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Follow the guidelines in this fact sheet to help optimise the storage of perishable food in your refrigerator.
food includes fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, foods purchased from
chill cabinets, freshly cooked food stored to be used later. It is
usually stored in the refrigerator. Some fresh fruits and vegetables,
however, will store quite well out of the refrigerator as long as they
are stored in a cool place.
Refrigeration can substantially
reduce the rate at which food will deteriorate. Low temperatures slow
down the growth of microorganisms and the rate of chemical (including
enzymic) changes in food. These are two of the main causes of food
Different parts of your refrigerator will operate at
different temperatures. In older style refrigerators the upper shelves
will often be slightly colder than the lower shelves.
In more modern appliances, the temperature will be relatively uniform
throughout. Check your instruction booklet to find the warmest and
coldest areas inside your model.
There are simple things you can do to maximise your refrigerator's shelf life. They include:
To ensure the food you consume is fresh and safe to eat, below are some handy shopping tips:
This table displays the storage life of some chilled food in the coldest part of a refrigerator:
Expected shelf life in the home
Crustaceans and molluscs
Minced meat and offal
variable (1-3 months)
Soft cheeses (camembert, brie)
Cottage, ricotta, cream cheeses
variable (6 months)
Oil and fat
Many of these products are labelled with a 'use-by' date. This can be
used as a guide to shelf life of the unopened product.
Below are tips on how to store different types of food.
milk, cream and some soft cheeses have only a short shelf life and lose
quality rapidly if exposed to warm temperatures during storage. If you
find you cannot store these products satisfactorily up to the 'best
before' date, check your refrigerator temperature.
refrigerator temperature is below 5 °C, check how you handle the
product. Does it stand around at room temperature? Do people drink
directly from the carton? Do you pour milk back into the carton from a
If you still have problems, watch how your supplier handles the
product. If you suspect temperature abuse, change your supplier. Dairy
products tend to pick up flavours from other foods, so keep them wrapped
or covered and away from strong smelling foods.
have a long storage life but may develop surface mould. If this occurs,
remove the mould and about 2cm of cheese around it. Reduced salt cheeses
may have a shorter shelf life than regular cheeses.
contrary to what many people believe, should be stored in the
refrigerator. This will maintain egg quality and considerably lengthen
storage life. They should preferably be stored in their cartons to
reduce moisture loss through the shell.
The storage life which
can be expected for eggs in the shell is determined very much by the
storage temperatures during distribution. Most stores do not keep eggs
under refrigeration and, depending how long the eggs have been stored at
room temperature, the potential shelf life will be affected.
The term 'meat' includes beef, lamb, pork, etc. These items should be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator.
fresh meat can be kept safely for up to three days and unwrapped fresh
meat up to five days at cold temperatures, 0° to 3° C. Wrapped meat
remains moist and maintains its quality but surface growth of
microorganisms is encouraged and the meat becomes slimy after about
three days. If you notice an off odour, the best thing to do is to throw
the food out.
Unwrapped meat lasts longer than wrapped meat.
When meat is stored unwrapped, the exposed surface dries out. This
drying retards microbial growth but over-drying causes undesirable
colour changes and loss of flavour.A compromise can be reached by storing your meat in an adequately
ventilated container or loosening the wrapping around the meat so air
can circulate. To ensure all surfaces are exposed to drying, place the
meat on a clean stainless steel, chrome plated or plastic rack. Do not
sit the meat on a plate or other solid surface, or pack it too closely.
This will reduce the drying effect. Cured meat has a longer storage
life. Unwrapped cured meat may last up to three weeks at 0° to 3° C.
Uncooked minced meat, liver, kidneys, poultry and seafoods need
careful storage because they usually carry large numbers of spoilage
microorganisms. These can grow even at refrigeration temperatures, so
always store these foods in the coldest part of the refrigeration
section as close as possible to 0° C. The longest recommended storage
time is three days.
Before storing chilled chicken for a couple
of days, it is a good idea to take off the plastic wrapping, wash the
chicken thoroughly, dry it with a paper towel then store as above. Fresh
whole fish should be gutted and washed if it is to be stored for more
than 24 hours.
Meat designated as 'pet food' should not come into
direct contact with meat for human consumption as it may have been
produced under less hygienic conditions. It should be well wrapped and
stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
poultry and seafoods must be refrigerated as soon as possible after
cooking. Do not leave them on the bench top to cool before placing them
in the refrigerator. The warmth of the food will encourage growth of any
microbes which may get onto the meat from your hands, utensils etc.
This is especially important with casserole-type dishes where food
poisoning bacteria can actually survive the cooking process.
refrigerators can cope with small amounts of hot foods being placed
directly into them. However, to avoid excessive condensation in the
refrigerator, a brief cooling period (not more than one hour) prior to
refrigeration is preferred. You may wish to use a timer to remind you
when the time is up.
To avoid condensation, do not cover hot meat
pieces before refrigerating. Place them uncovered in the refrigerator
until they are cool, then cover the container or wrap the meat tightly
with cling wrap. Store cooked products above any raw meat, poultry or
seafoods to avoid cross contamination from raw meat liquid or drip where
this could occur. However, if the top shelves of your refrigerator are
the coldest, the more perishable fresh meats should be stored there.
Special care should then be taken to cover other dishes to prevent
Large amounts of food should always be divided into smaller containers
before cooling. It can take many hours for the centre of a large
container to cool to a temperature which will stop the growth of food
poisoning bacteria. If you do not expect to eat the food within three or
four days, it is best frozen immediately.
delicatessen meats such as ham, corned beef, polish salami, and other
luncheon meats must be stored in the fridge. They should be treated like
fresh meat but they should not come into contact with fresh meat. Pâtés
also fall into this group.
Some of the fermented salamis, bacon
and whole hams will keep for 2-3 weeks compared to sliced luncheon meats
which will keep only 4-5 days after purchase. When purchasing
unpackaged pre-sliced luncheon meats, examine the products on display
carefully. If there is any slime or excessive moisture, ask for slices
to be freshly cut from the knob. It is a good idea to buy only small
quantities of sliced luncheon meats.
items can be stored until the 'best before' date. These are often vacuum
packaged and have a longer shelf life. But do buy carefully - avoiding
damaged or blown packages. A slight sour smell may be noticeable as the
product starts to lose quality.
There are now a series of
fermented salami knobs sold which are wrapped in plastic over the
casing. Make sure you read the storage instructions carefully. While the
unwrapped type could be stored outside the refrigerator, these wrapped
versions usually require refrigeration after the casing has been broken.
Fruit and vegetables should be
handled carefully to avoid bruising and breaking the skin. Such damage
will encourage deterioration and rotting.
Most fresh produce is
temperature sensitive and should be stored in the coolest part of the
house when refrigerated space is not available. Some produce,
particularly those from the tropics, such as pineapple and bananas, are
chill sensitive and should not be stored in the refrigerator.
reduce shrivelling or wilting due to water loss, keep leafy and root
vegetables, such as silverbeet, broccoli, carrots and parsnips, in
perforated plastic bags, preferably in the refrigerator.
removing leafy tops from carrots, parsnips, turnips and beetroot, their
storage life can be extended to many weeks or even several months in the
refrigerator. Keep potatoes in a cool, dark, well ventilated place to
avoid greening and sprouting; remove from plastic bags and place in a
strong paper bag, box or in a wire or plastic bin. Sweet potatoes are
cold sensitive and should not be kept in the fridge.
pears, stone fruits and strawberries on the refrigerator shelves, and
then place into perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator. This
reduces sweating (water forming inside the bag). During spring and
summer the shelf life of apples at room temperature is only short. If
possible remove them from refrigeration just before eating.
nectarines, peaches and plums in the refrigerator, unless you want to
ripen them. Pears are best kept in the refrigerator. They keep well
green and hard. Store at room temperature to ripen them. Citrus fruits,
cucumbers, passionfruit, capsicums and eggplant lose water easily during
refrigerated storage. Waxing or wrapping in shrinkwrap helps reduce
Different varieties of a fruit often have better
keeping qualities than others at a given storage temperature. For
example, Fuerte avocados will not keep beyond about three weeks in the
refrigerator, whereas other varieties, such as Hass, will keep up to six
weeks. Also, some varieties of apples (e.g. Granny Smith and Fuji) have
more than three times the storage life of others.
should be ripened at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. They
ripen best in mildly warm temperatures. When fully ripe, especially in
hot weather, they may be stored in the refrigerator for several days.
However, they will gradually lose flavour and some soft areas may
develop in the flesh.
Rockmelon, pineapple, paw paw, bananas, mangoes, avocados, stone
fruit, tomatoes and pears need to be ripened at room temperatures. They
can then be refrigerated for a short time. Fruit ripening can be
accelerated by keeping unripe fruit with passionfruit and ripe apples.
reduce mould growth in onions, whole pumpkin, marrows and squashes,
store at room temperature under dry conditions, in a net or loose.
storing large amounts of fruit, remove overripe and injured fruit
regularly as these will trigger ripening and subsequent aging in the
remaining fruit. Also remove any rotting fruit as infection can spread
to other fruit.
The longer keeping kinds of produce can be stored
for shorter periods at temperatures higher than the optimum listed in
the table. Generally, however, the life of a commodity is reduced
rapidly at temperatures above the optimum.
Follow these tips to help prolong the shelf life of your food:
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Last updated: Last updated: 26 February 2015
Printed from: Refrigerated storage of perishable foods (http://csiroaucd2-cdc.it.csiro.au/en/Research/Health/Food-safety/Refrigerating-foods)