Dreamstime_s_19139496 While ShopWell is designed to help you figure out the food that suits you best when you're at the store, we also want to make sure that you consume it safely once you get home. One in six Americans get food poisoning every year, and over 100,000 of them end up in the hospital. This week, our blog will offer a two-part series on food safety; this post will discuss when to keep food and when to throw it away at home, and on Monday (just in time for back-to-school!) we'll discuss keeping food safe in kids' lunchboxes.

The USDA offers a comprehensive chart of how long to keep foods in the refrigerator or freezer, but before you jump in, it's important to make sure that both of those spaces are in good working order. Get a separate appliance thermometer to take your fridge's temperature– if it's not 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below in the fridge and zero degrees Fahrenheit or below in the freezer, it's possible for bacteria to thrive there. If your fridge doesn't make the cut, just turn up the dial until you get to 40 degrees. Maxed out, and still not hitting the mark? Time to call a repairperson.

How you're storing your refrigerated or frozen food is also important. All raw meat, poultry, and seafood should be placed in sealed containers or sealed plastic bags and placed on the bottom shelf in the fridge, to ensure that their juices don't drip onto other food and cause cross-contamination. Eggs should stay in their original carton in the body of the refrigerator– not in the egg cups in the door, which can get too warm. Any fruit or vegetables that have been cut, peeled, or cooked need to be refrigerated within two hours of use; otherwise, they should be thrown out. The same rule applies to leftovers, which should also be kept in clean, shallow, covered containers.

So your fridge and freezer are operating at the right temperature, and everything's being stored correctly, but it's been a few days and you're not sure whether to eat that item or toss it. Here are some highlights from the full USDA guide on when to keep or toss a food item. If you're beyond the mark specified, it's time for the food to go:

  • Ground beef: 1-2 days in the fridge, 3-4 months in the freezer
  • Steaks, chops, and roasts: 3-5 days in the fridge, 4-12 months in the freezer (chops should only be kept up to 6 months)
  • Bacon: 7 days in the fridge, 1 month in the freezer
  • Soups and stews: 3-4 days in the fridge, 2-3 months in the freezer
  • Raw eggs, in the shell: 3-5 weeks in the fridge. If you want to freeze them, beat the yolks and whites together first, then store the mixture in the freezer.
  • Leftover cooked meat: 3-4 days in the fridge, 2-6 months in the freezer
  • Leftover pizza: 3-4 days in the fridge, 1-2 months in the freezer

This may sound like a lot of work, but you can give your memory some help by using a marker to label the date on an item before refrigerating or freezing it. Another trick is to put new items in the back of the fridge or freezer and older ones in the front, so you'll use the older food first.

Visit us again on Friday, when we'll discuss how to keep perishable foods safe in kids' lunchboxes.