The Shelf Life and Storage Process for 51 Foods

The shelf life of a Twinkie may bear more resemblance to an atomic bomb's half life, but refrigerated foods only last so long before taking a slow and steady ride to salmonellaville. For most condiments, cold incarceration only means a reduction in taste and texture. For dairy products, however, an extended stay in the refrigerator or freezer can be unhealthy for all concerned.


The expiration dates on food products aren't always of much help, however. Often, they simply serve as guidelines to quality and not safety. If not properly understood, you may end up pouring grocery money down the drain. On average, we waste about 14 percent of the food we buy each year, totaling around $600 worth of groceries per person. Much of that waste is because we don't understand expiration dates or because we don't properly store food with a specific shelf life.

We've compiled an extensive list of 51 refrigerated and frozen foods along with their shelf lives and storage methods. All dairy shelf-life dates refer to products that have already been opened and refrigerated.

Please note that frozen cheese and butter products become crumbly and lose flavor, making them best suited for soups, casseroles and sauces. When freezing cheeses and spreads, use heavy-duty aluminum foil and plastic freezer wrap or freezer bags.

1. American Cheese - Individually Wrapped
Refrigerated: 1 to 2 months
Keep American cheese tightly covered in the refrigerator. Give cheese the sniff test towards the end of its two-month cycle and toss if it develops an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 3 months
Freeze by storing in tightly wrapped aluminum foil or plastic-freezer wrap or  in heavy-duty freezer bags.

2. Asiago Cheese - Block
Refrigerated: 1 year
Asiago is a hard cheese similar to Parmesan but with a stronger flavor that deteriorates when frozen. To refrigerate after opening, wrap cheese directly in wax or parchment paper (to hold in moisture), cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If mold develops, cut away one-inch around and below the affected area and recover in fresh wrap.
Frozen: 10 to 12 months
To freeze, cut Asiago into portions of no larger than 1/2-pound each and wrap tightly in foil or plastic freezer wrap before placing inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.

bleu cheese

3. Bleu Cheese - Crumbles
Refrigerated: 5 to 7 days
While it's difficult to tell if bleu cheese has molded, you should always keep it refrigerated and tightly sealed. If new mold spots appear, discard the entire package.
Frozen: 3 months
To freeze, tightly seal the original package and place in freezer. This may remove some of the texture and flavor.

4. Bleu Cheese - Block
Refrigerated: 3 to 4 weeks
To retain the cheese's moisture, wrap it in wax or parchment paper after opening then cover in plastic wrap. Discard if surface mold appears and cheese has a soft, creamy texture. If the blue cheese has a hard texture, cut away one-inch around and below the moldy surface area and recover in fresh wrap.
Frozen: 6 months
To freeze, cut the cheese into portions no larger than 1/2 pound each and tightly wrap in foil or plastic freezer wrap before placing inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.

5. Brick Cheeses - Shredded or Sliced
Refrigerated: 5 to 7 days
Once package is opened, consume or freeze block cheeses within 5 to 7 days, even if the "best by" date has not been reached. Be sure to keep the cheese tightly sealed while refrigerated and cut away any portion that becomes hard and discolored.
Frozen: 3 months
Tightly seal original packaging and place unopened in freezer. If you plan on storing for longer than two months, place package inside a heavy-duty freezer bag to avoid freezer burn.

6. Brie
Refrigerated: 1 week
Brie is best when runny, but it can go bad very quickly. For best results after opening, wrap first in wax or parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. Discard the entire wedge if mold appears.
Frozen: 3 months
Cut the cheese into portions no larger than 1/2 pound each and tightly wrap in foil or plastic freezer wrap before placing inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.

butter

7. Butter
Refrigerated: 1 month after "sell by" date
Grandma was just flat wrong: Butter should never be stored in a glass-covered dish on the table. Keep it continuously refrigerated and discard butter if it develops an off odor, flavor or appearance. Also avoid storing open butter in the molded door compartment as this is one of the warmer spots in the fridge.
Frozen: 6 to 9 months
Freeze butter as you would cheese. Frozen salted butter will generally last longer (up to 9 months) than unsalted (5 to 6 months).

8. Camembert Cheese
Refrigerated: 1 week
Camembert is another chees that tastes best when runny, but there's a fine line between smelly good and smelly bad. To safely refrigerate after opening, wrap first in wax or parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. Discard the entire wedge if mold appears.
Frozen: 3 months
To freeze, cut Camembert into portions of no larger than 1/2 pound each and wrap tightly in foil or plastic freezer wrap before placing inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.

9. Cheddar or Colby Cheeses - Shredded or Sliced
Refrigerated: 5 to 7 days
Cheddar is the single most popular cheese in America (just ask macaroni-and-cheese-loving kids), but it doesn't last all that long once opened. Colby cheese is often used as a cheddar substitute. Discard the entire package if it develops mold or an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 3 months
Sharper cheddar cheeses freeze better as they already start with a stronger taste and develop a medium sharpness over time. Tightly seal original packaging and place in freezer. If you plan on storing cheddar for longer than two months, place the package inside a heavy-duty freezer bag to avoid freezer burn.

10. Cheddar and Colby - Block
Refrigerated: 3 to 4 weeks
Although not as convenient, block cheddar and colby last longer because they haven't been exposed to as much air as the shredded or sliced variety. To refrigerate after opening, wrap in wax or parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. If mold develops on the surface, cut away one inch around and below the moldy area and re-cover the cheese in fresh wrap.
Frozen: 6 months
To freeze, cut cheddar into portions of no larger than 1/2 pound each and wrap tightly in foil or plastic freezer wrap before placing inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.

11. Cooking Oils
Pantry: 18 to 24 months
Cooking oil can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 24 months, but refrigeration will extend its shelf life, particularly in hot and humid environments.
Refrigerated: 18 to 24 months.
Refrigerated oil may become cloudy and solidify, but this won't affect its flavor. Storage time can be extended past 18 to 24 months, but you sacrifice some taste and texture. To determine if oil is still safe, taste and smell a small portion. If you detect an off odor, flavor or appearance, discard the entire container.

cottage cheese

12. Cottage Cheese
Refrigerated: 7 to 10 days
Store cottage cheese in the original container and discard if it develops mold or an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 3 months
Only freeze uncreamed (or dry) cottage cheese as the creamed variety will become mushy. To freeze, tightly seal the original package and place it in the freezer as is. If storing for longer than two months, place inside a heavy-duty freezer bag to avoid freezer burn. As with other cheeses, cottage cheese will lose some of its flavor and texture after freezing so it's best suited to cooked dishes after defrosting.

13. Cream Cheese
Refrigerated: 1 to 2 weeks
Once opened, place foil-wrapped cream cheese in a plastic bag to reduce the potential for spoilage. Discard the entire block if it develops mold or an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 2 months
Place foil-wrapped or cream-cheese tub in heavy-duty freezer bag and freeze.

14. Cream (including half-and-half, light, heavy and whipped)
Refrigerated: 3 to 4 days after "sell by" date
When cream is kept properly refrigerated, it usually remains drinkable for about 3 to 4 days after the "sell by" date on the package, but your nose will easily indicate when it has gone bad.
Frozen: 4 months
To freeze, pour cream into an airtight container. Make sure you thaw it in the refrigerator after removing from the freezer. Frozen cream won't whip well when thawed and is best suited for cooked dishes.

15. Egg Whites - Fresh and Raw
Refrigerated: 2 to 4 days
Place egg whites in covered container and refrigerate immediately after separating from yolks.
Frozen: 1 year
To freeze, store whites in airtight container or heavy-duty freezer bags, leaving 1/2-inch headspace at top.

16. Eggs
Refrigerated: 3 to 5 weeks
Fresh eggs still in the shell should be refrigerated at all times. Don't store, however, in the molded racks on the door as this is the warmest portion of the refrigerator. Eggs will keep much better when stored in the main body of the fridge in their original container.
Frozen: 1 year
Don't freeze eggs in their shells or you'll end up with a yolky mess. To freeze, remove eggs from their shells, pierce the yolks and gently mix in 1/2 teaspoon salt for every cup of eggs (if using with main dishes) or 1 tablespoon sugar (if using for sweets). Place in an airtight container or heavy-duty freezer bags.

17. Feta Cheese
Refrigerated: 5 to 7 days
Feta has so many uses it's tempting to keep it around long past the "use by" date. Unfortunately, the taste of feta can mask aging, so pay particular attention for any discoloration or mold and discard the entire package.
Frozen: 3 months
To freeze, tightly seal the original packaging and place in freezer. If you plan on freezing for longer than two months, place package inside a heavy-duty freezer bag to avoid freezer burn.

18. Jarlsberg Cheese - Shredded or Sliced
Refrigerated: 5 to 7 days
Once package is opened, eat or freeze Jarlsberg within 5 to 7 days, even if the "best by" date hasn't been reached. Discard the entire package if it develops mold or an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 3 months
Tightly seal the original packaging and place in freezer. If you plan on storing cheddar for longer than two months, place the package inside a heavy-duty freezer bag to avoid freezer burn.

19. Jarlsberg - Block
Refrigerated: 3 to 4 weeks
Although not as convenient, block Jarslberg lasts longer because it hasn't been exposed to as much air as the shredded or sliced variety. To refrigerate after opening, wrap in wax or parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. If mold develops on the surface, cut away one inch around and below the moldy area and re-cover in fresh wrap.
Frozen: 3 months
To freeze, cut Jarslberg into portions of no larger than 1/2 pound each and wrap tightly in foil or plastic freezer wrap before placing inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.

ketchup

20. Ketchup
Pantry: 1 month
While it's best to refrigerate ketchup after opening, you can keep it in the pantry for up to one month.
Refrigerated: 6 months
Six months is optimal for purposes of taste and texture but, in most cases, it's safe to consume for longer periods. As with all foods, discard ketchup if it develops mold or an off taste, odor or appearance.

21. Mayonnaise
Refrigerated: 3 to 4 months after date on package
Most of us allow mayo to sit around in the fridge far too long, losing flavor and texture. In most cases, it's still safe to consume, but discard if the mayonnaise develops mold or an off flavor, odor or appearance.

22. Milk - Evaporated
Pantry: 1 year
Evaporated milk's long shelf life makes it very handy and, when mixed with a proportionate amount of water, can be used the same as fresh milk. Undiluted, it can be used in cooking. Once reconstituted, however, the mixture should be refrigerated and used within 3 to 4 days.

23. Milk - Powdered and Reconstituted
Refrigerated: 5 to 7 days
Powdered milk has an extended life when stored in the pantry but must be kept refrigerated once reconstituted.
Frozen: 3 months
Freeze reconstituted milk in an airtight container and leave at least one-inch headspace as the milk will expand when frozen. When ready to use, make sure you thaw the milk in the refrigerator.

24. Milk - Pasteurized (all varieties)
Refrigerated: 1 week after "sell by" date
Continuously refrigerated milk will usually remain drinkable for about one week after its "sell by" date, but your nose will tell you the news when it's time to send it down the drain. The longer milk sits, however, the more taste and nutritional value it loses.
Frozen: 3 months
Freeze milk in an airtight container and leave at least one-inch headspace as the milk will expand when frozen. Thaw in the refrigerator.

25. Milk - Condensed
Pantry: 1 year
Condensed milk contains added sugar and has an extended shelf life, but should be discarded if the cans leak, rust, bulge or become severely dented. You can still use condensed milk after one year, although the texture, color or flavor may deteriorate.

26. Monterey Jack Cheese - Shredded or Sliced
Refrigerated: 5 to 7 days
Once package is opened, eat or freeze Monterey Jack within 5 to 7 days, even if the "best by" date hasn't been reached. Discard the entire package if it develops mold or an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 3 months
Tightly seal the original packaging and place in freezer. If you plan on storing the cheese for longer than two months, place the package inside a heavy-duty freezer bag to avoid freezer burn.

27. Monterey Jack - Block
Refrigerated: 3 to 4 weeks
To refrigerate after opening, wrap Monterey Jack in wax or parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. If mold develops on the surface, cut away one inch around and below the moldy area and re-cover the cheese in fresh wrap.
Frozen: 3 months
To freeze, cut Monterey Jack into portions of no larger than 1/2 pound each and wrap tightly in foil or plastic freezer wrap before placing inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.

mozzarella

28. Mozzarella - High Moisture
Refrigerator: 2 weeks
Store mozzarella "cubes" covered in liquid in an airtight container. Discard all of the cheese if it develops mold or an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 3 months
Before freezing mozzarella, drain all the liquid and wrap tightly in plastic freezer wrap or foil and place in a heavy-duty freezer bag.

29. Mozzarella - Shredded or Sliced
Refrigerated: 5 to 7 days
That mozzarella is going to end up on your pizza or lasagna in no time anyway, so it should be easy to use up fairly quickly. Once you've opened the package, eat or freeze mozzarella cheese within 5 to 7 days, even if the "best by" date hasn't been reached. Discard the entire package if it develops mold or an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 3 months
Tightly seal the original packaging and place in freezer. If you plan on storing the cheese for longer than two months, place the package inside a heavy-duty freezer bag to prevent freezer burn.

30. Mozzarella - Block
Refrigerated: 3 to 4 weeks
To refrigerate after opening, wrap mozzarella in wax or parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. If mold develops on the surface, remove one inch around and below the moldy area and re-cover the cheese in fresh wrap.
Frozen: 6 months
To freeze, cut mozzarella into portions of no larger than 1/2 pound each and wrap tightly in foil or plastic freezer wrap before placing inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.

31. Muenster - Shredded or Sliced
Refrigerated: 5 to 7 days
Once you've opened the package, eat or freeze muenster cheese within 5 to 7 days, even if the "best by" date hasn't been reached. Discard the entire package if it develops mold or an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 3 months
Tightly seal the original packaging and place in freezer. If you plan on storing the cheese for longer than two months, place the package inside a heavy-duty freezer bag to prevent freezer burn.

32. Muenster - Block
Refrigerated: 2 to 3 weeks
To refrigerate after opening, wrap muenster in wax or parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. If mold develops on the surface, remove one inch around and below the moldy area and re-cover the cheese in fresh wrap.
Frozen: 2 months
To freeze, cut muenster into portions of no larger than 1/2 pound each and wrap tightly in foil or plastic freezer wrap before placing inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.

Colonel Mustard from Clue

33. Mustard - All Types
Refrigerated: 1 year
Mustard should be refrigerated after opening, although you can keep it in the pantry for up to one month afterwards. While one year is optimal for best quality, discard mustard if it develops an off taste, flavor or appearance (not including turning yellow.) Mustard does not freeze well.

34. Parmesan - Grated
Refrigerated: 3 months after "use by" date
Refrigerate Parmesan in its original container but keep tightly sealed. Discard immediately if mold appears or you notice an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 10 to 12 months
Freeze grated Parmesan in an airtight container or heavy-duty freezer bag.

35. Parmesan - Block
Refrigerated: 1 year
Wrap block Parmesan in wax or parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. If mold develops on the surface, remove one inch around and below the moldy area and re-cover the cheese in fresh wrap.
Frozen: 10 to 12 months
To freeze, cut Parmesan into portions of no larger than 1/2 pound each and wrap tightly in foil or plastic freezer wrap before placing inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.

36. Provolone - Shredded or Sliced
Refrigerated: 5 to 7 days
Once you've opened the package, eat or freeze provolone cheese within 5 to 7 days, even if the "best by" date hasn't been reached. Discard the entire package if it develops mold or an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 3 months
Tightly seal the original packaging and place in freezer. If you plan on storing the cheese for longer than two months, place the package inside a heavy-duty freezer bag to prevent freezer burn.

37. Provolone - Block
Refrigerated: 2 to 3 weeks
To refrigerate after opening, wrap provolone in wax or parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. If mold develops on the surface, remove one inch around and below the moldy area and re-cover the cheese in fresh wrap.
Frozen: 3 months
To freeze, tightly seal original packaging and place in freezer. If you plan on freezing for longer than two months, place the package in a heavy-duty freezer bag to avoid freezer burn.

small girl playing with pudding

38. Pudding - Homemade
Refrigerated: 5 to 6 days
Cover and refrigerate. Pudding doesn't take to freezing, so don't even try.

39. Relish - All Types
Refrigerated: 1 year
While relish can be refrigerated for longer than one year, taste and texture tends to degrade after this period. If relish grows mold or develops an odd taste, smell or appearance, toss it.

40. Ricotta
Refrigerated: 1 to 2 weeks
Lasagna is just glorified pasta without ricotta, but watch out for yellowing, molding or off odors and flavors.
Frozen: 3 months
Tightly seal the original package and place in freezer. If you plan on freezing for longer than two months, stick the entire package in a heavy-duty freezer bag to prevent freezer burn. When thawed, you may find some liquid at the top of the container. Simply stir this liquid back into the cheese.

41. Romano - Grated
Refrigerated: 3 months after date on package
Another delicious hard cheese, Romano should be stored tightly sealed in the refrigerator after opening. Discard immediately if mold appears or you detect an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 10 to 12 months
Freeze grated Parmesan in an airtight container or heavy-duty freezer bag.

42. Romano - Block
Refrigerated: 1 year
Wrap block Romano in wax or parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. If mold develops on the surface, remove one inch around and below the moldy area and re-cover in fresh wrap.
Frozen: 10 to 12 months
To freeze, cut Romano into portions of no larger than 1/2 pound each and wrap tightly in foil or plastic freezer wrap before placing inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.

roquefort

43. Roquefort - Wedge
Refrigerated: 3 to 4 weeks
It may be difficult to tell when Roquefort has turned, but keep an eye out for mold and cut away one inch around and below the moldy area. Remember to rewrap the cheese in fresh wax or parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap.
Frozen: 6 months
To freeze, cut Roquefort into portions of no larger than 1/2 pound each and wrap tightly in foil or plastic freezer wrap before placing inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.

44. Sour Cream
Refrigerated: 2 weeks
Keep refrigerated and tightly sealed. If sour cream molds or develops an off odor, flavor or appearance, discard the entire package. Sour cream doesn't freeze well.

45. Soy Milk - Shelf Stable
Refrigerated: 7 to 10 days
Keep refrigerated once opened and consume within the time shown, even if the "best by" date hasn't been reached. If the smell test indicates an off odor, discard the entire container.
Frozen: 3 months
Freeze soy milk in an airtight container, leaving at least 1/2-inch headspace for the milk to expand. Thaw in the refrigerator.

46. Soy Milk - Sold Refrigerated
Refrigerated: 7 to 10 days after date on package
Soy milk that's been continuously refrigerated is usually drinkable for roughly 7 to 10 days after the package date. Discard, however, if it develops an odd flavor, odor or appearance.
Frozen: 3 months
Freeze soy milk in an airtight container, leaving at least 1/2-inch headspace for the milk to expand. Thaw in the refrigerator.

47. Swiss Cheese - Shredded or Sliced
Refrigerated: 1 week after date on package
Don't open package until you're ready to use as Swiss cheese dries easily. Discard the entire package if it develops mold or an off odor, flavor or appearance.
Frozen: 3 months
Tightly seal the original packaging and place in freezer. If you plan on storing the cheese for longer than two months, place the package inside a heavy-duty freezer bag to prevent freezer burn.

48. Swiss Cheese - Block
Refrigerated: 2 to 3 weeks
To refrigerate after opening, wrap Swiss cheese in wax or parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. If mold develops on the surface, remove one inch around and below the moldy area and re-cover the cheese in fresh wrap.
Frozen: 3 months
To freeze, tightly seal original packaging and place in freezer. If you plan on freezing for longer than 2 months, place the entire package in a heavy-duty freezer bag to avoid freezer burn.

whipped cream

49. Whipped Cream - Canned
Refrigerated: 3 to 4 weeks
It may seem like this stuff lasts forever, but it's only really good for up to four weeks in the refrigerator. Don't try freezing it.

50. Yogurt - Frozen
Frozen: 1 to 2 weeks
After opening, place plastic wrap over the top of the open container and replace the lid. This will help minimize freezer burn and retain the original texture. If the yogurt thaws completely, toss it out. Don't refreeze as harmful bacteria may have formed.

51. Yogurt
Refrigerated: 7 to 10 days after "sell by" date
While it's true yogurt is created from bacterial fermentation, you should still discard the entire container if mold appears.
Frozen: 1 to 2 months
Freeze yogurt in an airtight container and thaw in the refrigerator.

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6 Comments

Hugh Jorgan: A lot of people might find this useful, actually. Not every product has a 'common sense' answer to "How long is this good for?". Additionally, many younger and less experienced inquirers may not know these things. In the age of 'Google It', answers that are simple and generally considered common sense are probably best. I wouldn't want to have to dig through a paragraph about how the cheese is made to find out the general amount of time it's 'good' for, or how long it will keep in a freezer, or how to store it. Anyone doing quick fact-checking about expiration should probably compare this result and a few others, but this (in my experience) is fairly accurate so far as dates go.
Posted by Orenda

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Posted by Robart Thomas
Incredulous: Thanks for your interest. My stock bio at the end of posts doesn't allow room for much info, but I wrote about food safety and human nutrition for 11 years with Cooperative Extension, working closely with researchers and specialists at the top of their fields. As a result, food safety has always been a particular interest of mine. Much of the information in this post is repetitive because I assumed people would scan for a specific item, rather than read the entire list. The expiration dates and methods of storage vary, depending on the product.
Posted by Kate

I love that you recommend cutting mold from a block of cheese rather than tossing the whole thing. I've always done this, but get strange looks from some people when I mention it. I agree that many block cheeses get crumbly when frozen, but we have no problem at all with butter that has been frozen. That's where I store the extra when I buy in bulk.


Posted by KimC
So I should throw away food that tastes bad, has a distinct rotten odor or is covered in mold and bacteria? And freezing can extend the life of many food items? Wow, what a brilliant article. Thanks for the suggestion. I lost my common sense back in June of 2009 and have been searching for it ever sense. This blog will save everyone who was born in 1762, frozen alive and thawed out yesterday. What next? An article on ice being slippery if you're not careful?
Posted by Hugh Jorgan Jr.
Let me state clearly that the writer shows plain sense throughout the article. However, where does she get her information? Are we to believe simply because a person attended an Earth Day and recycles buttons that the person has credible knowledge about food borne pathogens or and safe handling procedures. A line or four about where the author obtained the information should have been included. As the article reads now, it might as well have come from a card found on the inside of Cracker Jacks. It is now more or less trustworthy.
Posted by Incredulous