If you have food that's taken up residence in your fridge, here's a guide to know when to toss it.

couple food shoppingYou open the fridge and there it is—that bottle of salad dressing that's been staring back at you for months now. You're not sure if you opened it for the summer picnic or Thanksgiving dinner, yet somehow you still can't bring yourself to throw it away.

We're all guilty of keeping food in the fridge longer than we should. But don't just cross your fingers, hoping someone doesn't get sick from eating what's in there. Approximately 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses occur in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Instead, take charge of what lives in your fridge.

Here are some guidelines for determining how long you can safely store common perishable foods:

  • Mayonnaise – Once the jar has been opened, mayo shouldn't be kept for more than two months. Be extra careful with mayo-based foods, such as chicken salad or potato salad. They're only safe to eat for 3 to 4 days after they're prepared.
  • Sour Cream – Sour cream stays fresh for 1 to 3 weeks after it's opened, but if it starts to form a pool of liquid or grow mold, it's time to throw it out.
  • Salad Dressing – A change in texture, smell or taste is the easiest indicator that salad dressing has gone bad. Dressings containing dairy or egg, such as Caesar, ranch and blue cheese, should never be kept past their expiration date.
  • Meat and Fish – Don't leave raw meat or fish in the fridge for more than 1 to 2 days. If you don't plan to cook it right away, freeze it to avoid bacteria growth.
  • Lunchmeat – Lunchmeat typically only stays fresh for 3 to 5 days after the package is opened.
  • Butter – Butter keeps in the fridge for 1 to 2 months, but can be frozen up to 9 months.
  • Cheese – Hard and processed cheeses stay fresh for 3 to 4 weeks, but soft cheeses only last about 1 to 2 weeks. Cottage cheese is generally only safe to eat for a week after it's opened.
  • Milk and Yogurt – Use milk and yogurt prior to the expiration date on the container. An odd smell, taste or texture are good indicators it has spoiled.
  • Lettuce – A head of lettuce can last in the fridge up to 3 weeks, but loose leaf lettuce only keeps for 7 to 10 days. Lettuce that is soft, slimy, discolored or smells strange should be thrown out.
  • Eggs – Raw eggs in their shell usually last in the fridge for 3 to 5 weeks after they're purchased (but check the expiration date on the carton). Hard-boiled eggs are only edible for about a week after they're cooked.
  • Leftovers – Many of us roll the dice when it comes to eating leftovers. We can't bear to toss out good food, but we should after 3 to 4 days. Unless you're sure you're going to eat leftovers in a few days, consider freezing them.
  • Condiments – Once opened, condiments like ketchup, mustard and barbecue sauce keep for several months in the fridge. After the expiration date, the taste quality may be the only thing that suffers, but there are no guarantees. It's best to mark bottles with the dates you opened them and toss after 6 months.

Don't be the cause of someone's food poisoning. Pay attention to labels to avoid expired food sitting in your fridge for weeks, months or even years. Pick a day each month to clean out the fridge. You'll rest easier knowing you didn't make your family—or yourself—sick.

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Date Last Reviewed: July 20, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Jane Schwartz, RDN, CLT

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