Brush up on these storage techniques and guidelines* before your next trip to the meat counter.

By Elizabeth Passarella
Updated March 15, 2012
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Credit: Jamie Chung

Keep meat and poultry in its original packaging in the refrigerator. To freeze, slip the packaging into a resealable freezer bag. If you’re freezing for several months, it’s best to wrap pieces individually in plastic before bagging; this will make them less vulnerable to freezer burn. Another way to cut the risk of freezer burn is to buy vacuum-packed meats and poultry (which can also last about 2 days longer in the refrigerator). Leave seafood in its original packaging and, if possible, place on a bowl of ice in the refrigerator. However, live shellfish (like clams) should not be put on ice; open or poke holes in the packaging. To freeze seafood, slip the original packaging into a resealable freezer bag.

Beef and Lamb

Chops

Refrigerator: 3 days

Freezer: 6 months

Ground meat and premade patties

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 4 months

Roasts and loins

Refrigerator: 3 days

Freezer: 6 months

Sausage, uncooked

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 2 months

Steaks

Refrigerator: 3 days

Freezer: 6 months

Stew meat

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 4 months

*Real Simple consulted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), food scientists, food manufacturers, and a host of other experts—including fishmongers, cheese sellers, coffee roasters, bakers, and bartenders—to establish these storage guidelines. The first consideration was safety. But because you want your food to be delicious, too, for some products, Real Simple chose the conservative storage time for optimum freshness.

Deli and Processed Meats

Cold cuts, deli-sliced

Refrigerator: 5 days

Freezer: 2 months

Cold cuts, packaged

Refrigerator: 2 weeks (unopened); 5 days (open)

Freezer: 2 months

Hot dogs

Refrigerator: 2 weeks (unopened); 1 week (open)

Freezer: 2 months

Sausage, cooked

Such as kielbasa and andouille

Refrigerator: 2 weeks (unopened); 1 week (open)

Freezer: 2 months

Sausage, cured

Such as pepperoni and sopressata

Refrigerator: 3 months (unopened); 6 weeks (open)

Freezer: Do not freeze.

Pork

Bacon

Refrigerator: 2 weeks (unopened); 1 week (open)

Freezer: 1 month

Chops

Refrigerator: 3 days

Freezer: 6 months

Ground meat and premade patties

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 4 months

Ham, cooked

Refrigerator: 1 week (whole); 4 days (half); 4 days (steaks)

Freezer: 2 months

Ham, country

Pantry: 3 months (whole)

Refrigerator: 3 months (half)

Freezer: 1 month (half)

Roasts and loins

Refrigerator: 3 days

Freezer: 6 months

Sausage, uncooked

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 2 months

Stew meat

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 4 months

Poultry (Chicken and Turkey)

Ground meat and premade patties

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 4 months

Pieces

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 6 months

Sausage, uncooked

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 2 months

Whole

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 6 months

Seafood

Clams

Refrigerator: 2 days (live in shell); 1 day (shucked)

Freezer: 3 months (shucked); cook after thawing.

Crabmeat, packaged

Refrigerator: 1 month (unopened); 5 days (open)

Freezer: 3 months

Crabs, live whole

Refrigerator: 1 day

Freezer: Do not freeze.

Fish (fatty), fresh

Such as salmon and mackerel

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: Do not freeze. Fatty fish may become mushy when frozen at home and thawed.

Fish (lean), fresh

Such as tilapia, flounder, and cod

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 6 months

Fish, frozen

Refrigerator: 2 days (thawed)

Freezer: 6 months

Lobsters, live whole

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: Do not freeze.

Lobster tails, frozen

Refrigerator: 2 days (thawed)

Freezer: 6 months

Mussels

Refrigerator: 2 days (live in shell); 1 day (shucked)

Freezer: 4 months (shucked); cook after thawing.

Oysters

Refrigerator: 2 days (live in shell); 1 day (shucked)

Freezer: 4 months (shucked); cook after thawing.

Scallops

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 3 months; cook after thawing.

Shrimp, cooked

Refrigerator: 3 days

Freezer: 3 months

Shrimp, fresh or thawed

Refrigerator: 2 days

Freezer: 6 months

Shrimp, frozen

Refrigerator: 2 days (thawed)

Freezer: 6 months