Food storage: Meat, poultry, fish, and dairy

Here's how, where, and how long to store "fridge foods."

Meats and poultry are quite perishable - and not cheap! Improper handling can waste food and money.

  • As soon as you get meat or poultry home, stow it in the freezer or the coldest spot in the refrigerator.
  • Keep meats and poultry in their original store packaging to avoid handling the food and risking cross-contamination. However, if the package leaks or seems otherwise insecure, unwrap and securely rewrap the meat or poultry in plastic.
  • Raw beef, chicken, or turkey can keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Properly frozen, chicken can keep for about one year, ground beef for 2 to 3 months, and steak for about 6 months. To freeze, wrap tightly in aluminium foil or freezer paper.

Fish and seafood need to be handled with care to prevent cross-contamination.

  • Refrigerate fish as soon as possible. Take a cooler if you'll be driving around with fish before heading home.
  • If refrigerating, put fish in a baking dish filled with ice and place it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Refresh the ice a couple of times each day. Fridge fish will keep for a couple of days.
  • If freezing, wrap fish in plastic and stow it in the coldest part of the freezer. Frozen fish will keep for 4 to 6 months. Frozen shrimp will last about one month.

Dairy products need quick refrigeration to stay fresh and unspoiled and to beat the expiry date deadline.

  • Milk will quickly sour if kept at room temperature. Even inside the fridge, milk should be kept in a consistently cool spot, which means the door shelves are a no-no (all that opening and closing can expose the milk to the warmer air outside).
  • While the fridge door shelf is bad for milk, it's an ideal spot for cheese. Cheese should be wrapped securely and stowed in a warmer part of the fridge. The harder the cheese, the longer it will last - up to 2 weeks. Soft, creamy cheeses will remain good for about a week.
  • Yogurt should be kept in its original container. Note the expiration date. Opened yogurt should be tossed by that date, but unopened yogurt should remain palatable for about another week.

Eggs are among the most fragile of foods. And yet eggs hold up well if properly handled.

  • Got those handy-dandy egg-holders in your fridge door? Ignore them. When the fridge door is opened and closed, eggs are exposed to the warmer air outside. Not to mention they can be jostled and broken that way. Keep eggs in their original packaging and stow them in a consistently cool spot.
  • Properly stored eggs can stay fresh for up to a month.

Food storage: Fruits and vegetables

Here's what to do to keep your fruits and veggies fresh.

Onions and garlic bring a pungent odour to recipes and to your kitchen. Store them in a way that maintains their flavour.

  • Onions should be kept away from light and allowed room to ventilate. For this reason, store onions in a wire-mesh hanging basket or in a sieve-like bowl.
  • Yellow onions may keep longer than sweet white onions.
  • Store onions separate from potatoes, as the gases both emit can lead to spoilage.
  • Scallions should be refrigerated in a plastic bag, where they will keep for about one week.
  • Cut or cooked onions can be wrapped up tightly or sealed in a container to keep for a couple of days.
  • Garlic should be kept uncovered in a cool, dark spot, where it should stay fresh for 2 weeks to up to 2 months. Kept in the fridge or freezer, garlic may lose some of its zing.
  • Pull off dried or mouldy cloves to prevent spoiling the rest of the head of garlic.

Tomatoes can be delicate and bruise easily. Handle with care.

  • Unripe tomatoes should be left out at room temperature for up to a week. Keep them away from direct sunlight.
  • Once tomatoes are ripe, store them in a warmer spot in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
  • Tomatoes and tomato sauce keep well in the freezer.

Eggplants look tough, but they are actually quite delicate.

  • Do not store eggplants loose. If they are purchased covered with a plastic film, remove the film and place the eggplants inside a plastic bag.
  • Eggplants cannot handle too much heat or too much cold. Stow them in the fridge crisper, where they will keep fresh for about 3 days.

Carrots and celery often go together. But should they be stored side-by-side?

  • Celery should be kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator, either wrapped in a plastic bag or in a damp cloth. Freezing will wilt celery.
  • Carrots are very hardy, but they can dry up if not stored properly. Lop off carrot tops, since they suck moisture away from the more appetizing orange roots. Wrap carrots in paper towels and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, where they will keep for about 2 weeks.

Greens and lettuce do not tend to stay fresh for long. Only buy as much as you think you will eat in a few days' time.

  • Cabbage can be the one exception to the short shelf life rule. If kept in the crisper, stowed in a plastic bag, a head of cabbage can keep for 2 weeks. Savoy cabbage is more delicate and lasts only one week. Once a head of cabbage has been cut into, it should be wrapped up tightly and used within a couple of days.
  • Collard and mustard greens, spinach, kale, and chard should be stored unwashed. Wrap them in damp paper towels and stash them in plastic bags in the fridge crisper. There, the greens should keep for 3 to 5 days.
  • Romaine and arugula should be washed and dried before storage. Wrap the leaves in damp cloth and stow them in plastic bags in the crisper. Romaine may last up to a week, while Boston and leaf lettuce only keep for 2 to 3 days. More perishable arugula and watercress should ideally be eaten on the same day of purchase.
  • Broccoli and cauliflower seem robust but are both quite perishable, keeping fresh for only one week. Store broccoli or cauliflower unwashed in plastic bags placed in the crisper. You can also blanch and freeze broccoli. In the freezer, broccoli can keep for up to one year. Cooked broccoli should be stored in a tightly covered container and eaten within a few days.

Mushrooms come in many varieties. Here's how to store 2 of the more common types.

  • Shiitake mushrooms should be stored loose inside of a closed paper bag stashed in the refrigerator. They will keep for about one week. If dried, the mushrooms can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for 6 months up to one year.
  • Cremini mushrooms should also be stored loose inside of a paper bag in the refrigerator. To maintain mushrooms' moisture, either wrap them in damp cloth or lay them out in a glass dish covered with a moist cloth.

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes look a lot alike and share some similar storage solutions.

  • Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Kept at room temperature, regular potatoes may sprout or become dehydrated. Kept in the sunshine, potatoes may become dangerous to eat, due to toxin growth that may be triggered by sun exposure (look for green colour). On the other hand, if kept refrigerated, the flavours of yams and potatoes may change.
  • A cellar, basement, or ventilated cupboard makes a good potato and yam storage spot. If possible, keep potatoes inside of a burlap sack or paper bag.
  • Keep potatoes away from onions. One can spoil the other.

Fruit storage and shelf life differ depending on the item.

  • Apples should ripen at room temperature. Once they are ripe, put them in the refrigerator, where the crisp fruit will keep for about a month.
  • Ripen bananas at room temperature or, to get them ready-to-eat more quickly, put bananas in a paper bag with an apple. Once ripe, bananas can be preserved for a few extra days if refrigerated.
  • Citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, and oranges should be stored at room temperature but away from sunlight. Stored this way, lemons and limes will keep fresh for about one week, oranges for 2 weeks. The freshly squeezed juice of any of these fruits can also be frozen in ice cube trays and stowed in plastic bags in the freezer for future use.
  • Berries should be stored unwashed in a covered container for 1 to 3 days' worth of freshness. Keep an eye out for mouldy berries, which can spoil the rest of the bunch. Berries can also be frozen and stored in plastic bags to keep for up to one year.
  • Whole, intact cantaloupe should be kept at room temperature until ripe. Once cantaloupe is ripe, stow it in the refrigerator. If it is cut, wrap the slices tightly and store them in the fridge. Cantaloupe kept at room temperature for 2 hours or more may be vulnerable to foodborne bacteria and should be tossed out.
  • Watermelon can be left out at room temperature until cut. When you cut it, cut it into large pieces and cover them with plastic wrap to maintain moisture and keep out other foods' odours.
  • Grapes should be kept in the refrigerator. Store grapes unwashed and loosely wrapped in a paper towel that is placed inside of a plastic bag. This way, grapes stay fresh for a few days. Grapes also make a fun, bite-sized icy treat when frozen.

Food storage: Beans, seeds, nuts, and grains

Can you just stuff all your beans, nuts, and seeds into the cupboard? Here are the real goods.

Dried beans are a cinch to keep.

  • Most types of beans will keep well if sealed in an airtight container that is placed in a cool, dry, and dark spot. The back of the cupboard is the best for beans.
  • Well-stored beans will still be good up to about one year.
  • Dried lima beans are a bit more perishable and last only about 6 months in the cupboard.
  • Cooked beans can be kept covered in the refrigerator for about 3 days (though cooked lima beans last only a day in fridge).

Tofu and miso paste are both derived from soybeans but require different storage solutions.

  • Tofu should always be refrigerated. Once its container has been opened, tofu should be rinsed and returned to a container, in which it must then be covered with water and returned to the fridge. Change the water each day to keep tofu fresh for about one week. If left unopened, tofu can be frozen for up to 5 months with some changes to color and texture.
  • Miso paste will keep for up to one year if stored in the fridge in a tightly sealed container.

Seeds, nuts, and grains would seem like the kinds of things that get stashed in the pantry. Not so fast!

  • Most seeds should be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator, including sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Un-hulled sesame seeds should be kept in a tightly shut container in a cool, dry, dark place, but once sesame seeds lose their husk, they may become rancid and should be put in the fridge or freezer for safe keeping.
  • Since nuts contain a good amount of fat, they can become rancid. Shelled peanuts, walnuts, and almonds should all be kept in tightly sealed containers in the refrigerator, where they will remain fresh for 3 to 6 months. If nuts are kept in a freezer, their shelf life extends to 6 months to up to a year.
  • Brown rice and quinoa will keep fresh best - up to about 6 months - if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. White rice needs an airtight container, too, but it will hold up fine in a cool, dry place.
  • Oats, rye, and spelt grains should be stored in an airtight container and stowed in a cool, dry, dark spot, where the grains will keep for several months. Wheat flour and spelt flour would do better kept in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity.
  • Fresh corn should be eaten as near to the time of purchase as possible. If you plan to eat it within a couple of days after purchase, keep corn in its husk to retain flavour. Frozen corn can keep up to about a year. To prepare for the freezer, blanch corn for 7 to 10 minutes and place in a freezer bag.

Food storage: Herbs, spices, and sundry items

Is that spice rack by your stove really the best way to store herbs and spices? Here's the truth.

Spices and herbs bring strong, distinctive flavour to food. You can maintain their original zing if you store them properly.

  • Fresh herbs should be refrigerated. Most benefit from being wrapped in a damp paper towel. If you have fresh cilantro with the roots intact, place the roots in a glass of water and cover the leaves with a loosely fitted plastic bag.
  • Dried herbs should be stored in an airtight container and stowed away in a cool, dry, dark place, where most will keep for about 6 months.
  • The leaves of some herbs can be frozen for future use in soup stocks. Place leaves of rosemary, oregano, cilantro, or basil in ice cube trays and cover with water or soup stock. When your ice spices have frozen, store them in plastic bags.
  • Unwashed, fresh chili peppers should be placed in paper bags or wrapped in paper towels and kept in the fridge. If you have dried or ground chili pepper, keep it in a tightly sealed jar away from sunlight.
  • Black pepper should also be kept tightly sealed in a glass container and stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Whole peppercorns can keep practically forever, but once pepper has been ground it will be at peak freshness and flavour for about 3 months.
  • Whether ground or in stick form, cinnamon should be stowed in a tightly sealed glass container placed in a cool, dark, dry spot. Kept whole on the stick, cinnamon will last about a year, longer if kept in the refrigerator. Ground cinnamon will not last quite as long, about 6 months.
  • Fresh, unpeeled ginger can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 weeks and in the freezer for up to 6 months. If ginger has been dried or powdered, keep it in a tightly sealed glass container placed in a cool, dark, dry spot, or in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life.

Tea can have a long, hardy shelf life, but certain factors can cause tea to lose freshness.

  • Moisture and light can affect tea, so it is important to store tea in airtight containers in a cool, dry, dark cupboard. Consider tins, ceramic containers, or opaque glass containers to reduce the amount of light that comes into the container when it is out in the open.
  • Freezing or refrigerating tea can affect moisture levels and degrade the tea's quality.
  • Black tea may have a longer shelf life than green tea, and tea in bags may not stay fresh for as long as loose-leaf tea.

Syrup and honey can make a sticky mess in the cupboard. Is this the best spot for these sweets?

  • Until you open a container of maple syrup, it can be stored in a cool, dry spot in the cupboard or pantry. Once opened, though, syrup should be refrigerated. It can even be frozen, though this may affect its consistency.
  • Stow honey in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, where it should remain edible for years. If refrigerated or frozen, honey will thicken.