How long can I keep this food?

Follow these guidelines for food safety and maintinaing high-quality and food-safe leftovers.

How long can I keep this food?

Have you ever wondered how long you can leave that leftover deli meat or spaghetti in the refrigerator? How about the banana pudding you made last week? Are there containers and “doggie bags” that you really can’t remember putting in the refrigerator?  What about the half package of taco seasoning in your cupboard?

There is reason to be attentive to how long foods have been stored – both under refrigeration and not. Food-borne illnesses are things you don’t want to have, and proper storage is one way to prevent it. Bacteria can grow in varying ways – refrigeration cannot keep foods safe forever, as evidenced by some of those storage containers that have mystery contents covered with “fur.”

One rule of thumb is, “If in doubt, throw it out.” If you want research-based information so you can make your own determination, there are the United States Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-800-535-4555 and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Seafood Hotline 1-800-FDA-4010. You can also check “The Food Keeper: A Consumer Guide to Food Quality and Safe Handling“ or the “Food Storage Guide.”

To answer the original questions in this article, deli meat should be used within three to five days; leftover spaghetti can keep three to four days; the banana pudding should be going to the trash after one to two days. Doggie bags are another story because they have been out of refrigeration while you were talking over coffee and dessert, and on the ride home. If that takes more than two hours, I would do what the name implies and feed them to the dogs. You don’t want to take chances. The half-used packages of seasoning mixes should be used at one time – not saved for another.

Follow these recommendations to keep your family safe and your meals and snacks of high quality. And remember, to contact an expert in your area by visiting the Michigan State University Extension website or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464) if you have more questions.

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