How to Figure Out When Food Is Spoiled

twohourSo let’s get this straight, raw meat should be refrigerated for two days, except for roasts and steaks, that can be up to five days except for poultry or cooked meat, which is only good for four days… which is it, two, three, four or five days?  Arrgh!    How about cooked bacon?  Or fresh vegetables.   How about fresh lemons?  Should they even be stored in the refrigerator?

This is confusing stuff, folks.  But there are some really useful web-based resources that answers all of these questions.   And here are some rules of thumb that will help you avoid food spoilage….or worse, food poisoning:


  • Honor the “two-hour rule”.   Never leave items needing refrigeration out at room temperature. This means that any meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or produce or other foods that require refrigeration should sit at room temperature for more than two hours—one hour if the air temperature is above 90° F.
  • Storing fresh and cooked meats.  It’s all explained at “Meat in the Refrigerator” created by the U.S. Gov’t.
  • The feds have also created a webpage for all sorts of other foods.   It explains why cooked bacon lasts one week but cooked pizza only 3 days.   An entire chart for refrigerator and freezer storage is listed at the FDA website.  Contrary to popular opinion, most items don’t last in the freezer for more than two or three months. Even better, they’ve created an app that you can use on any mobile device.   It’s pretty good too.
  • Still Tasty is a private website full of great info about how long your favorite food or beverage will stay safe and how to best store it.   Did you know that you can store fresh lemons for up to a month in plastic ziploc bags in the fridge?   But onions and potatoes need to be stored in dark pantries, not the refrigerator?
  • Refreezing raw meat or fish is a big no-no.   Just don’t do it.   Raw foods can be defrosted only once and then stored in the fridge for up to two days.   Similarly, cooked foods can only be defrosted once.  Th emore times you cool and reheat food, the greater the odds of food poisoning.
  • Oils and fats only last about six months or so.    And dried ground spices shouldn’t be stored for more than one year, while whole spices often last up to three years.  Storing them in airtight containers away from heat or light can double the shelf-life of your spices.
  • Airtight containers are generally a good bet — most commercial kitchens use them.   These include plastic storage bags, like Ziploc.  Generally, air, heat and light are your food storage enemies, so avoid them when you can.
  • Milk and eggs both belong at the back of the refrirgerator, where it’s coldest.  Eggs should be stored in the original containers in which they were purchased.  And don’t keep them out of the fridge for more than two hours.
  • Wine should be stored in dark, cool places;  display wine racks in your living room or kitchen are better designed for ruining wine than storing it.   Similarly, beer shouldn’t be stored for more than nine months;  unlike wine, they don’t get better with age.   And no fresh juice will last more than 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
  • Believe it or not, water will go bad after a year.   That’s right, water shouldn’t be stored for more than one year.   What makes water go bad is contamination that gets into it. If you take proper precautions in sealing and storing your water so that bacteria or other contaminants don’t get into it, your water could theoretically stay good forever but because water is a corrosive element, few containers can last more than one year without suffering from erosion.   If you have an emergency water storage area, you should keep a UV purifier around to make sure you can drink the water safely.

The good news is that you shouldn’t have to memorize any of this information.  Just bookmark this page and whenever you have a question about food storage, check out these resources.


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