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How long to keep eggs and other food storage tips

You can keep some foods longer than you might think

Published: November 20, 2014 08:00 AM

The holidays are all about excess—and that includes household waste, which increases by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Way too much of the refuse takes the form of edible food, whether it's uneaten portions of pumpkin pie or produce that's tossed before its time. The following tips will help your household produce less waste, which is good for the planet, and also keeps a few extra dollars in your pocket.

Know how long foods last. A lot of food takes longer to spoil than people realize. For example, did you know that fresh eggs are typically good for up to 5 weeks? And raw egg whites can be frozen for up to a year. Apples and oranges, meanwhile, should last for a few weeks in the refrigerator. See the chart below for more shelf life recommendations. 

Optimize your refrigerator. For starters, make sure the temperature is a consistent 37° to 38° F in the refrigerator and the freezer a steady 0° F. If you're shopping for a new refrigerator, those that earn excellent temperature-performance scores in our refrigerator Ratings should deliver. We've also found that refrigerators with dual evaporators can extend the life of food by maintaining optimal humidity levels in the fresh-food section.   

Location, location. As for storage, note that temperatures tend to be warmer on the door, so you don't want to store milk and eggs there, even if your refrigerator has gallon door storage and integrated egg shelves (use them for juice, condiments, and other non-dairy products). Milk and eggs both belong at the back of the unit, where it’s coldest. And don’t overload the refrigerator, since air circulation is needed for food to stay cold. In the freezer, spread items out on various shelves in single layers until they're frozen, at which point they can be stacked.

Handle leftovers wisely. Keep several airtight containers on hand to prolong the life of your leftovers. And start a compost bin, if you haven't already, for food scraps that can't be saved or used another way (stale bread, for example, can be turned into bread crumbs with the help of a food processor; check our food processor Ratings for top-performing models).    

Be a smart shopper. Manufacturers are working to design refrigerators and pantries that use technology to know excatly how much food you have at home at all times. For now, it's up to you. Always cook or eat the food you have before buying more. And map out your meals before you shop so you only buy the things you need. Impulse purchases tend to result in greater waste.

Get to know your local food bank. In 2013, about 49 million Americans lived in food insecure households, according to the organization Feeding America. As long as it's nutritious, safe, and untouched, food can be donated to families and individuals in need. Here's how to find a food bank in your area. 

Food freshness guide for your refrigerator and freezer

TYPE OF FOOD REFRIGERATOR FREEZER
DAIRY    
Butter 3 months 1 year
Cheese, natural aged, block    2-3 months 6-8 months
Cheese, processed 3-4 weeks 6-8 months 
Eggs, fresh in carton 4-5 weeks Not recommended
Eggs, raw whites 2-4 days 1 year
Mayonnaise 2 months Not recommended
Milk 1 week Not recommended
Yogurt 1 month Not recommended
MEAT & POULTRY    
Chicken, whole 1-2 days 1 year
Chicken parts 1-2 days 9 months
Ground beef 1-2 days 3-4 months
Steaks 3-5 days 6-12 months
Hot dogs, unopened package 2 weeks 1-2 months
Hot dogs, opened package 1 week 1-2 months
Lunch meats, unopened package 2 weeks 1-2 months
Lunch meats, opened package 3-5 days 1-2 months
Bacon 1 week 1 month
FRUIT    
Apples 1-3 weeks 8-12 months
Avocados 3-5 days Not recommended
Berries 1-2 days 8-12 months
Citrus fruit 3 weeks 4-6 months
Melon 1 week 8-12 months
VEGETABLES    
Asparagus 2-3 days 8-12 months
Beets, carrots, broccoli 3-5 days 8-12 months
Mushrooms 1-2 days 8-12 months
Onions, green 3-5 days Not recommended
Salad greens 1 week Not recommended
LEFTOVERS    
Casseroles 1-2 days 1 month
Cooked meat 3-4 days 2-3 months
Cooked fish 3-4 days 4-6 months
Cooked poultry 3-4 days 4-6 months
Pizza 3-4 days 1-2 months
Soups and stews 3-4 days 2-3 months

—Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter)

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