Did you know that there’s an ideal temperature to store your food in the refrigerator? There’s also an ideal place in your fridge to store different foods like meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fruit and vegetables. Storing your food at the best refrigerator temperature keeps it tasting better longer and can actually prevent you from getting sick.
Not sure how long those eggs have been sitting in your fridge? Have they been stored in the carton or left wide open? Does it even matter? Yes! Storing food at the best refrigerator temperature and on the right shelf is actually a food safety issue, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Most of us unpack our groceries and aimlessly put them anywhere there’s room. As long as it fits, right? Wrong. You probably even toss them in the fridge in the same plastic produce bag you got from the store. If you want those crispy green veggies you just picked up at the farmers’ market to stay fresh for more than a day or two, it’s important to learn the refrigerator basics.
So what is the best refrigerator temperature? According to the Food and Drug Administration, you should set your fridge to 40° F or 4° C. Any temperature above that can cause bacteria to grow. Your freezer temperature should be set to 0° F or -18° C in order to actually keep food frozen. You probably didn’t realize you even need to check your fridge’s temperature settings. But even if you own one of the best-rated refrigerators from the best refrigerator brand, it won’t necessarily be set to the best refrigerator temperature.
It’s also important to know what shelves you should be storing different kinds of foods on. Did you know that leftovers and other pre-cooked foods are better on a different shelf than dairy? Use the guide below to help you organize your fridge in the safest way.
Storing food properly can lower your risk of food poisoning and actually save you money. When your food goes bad quickly because of bad storing techniques, you have to shop more often. It’s also wasteful. Here’s a few more quick food storing tips:
- Avoid overcrowding your fridge. When your refrigerator is overloaded, cold air can’t circulate, and that affects foods freshness.
- Does that old onion look a little questionable? When in doubt, throw it out!
- Don’t leave perishable food out of the fridge for more than two hours. Unpack your groceries and put them in the fridge as soon as you get home.
- Throw moldy food out ASAP! It can spread to other fresh food.
- Store all food in the refrigerator wrapped or in containers.
- Clean your fridge once a week.
Here’s the scoop on how to store foods in the right containers, at the best refrigerator temperature and for the right length of time:
Meat, Poultry and Fish
While there are varying opinions on the right way to store different foods, there are some basics that we can all accept as “safer.” If you’re living that zero-waste lifestyle (kudos), you probably have different storage techniques than these guidelines. If you’re not, you can still make less wasteful storage decisions. It’ll save you money and time. Here’s how.
When it comes to storing meat, poultry and fish in your fridge, you want to make sure it’s set to the ideal temperature. Again, the FDA recommends 40° F. Anything above that temperature isn’t considered safe for food. You can lower the temperature a little if you just picked up fresh meat and plan to cook it within the next day or two. Keeping the temperature between 37° F and 40° F is ideal.
Keep meat, poultry and fish wrapped in separate containers and store them on the lowest shelf in your fridge. The lowest shelf is the coldest and it also keeps any dripping juices from infecting other food. Sayonara, salmonella.
Here’s a food storage guide to show how long you can store different meats in your refrigerator and freezer:
- Lunch meat: Unopened, packaged lunch meat is safe in the fridge for two weeks and good in the freezer for up to two months. Deli-sliced lunch meat is safe for up to five days in the fridge and 1-2 months in the freezer.
- Hot dogs: An unopened package of hot dogs cans stay in the fridgefor two weeks; once it’s opened, though, it will only last a week safely. You can keep hot dogs in the freezer for up to two months.
- Bacon is safe in the fridge for seven days and in the freezer for one month.
- Sausage is good for 1-2 days in the fridge and up to two months in the freezer.
- Ground meat can be kept in the fridge for 1-2 days and in the freezer for 3-4 months.
- Steaks: 3-4 days in the fridge; 6-12 months in the freezer.
- Chops: 3-5 days in the fridge; 4-6 months in the freezer.
- Roasts: 3-5 days in the fridge; 4-12 months in the freezer.
- Poultry: 1-2 days in the fridge; 9-12 months in the freezer.
Eggs are a part of almost everyone’s diet (they’re one of the most consumed foods in the world), so it’s important to know how to keep them safe for eating. Many refrigerators come with a built-in storage container for eggs in the door shelf. But did you know that your eggs will actually stay fresher longer if you keep them in the carton on the middle shelf and not that cute little egg tray? The middles shelf is the coldest shelf, making it the ideal place for eggs, according to food safety experts. The temperature fluctuates too much in the door shelf because of all that opening and closing.
Regular raw eggs can stay fresh in the middle shelf of your refrigerator for3-5 weeks. But there are many kinds of egg products and egg substitutes that need special care to avoid food poisoning. Here’s an egg storage chart from FoodSafety.gov showing how long you can store different egg products safely:
- Raw eggs in shell: 3-5 weeks in the fridge. If you want to freeze raw eggs, don’t freeze them in the shells. Crack them and then whisk them before freezing.
- Raw egg whites: 2-4 days in the fridge; up to 12 months in the freezer. Make sure to whisk before freezing.
- Raw egg yolks: 2-4 days. Yolks don’t freeze well unless you whisk them with egg whites.
- Hard cooked eggs: One week in the fridge. Don’t freeze.
- Liquid egg substitutes, unopened: 10 days in the fridge; 12 months in the freezer.
- Liquid egg substitutes, opened: Three days in the fridge; do not freeze.
- Casseroles with eggs: 3-4 days in the fridge. After baking, 3-4 months in the freezer.
- Quiche: 3-4 days in the fridge. 1-2 months in the freezer after baking.
- Pies: 3-4 days. Do not freeze custards or chiffon. You can freeze pecan and pumpkin pie for 1-2 months.
Fruits and Vegetables
Produce can be tricky. According to The Vegetarian Times, some produce emits ethylene gas, which can make it spoil prematurely. Gas emitters include avocados, bananas, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums and tomatoes.
Most refrigerators come with a vegetable bin or crisper. That’s a fancy name for the lowest drawers in your fridge. It’s best to keep these gas-emitting fruits and veggies out of the fridge, but you can safely store them in the vegetable bins. They’re designed to keep produce fresher and firmer for longer. Just be sure not to store gas-emitting produce in the same bin as produce like apples, apricots, honeydew, cantaloupes or figs.
Here are a few more tips for storing produce:
- Wash your fruits and vegetables and store them in clean bags or containers. Here are some eco-friendly produce storage options.
- Keep produce in the crisper bins below the last shelf in the fridge. Remember the crisper bin rules above!
- If possible, keep fruit in a separate crisper bin than vegetables. This helps them last longer.
- Always refrigerate peeled and cut fruit in a sealed container.
To check how long different kinds of produce last in the fridge, check out this produce storage guide from Real Simple. It’ll help you figure out which produce to eat first.
Fresh Dairy Products
Fresh dairy products need to be refrigerated as soon as you get home. They spoil quickly. Store dairy in the back of your refrigerator, where it’s coldest, if possible. Remember to check that you’ve set your fridge to 40° F or slightly below. It’s the best refrigerator temperature!
Here are a few more tips for storing different kinds of dairy:
- Never pour milk that’s been out of the fridge back into the container. It could contaminate the rest of the milk with bacteria.
- Don’t store yogurt in the side drawer. I know it’s convenient, but yogurt will stay freshest in the back of the fridge on the top shelf.
- Don’t leave cheese open in the fridge. Cover it well with a cheesecloth or sealed in an airtight container. Muslin cloth is also a good option for wrapping cheese.
- Add a little bit of water to the container in which you’re storing mozzarella and feta. It’ll help them last longer.
- If your fridge has a cheese drawer, use it!
- Check the expiration date on dairy to make sure it hasn’t spoiled.
Even if your leftovers are still warm, get them into the refrigerator ASAP. Food left out between the temperatures of 40°F and 140° F is entering the danger zone. To help your leftovers cool faster, break large batches up into smaller, more shallow, sealed containers.
Make sure you try to remove as much air as possible from the sealed containers. This will keep your tasty treats fresher longer. Another good tip is to date your leftovers so you know when to toss them out. Here are general food storage guidelines for how long you can store different leftovers safely in the fridge.
- Pizza: 3-4 days in the fridge; 1-2 months in the freezer.
- Cooked meat and poultry: 3-4 days in the fridge; 2-6 months in the freezer.
- Processed meats like chicken nuggets and patties: 3-4 days in the fridge; 1-3 months in the freezer.