What Foods Are Perishable? The List, How to Store, and More

Foods decay and spoil with time if not stored or processed correctly. Perishable foods tend to spoil faster than other foods, posing a risk for foodborne illnesses. In this article, you'll find a list of perishable foods and how to store them safely to extend their shelf life.

What are perishable foods?

Perishable foods are foods that spoil easily if they are not stored correctly. Most perishable foods, such as meat and dairy, should be refrigerated at 40ºF (4°C) and below. Otherwise, they may decay and lead to food poisoning.

Perishable foods vs. non-perishable foods: what's the difference?

Foods spoil at different rates because of their water, salt, nutrient content, pH, initial microbial load, and contamination with spoilage microorganisms, among others.

  • Perishable foods spoil fast if not stored in the fridge properly.
  • Non-perishable (shelf-stable) foods are safe to consume when stored at room temperature.

Shelf-stable foods are preserved with different methods, such as drying, fermenting, and heat to eliminate pathogens and are packaged properly. Non-perishable foods include most canned and bottled foods, flour, sugar, spices, rice, pasta, oils, etc.

The list of perishable foods

Here you can find the list of the most perishable foods and how to consume them.

Meat

Refrigerate meat at 40ºF (4°C) and below immediately after shopping. Ground meat, hamburger, stew meat, and meat varieties, such as liver, kidney, and heart can last 1–2 days. Chops, steaks, and roasts can wait a bit longer, 3–5 days, at 40ºF (4°C) and below.

Cooked meats are good to eat for 3–4 days if refrigerated at 40ºF (4°C) and below. If you freeze leftovers, you can consume them for up to 2–3 months.

Poultry

Refrigerate poultry at 40ºF (4°C) and below as soon as after shopping. If you cook poultry in 1–2 days, you can keep it in the refrigerator. Cooked chicken and turkey are good to eat within 3–4 days if they're stored at 40ºF (4°C) and below.

Freezing poultry at 0ºF (-18°C) or less makes food safe indefinitely. However, consuming it within 1 year is recommended for better taste and texture.

Seafood

Raw fish and shellfish should be refrigerated at 40ºF (4°C) and below; keeping at the coldest place is recommended. You can keep raw fish and shellfish at 40ºF (4°C) and below for 1–2 days; then, you must cook or freeze at 0ºF (-18°C) or less.

After cooking seafood and fish, you can store them for 3–4 days in the refrigerator at 40ºF (4°C) and below.

If you freeze cooked fish and seafood at 0ºF (-18°C) or less, they will be indefinitely safe. However, consuming them within 3 months is recommended because the flavor and texture can be as good as when you first freeze them.

It's recommended to consume properly frozen raw fish in 3–8 months and shellfish in 3–12 months for better taste. It can be dangerous to leave shellfish outside the refrigerator for more than 2 hours.

Dairy

Dairy, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, should be stored in the refrigerator at 40ºF (4°C) and below.

In the refrigerator at 40ºF (4°C) and below, milk can be stored for a week, yogurt for up to 2 weeks, soft cheeses for a week, hard cheese for 3–4 weeks, and sour cream for 1–3 weeks after opening.

Eggs

Eggs are good for 3–5 weeks if stored at 40ºF (4°C) and below. Most people keep eggs in the refrigerator door, but place eggs (in the carton) in the coldest part of the refrigerator for more extended storage.

If you hard cook the eggs, you can safely eat them for a week if they're stored at 40ºF (4°C) and below in the refrigerator.

It is best to buy eggs with the furthest sell-by date. After purchase, refrigerate properly as soon as you get home; then, you can still consume them if the sell-by date expires.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables easily go bad if not stored properly. Proper storage can change between fruits and vegetables. While some, such as potatoes and onions, can be stored at room temperature, others should be stored in the fridge to keep them safe and fresh longer. Fruits and vegetables are spoiled when you see bruises and mold.

If you cut or cook fruits and vegetables, don't leave them outside for more than 2 hours. Keep them in containers in the refrigerator or freezer for safe consumption.

7 tips on how to store/keep perishable foods properly

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), storing foods properly can prevent foodborne illnesses. Here are tips for keeping perishable foods properly:

  1. Refrigerate as soon as possible. It's advised to refrigerate perishable foods in the shortest time possible. Do not leave perishable foods outside for more than 2 hours. If it's hot out, refrigerate food within an hour.
  2. Check the temperature of the refrigerator and freezer. The temperature should be 40°F (4°C) for the fridge and 0°F (-18°C) for the freezer. Periodic checks can be helpful to prevent foods from going bad.
  3. Pay attention to the funny smell and appearance of foods. If food looks and smells different than it usually does, don't consume it. The same is true for mold — throwing food away is the safest thing to do.
  4. Do not eat improperly stored foods that don't smell or look funny. Foods can cause food poisoning even if they don't seem or smell spoiled. Stick a note indicating dates. Therefore, you don't have to guess how many days the food is in the refrigerator. If it exceeds the recommended dates, it might be riskier to eat.
  5. Always check labels. Perishable foods include meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. Many other foods should be stored in cold conditions, mainly in refrigerators. Therefore, always check the product labels for proper storage and the best time to consume safely.
  6. Keep the refrigerator clean. Frequently check your refrigerator for any spoiled or outdated foods. Placing foods in containers and covering them can prevent contamination from spoiled foods. Clean your refrigerator periodically to prevent spreading bacteria to foods.
  7. Know what to do if electricity is gone. Luckily, the refrigerator's temperature would be cold for about 4 hours if the doors were closed. When electricity comes on, it's recommended to check the temperature of food. You can refreeze foods or cook if you see ice crystals and temperatures at 40°F (4°C) and below.

Risks and considerations

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million Americans get food poisoning, and of those, 128,000 get hospitalized; even 3,000 deaths are reported every year.

Foodborne illness (food poisoning) is caused by pathogens in foods that are not properly prepared, cooked, or stored. Food poisoning can cause upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, dehydration, fever, and, in extreme cases, death.

People with weakened immune systems, such as patients with diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and cancer, are likely to get food poisoning. Also, pregnant women, infants, young children, and older adults are more at risk for food poisoning.

You can prevent food poisoning by:

  • Storing foods at the proper temperature and place
  • Not consuming spoiled foods
  • Not neglecting hygiene — wash your hands and keep the cooking surfaces and utensils clean
  • Separating cutting boards of fresh produce and raw animal products, such as meat, poultry, and eggs
  • Cooking foods until the internal temperature reaches the recommended temperature for your food; for example, the internal temperature of steaks should be 145°F (62ºC), while poultry should get 165°F (73ºC)

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