So this question stuck in my mind after the 50 billionth time that Jess asked me if we should leave our food out a bit longer to “cool off” before we freeze or refrigerate it. Back when I was in school, I made the mistake of talking to him about the safety zones of cooked food. In my education, things got a little technical so I thought it’d be beneficial to take it back to the basics when it comes to food safety.

Also, I find this topic very interesting because as a child, it seemed that i did not understand how long foods were allowed to stay in the refrigerator before throwing it away. Because of that I am now slightly OCD, and I drive my husband absolutely crazy by throwing things out BEFORE the expiration date.

Below I have listed some food safety information obtained USDA that I consider beneficial.

Storage

  • Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).
  • Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and variety meats within 2 days; other beef, veal, lamb, or pork, within 3 to 5 days.

Thawing

  • Refrigerator: The refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Make sure thawing meat and poultry juices do not drip onto other food.
  • Cold Water: For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag. Submerge in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately after thawing.
  • Microwave: Cook meat and poultry immediately after microwave thawing.

Cooking

  • Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F.
  • Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F.
  • Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 °F.

Serving

  • Hot food should be held at 140 °F or warmer.
  • Cold food should be held at 40 °F or colder.
  • Perishable food should not be left out more than 2 hours at room temperature (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).

Leftovers

  • Discard any food left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature was above 90 °F).
  • Place food into shallow containers and immediately put in the refrigerator or freezer for rapid cooling.
  • Use cooked leftovers within 4 days.
  • Reheat leftovers to 165 °F.

Always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food.

Also, here is a link to the USDA’s chart for how long different foods can be stored in the refrigerator and freezer. I suggest printing it out and putting it on your refrigerator!