Frozen vacuum-sealed steaks

Food Safety: Refrigerator and freezer storage

Refrigerator and Freezer Storage

Preparing food to freeze
Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Times (Chart)
Refrigerator Storage Order (Chart)
Refrigerator Tips

With surprisingly few exceptions, you can freeze almost any food. Poorly prepared or lengthy freezer storage times might diminish the overall quality, but as long as the food was stored at a constant 0 degrees F, it will always be safe to eat (it just might not be as delicious as you hoped). It’s also important to remember that freezing does not destroy the bacteria, yeasts and molds present in your food, it only dramatically decreases their growth.

Once thawed, these microbes will reactive and reproduce rapidly, so proper food handling is critical at every stage of food preparation. Whether you’re freezing meat, seafood, fruits or vegetables, the freshness and quality of your food before freezing is important. The more quickly your fresh food is frozen, the more likely that the taste, texture, color and nutrient content of your food will stay intact as well. The longer you wait to freeze, the worse the final thawed product will be. So if you aren’t planning to eat something within a day or two, freeze it. Using a vacuum sealer to store your frozen food is by far the preferred method, as they significantly improve the quality and longevity of your food.

Preparing food to freeze


It’s safe to freeze store-bought meat in its original packaging but it should be overwrapped as this type of packaging is air-permeable and will adversely affect the quality. To prepare meat for freezing, without using the original packaging, wrap it as tightly as possible in freezer or butcher paper (waxy side in), pressing out as much air as possible, and seal with freezer tape. You can also use thick plastic wrap or aluminum foil but foil particularly has a tendency to tear and sometimes imparts a metallic taste to the food. Many people choose to take their freezer preparation one step further by placing their tightly-wrapped meat in a labeled and dated freezer bag or storage container.

Cooked meats and other foods should be divided into shallow containers for quicker cooling. Large cuts of meat or whole poultry should be cut into smaller pieces and wrapped separately and/or placed into shallow containers. Be sure to cover food containers and refrigerate cooked food within two hours (or 1 hour if the temperature is 90 degrees F or above).


To prepare meat patties for freezing, place fresh patties on a tray, cover and freeze for 6-8 hours. You can then wrap the burgers individually or stacked, separating the patties with wax paper squares (or a suitable substitute). Seal with your preferred storage method



Seafood is more perishable than many other foods, so careful handling is especially important. While storing in the refrigerator, use a shallow pan and cover the fish in ice to keep fresh fish as cold as possible. Ideally, fresh fish should be eaten in the first 24 hours of purchase but that may not always be possible. To freeze, whole fish should be scaled, gutted, rinsed and pretreated according to the type of fish it is.

Lean fish (cod, snapper and most fresh water fish) should dipped for 20 seconds in a salt brine (1 quart water to 1/4 cup salt) to help firm the fish up. Fattier fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel) should be dipped a solution of water and ascorbic acid (1 quart water to 2 tablespoons of ascorbic acid) which will help the fish from going rancid. Smoked fish should be brushed with a light oil and tightly wrapped.

Once treated, freeze the fish directly in freezer bags or freezer bags filled with salted ice water. Ice-glazing, a more complex preservation method, covers the fish in a 1/4-inch thick “glaze” of ice and is another common and effective way to freeze fish.


Live shellfish like mussels, clams and oysters should be refrigerated in a shallow pan (without water) and covered with moistened paper towels or a damp towel. Do not cover the containers with plastic wrap or put them in water. Any shells that are already open are dead and should be promptly discarded.

These type of shellfish can be frozen in the shell simply by rinsing them in cool water and placing them in a freezer bag and forcing out as much air as possible. Freeze shucked shellfish by storing them in an airtight storage container filled wit the shell “liquor” or salt water (liquor is the salty-sweet juice released when the shellfish are shucked). Cooked clams that are frozen become tough and rubbery.


Shrimp can be stored in the refrigerator in a shallow container on top of a bag of crushed ice or in ice water. They can be frozen raw or cooked, in or out of their shells. But for the best possible quality and flavor, rinse, drain and freeze them raw in their shells with their heads removed. Shrimp shells can pierce freezer bags, so freeze them in heavy duty plastic containers filled with a light brine. This prevents freezer burn and preserves their texture and taste. The ice-glazing freezing method also works well. Cooked shrimp should be chilled before being placed in labeled freezer bags and frozen.


The absolute, proper way to freeze crab seems to be a matter of some debate. Many people are hesitant to freeze fresh crabs due to naturally present toxins that are released almost immediately upon their death. Others complain that exposed meat is dry and stringy without the protection of the hard, outer shell. Still others argue that freezing crab in that same shell makes the meat extremely difficult to remove. At least, everyone does seem to agree that fresh crab is superior to frozen crab in almost every way.

And when they can’t be eaten fresh, hard-shell crabs can be frozen in a number of ways: whole (alive or cooked), cleaned and separated into body and claws (still in their shells) or frozen as solid crab meat portions. To store, freezer bags can do the job, just force as much air out as possible and freeze. Be careful of all the pointy parts though, as they can tear the bag. Tuck claws and legs under the body if freezing whole.


Not unexpectedly, some disagreement on freezing lobster exist too. Fortunately, the Culinary Institute of America has published instructions from the Maine Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition and the Lobster Institute. To prepare lobster for freezing, they recommend blanching live, chilled lobsters then re-chilling them again in cold, running water or ice water for 20 minutes before double-bagging them for the freezer.

Fruits and vegetables

Always try to freeze the fruits and vegetables at their peak freshness. Fresh fruits should be washed and sorted for damage before freezing. For delicate fruits like berries, arrange the fruit on a baking sheet and freeze them first. You can then transfer them to a storage bag or container without having to worry about them freezing into a giant fruit lump. Some fruits freeze better with an ascorbic acid wash or a sugar-syrup preparation.

Blanching the vegetables — low-acid vegetables freeze best — before freezing is important — the blanching process cleans the surface of dirt and microorganisms while brightening the color of your food and preserving its nutrition and texture. Be sure to follow blanching guidelines as underblanching or overblanching will actually leave your vegetables worse off.

Once frozen, package your fruits and vegetables in air-tight containers or moisture-proof freezer bags, removing as much air as possible. For extra protection, some people will then wrap the freezer bags in heavy duty aluminum foil.

Soup, chili and stews

Stir soups, chilis and stews that you plan to chill or freeze to release their heat faster. Measure out meal-sized portions of soup, chili or stew into labeled freezer bags, lay the bags flat onto a sheet pan and freeze. The frozen soup can now be stored horizontally or vertically and is quick to thaw.

Refrigerator/Freezer Storage Times

There are many factors that affect the safe storage times of food and the efficient operation of your refrigerator so never eat something you’re not certain is safe to eat — when in doubt, throw it out. It’s a very big risk to take for a quick snack.

Ground Meat, Stew MeatHamburger, Stew Meats1-2 Days3-4 Months
Ground Turkey, Pork, Veal, Lamb1-2 Days3-4 Months
Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb, PorkSteaks3-5 Days6-12 Months
Chops3-5 Days4-6 Months
Roasts3-5 Days4-6 Months
Variety Meats
(Tongue, Kidneys, Liver, Heart, Chitterlings)
1-2 Days3-4 Months
Meat LeftoversCooked Meat, Meat Dishes3-4 Days2-3 Months
Gravy, Meat Broth1-2 Days2-3 Months
Bacon, SausageBacon7 Days1 Month
Sausage, Raw
(from Pork, Beef, Chicken, Turkey)
1-2 Days1-2 Months
Smoked Links, Patties7 Days1-2 Months
Summer sausage
Labelled “Keep Refrigerated”
3 Months1-2 Months
Summer sausage
Labelled “Keep Refrigerated”
3 Weeks1-2 Months
Hard sausage (such as pepperoni)2-3 Weeks1-2 Months
Fresh PoultryChicken, Turkey (Whole)1-2 Days1 Year
Chicken, Turkey (Parts)1-2 Days9 Months
Giblets1-2 Days3-4 Months
Cooked Poultry,
Fried Chicken7 Days1 Month
Cooked Poultry Dishes3-4 Days4-6 Months
Pieces, Plain3-4 Days4 Months
Pieces, In Broth/Gravy3-4 Days6 Months
Chicken Nuggets, Patties3-4 Days1-3 Months
Fried Chicken3-4 Days1 Month
HamHam, Fully Cooked (Whole)7 Days1-2 Months
Ham, Fully Cooked (Half)3-5 Days1-2 Months
Ham, Fully Cooked (Slices)3-4 Days1-2 Months
Ham, Canned
Labelled “Keep Refrigerated”
6-9 MonthsDo Not Freeze
Ham, Canned
Labelled “Keep Refrigerated”
3-5 Days1-2 Months
Corned BeefCorned Beef
In pouch with pickling juices
5-7 DaysDrained
1 Month
EggsFresh, In Shell3-5 WeeksDo Not Freeze
Raw Egg Yolks, Egg Whites2-4 Days1 Year
Hard Cooked1 WeekDo Not Freeze
Liquid Pasteurized Eggs, Egg Substitutes
10 Days1 Year
Liquid Pasteurized Eggs, Egg Substitutes
3 DaysDo Not Freeze
DairyCheese, Hard or processed
6-9 MonthsDo Not Freeze
Cheese, Hard or processed
1 Week1-2 Months
Cheese, soft1 Week6 Months
Cottage cheese, ricotta cheese1 WeekDo Not Freeze
Cream cheese2 weeksDo Not Freeze
Butter1-3 Months6-9 Months
Soups, StewsVegetable, Meat-Added, Mixture3-4 Days2-3 Months
SeafoodLean Fish
(Tilapia, Catfish)
1-2 Days6-8 Months
Fatty Fish
(Mackrel, Trout, Sardines)
1-2 Days2-3 Months
Cooked Fish3-4 Days4-6 Months
Smoked Fish14 Days2 Months
Fresh Shrimp,Scallops, Crawfish, Squid1-2 Days3-6 Months
Canned Seafood
(Pantry, 5 Years)
3-4 Days
(After Opening)
2 Months
(Out of Can)
LeftoversCooked meat or poultry3-4 Days2-6 Months
Chicken nuggets, patties3-4 Days1-3 Months
Pizza3-4 Days1-2 Months
Game Animals (Fresh)Venison, Elk, Bison3-4 Days9-12 Months
Game Birds (Fresh)Ostrich, Emu, Rhea
Grouse, Quail, Squab
Ducks, Partridge, Pheasant
Wild Geese, Wild Turkeys,
Other Species
3-4 Days9-12 Months

Note: Food frozen at 0 degrees F keeps food safe indefinitely so the recommended storage times are for food quality only.

Refrigerator Storage Order

Top ShelfReady to eat foods; leftovers; berries, fruit cups, hummus, herbs, jams, jellies, peanut butter, yogurt,
Upper/Middle Shelf
Typically coldest shelf
Beef, pork, veal, lamb (steaks and chops); Roasts; Whole seafood; eggs (in original carton), dairy (towards the back where the refrigerator is coldest)
Lower/Middle Shelf
Typically coldest shelf
Ground beef, injected/marinated or tenderized meat, eggs (in original carton), dairy (towards the back where the refrigerator is coldest)
Bottom ShelfChicken, turkey, duck, fowl; stuffing that contains temperature-controlled foods; casseroles
Meat/Deli BinCheeses, deli meat, bacon, hot dogs
Crisper Drawers
(ethylene-producing produce)
Apples, avocados, cantaloupes, citrus, figs, grapes, honeydew melons, kiwis, mangoes, mushrooms, papayas, peaches, pears, plantains, summer squash, stone fruits
Crisper Drawers
(ethylene-sensitive produce)
Asparagus, Belgian endive, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, green onions, leafy greens, okra, peas, peppers, spinach, strawberries, watermelon, zucchini
Fluctuating temperature (warmer)
Butter, condiments, juice, cooking oil, soda, water and other items with long shelf lives. Note: Refrigerator doors are not well-suited to storing milk or eggs.

Note: Refrigerator efficiency and the quality and safety of the food it stores relies on many variables, so this chart is only a guide.

Refrigerator Tips

To a large extent, how well your refrigerator does its job is up to you. Here are some simple steps you can take to make sure your food is safe to eat and your refrigerator is performing as it should.

Do store your refrigerated food in tightly-wrapped freezer paper, in sealed containers or storage bags. Try to remove as much air as possible too keep as much oxygen away from the food as possible. Vacuum sealers work great for this and can extend the life of your food. However, vacuum sealing isn’t a silver bullet. It comes with it’s own set of risks.

Don’t overpack your refrigerator or impede the proper airflow. Air circulation around refrigerated foods is critical to keeping them properly chilled and safe.

Do keep your freezer compartment 70-80% full to maximize efficiency and protect yourself from power outages. If you don’t have enough frozen food to fill the empty space, you can use some clever freezer hacks.

Don’t overlook spills and drips especially from raw meat. It’s easy to procrastinate, but bacteria like listeria can grow even at refrigerated temperatures and could cause cross-contamination.

Do clean out your fridge regularly. Check your leftovers daily for spoilage and make it part of your weekly routine to remove fruits and vegetables that have gone bad.

Don’t let your fridge get too warm or too cold use a standalone thermometer to verify your refrigerator is operating correctly. Refrigerator controls are often inaccurate and an inexpensive freestanding appliance thermometer will help you monitor the actual temperatures and make any necessary adjustments.

Do make sure your refrigerator is set to the proper temperatures. The freezer should be set to 0 degrees F and the refrigerator should be set to a temperature between 37-40 degrees F.

Don’t try to freeze too much at once. Freezing food as quickly as possible prevents large ice crystals from forming which would otherwise damage cells and disrupt emulsions (smaller crystals help preserve the food’s original texture). But by packing the freezer with too much too quickly, your food will actually freeze more slowly.

Do freeze your food in a single layer. Stacking your food will prevent your packages from freezing evenly. Never place more food into the freezer than will freeze in 24 hours, about 2-3 pounds per cubic foot of storage space.

Sources: FSIS (USDA), 1, 2, 3, 4, FDA, The National Chicken Council, Almanac, FoodSafety, StateFoodSafety, SeafoodHealthFacts, PSU, EatRight, SeriousEats, Consumer Reports, TheKitchn, Epicurious, HomeStorageSolutions101, AllRecipes, MyRecipes, SaltChef

Image: Flickr/-Mandie-