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

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

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