Safely Refrigerating and Freezing Food to Preserve Nutrients

Keeping food cold, sometimes very cold, preserves nutritional content and slows or suspends the activity of microbes bent on digesting your nutrients before you do.

Unlike heat, which actually kills many of the microbes, chilling food (or freezing it) may not kill all the microbes, but the cold will reduce the microbial population to some degree depending on the microflora present and will sideline them for a while.

How long things stay safe in the refrigerator or freezer varies from food to food and to some extent on the packaging (better packaging, longer freezing time). The following table provides a handy guide to the limits of safe cool storage. These ranges depend on foods being fresh to start out and on the refrigerator/freezer maintaining a constant temperature. Whenever these conditions aren’t met, food may spoil more quickly.

Use your common sense: If food seems in any way questionable, throw it out without tasting. Or as the catchy saying goes: When in doubt, throw it out.

How Long Foods Generally Stay Safe in Cold Storage
Food Refrigerator (40 Degrees F) Freezer (0 Degrees F)
Fresh eggs, in shell 3 weeks Don’t freeze
Raw yolks, whites 2–4 days 1 year
Hard-cooked eggs 1 week Doesn’t freeze well
Liquid pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes, opened 3 days Doesn’t freeze
Liquid pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes, unopened 10 days 1 year
Open jar of mayonnaise 2 months Don’t freeze
TV Dinners, Frozen Casseroles Don’t refrigerate: Keep frozen 3–4 months
Prestuffed pork and lamb chops, chicken breasts stuffed with
1 day Doesn’t freeze well
Store-cooked convenience meals 1–2 days Doesn’t freeze well
Commercial brand vacuum-packed dinners with USDA seal,
2 weeks Doesn’t freeze well
Vegetable or meat-added soups or stews 3–4 days 2–3 months
Hamburger and stew meats 1–2 days 3–4 months
Ground turkey, veal, pork, lamb, and mixtures of them 1–2 days 3–4 months
Hot dogs, opened 1 week In freezer wrap, 1–2 months
Hot dogs, unopened 2 weeks In freezer wrap, 1–2 months
Lunch meats, opened 3–5 days In freezer wrap, 1–2 months
Lunch meats, unopened 2 weeks In freezer wrap, 1–2 months
Bacon 7 days 1 month
Sausage, raw — pork, beef, turkey 1–2 days 1–2 months
Smoked breakfast links, patties 7 days 1–2 months
Hard sausage — pepperoni, jerky sticks 2–3 weeks 1–2 months
Corned beef in pouch with pickling juices 5–7 days Drained and wrapped, 1 month
Ham, canned, label says to keep refrigerated 6–9 months Don’t freeze
Ham, fully cooked — whole 7 days 1–2 months
Ham, fully cooked — half 3–5 days 1–2 months
Ham, fully cooked — slices 3–4 days 1–2 months
Steaks — beef 3–5 days 6–12 months
Chops — pork 3–5 days 4–6 months
Chops — lamb 3–5 days 6–9 months
Roast — beef 3–5 days 6–12 months
Roast — lamb 3–5 days 6–9 months
Roasts — pork, veal 3–5 days 4–6 months
Variety meats — tongue, brain, kidneys, liver, heart,
1–2 days 3–4 months
Cooked meat and meat dishes 3–4 days 2–3 months
Gravy and broth 1–2 days 2–3 months
Chicken or turkey, whole 1–2 days 1 year
Poultry pieces 1–2 days 2–3 months
Giblets 1–2 days 3–4 months
Fried chicken 3–4 days 4 months
Cooked poultry dishes 3–4 days 4–6 months
Poultry pieces, plain 3–4 days 4 months
Poultry pieces covered with broth or gravy 1–2 days 6 months
Chicken nuggets, patties 1–2 days 1–3 months