Fresh Foods and Food Safety - Part 3: How To Store And Freeze Meat And Dairy Products

This article is the third in our Boomerater series about Fresh Foods and Food Safety: How to buy, how long to keep, what to toss out, and how to store fresh foods and pantry items. This week we are exploring the best ways to store and freeze meat and dairy products to keep foods fresh and ensure safe food handling.

Note: the freezer dates below are to ensure maximum quality. Food kept in the freezer will be safe to eat indefinitely if properly frozen, thawed and prepared. But freezer burn will take its toll on the flavor and texture of the product.

  • Bacon and Hot Dogs - Use within 7 days or freeze for up to 2 months
  • Butter in its original package will keep for about 4 months in the coldest part of the refrigerator, but the flavor is best if used within 2 weeks of the date stamped on the package. Also, it is best segregated from other foods because it easily absorbs other flavors. Butter can be frozen for 6 months.
  • Cheese - Store in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped. If black mold develops throw it out. If it has spots of green, blue or white mold, cut out an inch around the mod to remove it. Cheese can be frozen, but the texture will change, so it is recommended only for cooking. Harder cheeses freeze best and you should use them within 6 months. Freeze it in an airtight wrapping inside a heavy-duty freezer bag. Thaw in the refrigerator and use within 2 days after thawing.
  • Cottage Cheese - Expand the shelf life by storing the container upside down
  • Eggs are usually fresh after the expiration on the box. In fact, older eggs are good for hard boiling because it is easier to remove their shells. One way to know if an uncooked egg is fresh is to put it in a bowl of salted water. If the egg floats throw it out… if it sinks to the bottom of the bowl, it's fine to use. Though many eggs call for room-temperature eggs, never leave them out for more than two hours, and once they are cooked (or anything containing eggs is cooked) make sure to refrigerate. Keep eggs in a cold part of the refrigerator, not the door. And raw eggs can be especially dangerous, even in Hollandaise sauce or tasting uncooked batter. Leftover egg whites should be covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or can be frozen in airtight containers for up to a year. Egg yolks do not freeze well.
  • Pies made with eggs and quiche should be refrigerated and eaten within 3-4 days, or frozen for 1-2 months. Custard and chiffon pies will not freeze well.
  • Luncheon Meats - Once the package is open use within 4 days. Unopened packages can keep for about 2 weeks. Luncheon meat can also be frozen for up to 2 months.
  • Mayonnaise - Always keep opened jars in the refrigerator. Mayo can be dangerous because of the eggs it contains. Anything made with mayonnaise: chicken salad, potato salad, tuna salad, etc. require special care to make sure they stay below 45 degrees. An unrefrigerated tuna salad sandwich taken on a car trip is asking for trouble.
  • Fresh Meats (Beef, Pork, Veal and Lamb) will keep fresh for 3-5 days, with varying lengths in the freezer, depending on the cut. Steaks will maintain quality frozen for 6-12 months, chops 4-6 months, roasts 4-12 months. Ground beef may turn a little brown after a day in the refrigerator. It will still be fine to cook, assuming it has only been stored for a day or two, has no off-odor, or a sticky or tacky texture, or looks shiny. Stored properly, ground beef will keep its quality frozen 3-4 months..
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck) can be a harbinger of food poisoning if you are careless. First, make sure you keep the poultry product refrigerated as soon as you buy it, and use it within 2 days, or before the expiration date on the package. After cutting, preparing, etc. be sure to thoroughly clean your hands, cutting board and utensils to avoid contaminating other foods. Cook all poultry cuts to a minimum of 165 degrees, and refrigerate within a short time after cooking. Raw whole poultry will retain its quality when frozen 6 months to a year; cut up pieces can be frozen for 6-9 months. Cooked leftovers should be eaten within 3-4 days, or frozen for 2-6 months. In a pinch poultry can be cooked while frozen, but add about 50% more cooking time.
  • Soups and Stews containing meat - Use leftover soups and stews within 3 - 4 days, or freeze for 2-3 months.

Not sure if a meat, poultry or egg dish is safe to eat? Better be safe than sorry: When in doubt, throw it out!

For Part One of this series: How to Prevent Food Poisoning

For Part Two: How to Choose and Store Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

And Coming Soon - Our fourth, and last article in this series: How to Ensure Pantry Products are Fresh, with Tips on Restoring Life to Stale Food will be available later this month on Boomerater

Information sources used in this series:

Foodsafety.gov;Stilltasty.com; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Ohio State University Cooperative Extension Service, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association (www.poultryegg.org), Old Farmer's Almanac Hearth & Home Companion, www.thefruitpages.com