veggies need to be refrigerated, but others do best at room temperature because the cold can damage them or keep them from ripening. Those that should not be refrigerated include tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, garlic and onions.
  • When stored at room temperature, fruits and vegetables should be placed in a perforated — not a sealed — plastic bag away from direct sunlight.
  • To speed up the ripening process of fruits and veggies stored at room temperature, place them in a bowl or paper bag with an apple.
  • Refrigerated fruits and veggies should be kept in a perforated plastic bag in the produce drawer. In general, fresh produce can last a few days in the fridge.
  • Use all refrigerated fruits and vegetables within a few days, and wash thoroughly right before eating.

The Goods on Canned Goods

  • Never buy cans that are dented, cracked, bulging or rusted.
  • Always store canned goods in a cool, dry place. Unopened canned foods will keep for years, but their shelf life is related to their acid content. High-acid canned foods like tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple may be stored on the pantry shelf for 12 to 18 months. Low-acid foods like meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables will keep for two to five years as long as the can is in good condition.

Power Outage Know How

  • To keep refrigerated foods chilled and frozen foods frozen during a power outage, keep both the refrigerator and freezer doors shut. An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours after power is lost. A full, unopened freezer will keep items frozen for about 48 hours, a half-full freezer for up to 24 hours.
  • Keep a refrigerator thermometer in your fridge and freezer at all times. Once power is restored, determine if the food is safe to eat by checking the temperature. The fridge should be at or below 40 degrees, the freezer at or below 0 degrees.
  • Never attempt to keep food chilled or frozen by placing it in the snow because it’s difficult to control the temperature. If the sun is shining, for example, the temperature of the food could rise to the danger zone above 40 degrees, allowing food-borne pathogens to multiply most rapidly.
  • Keep cold foods cold for several hours by placing them in an insulated ice chest surrounded by lots of ice or ice packs. Once the ice has melted, the food should be cooked and eaten as quickly as possible.
  • Refreezing meat isn’t dangerous, but each time you do so you run the risk of “freezer burn,” which can dry out the meat.