How long does food last in the fridge?
It’ll come as no shock that this largely depends on the food itself, as well as the refrigeration temperatures and conditions, but since it isn’t always cut-and-clear, we made this list to help you define what you should (and shouldn’t) keep in the fridge for even a few days, and a few surprising foods that can last for a long time in the refrigerator.
We’re also going to go into the specifics of the food danger zone, and why the conditions before refrigeration also heavily impact your food’s fridge life before it even lands on a shelf in your fridge.
First, let’s take a look at the fifteen most common foods that most people refrigerate, and how long they’re good for.
Common Food and Average Expiration Dates in the Refrigerator
On average, you can expect coffee to last for about three days. If you made hot coffee and put it in the fridge without it sitting in the danger zone, then maybe four days at most.
Coffee is highly acidic, so it’s more difficult for bacteria to grow in it. However, it’s still a possibility.
The main reason you don’t want to drink four-day-old coffee is because the acidity eats away at the nutrients in the coffee (which there are a lot of), and gives a bitter taste. In as little as eight hours, coffee can become completely bitter and sour-tasting.
That doesn’t mean it’s gone bad, but it has lost its freshness. Many major coffee chains won’t let freshly made coffee sit for more than twenty minutes to preserve optimal enjoyment.
You’re unlikely to run into mold or a film on top of your coffee, making it all the more difficult to tell if it’s gone bad or not. Smell the coffee when it’s going in the fridge, and then do yourself a favor by smelling the grinds in the brew basket.
Fresh coffee smells lighter, but the grinds smell pungent. That’s what bad coffee, stored in the refrigerator, will smell like.
Rotten eggs are the benchmark for a foul smell. We equate everything to it.
Eggs don’t last in the fridge for as long as you would think. While you can look at the sell by date on your package, you should always try to use them as soon as possible instead of letting it go to chance.
On average, eggs purchased in a supermarket will be good for up to three weeks. It’s rare to find anything that lasts for a full month, because you have to factor in storage and transportation times. However, just because it says three weeks doesn’t mean you should push your like.
Eggs should be used within 10-14 days after purchasing them, if stored at the optimal temperature. The one thing you want to avoid with eggs is storing them directly beneath the output fan for your refrigerator. It’s easy to freeze your eggs, at which point they become useless.
For quality control, simply use your eggs as soon as possible. Try to avoid those sales on 36-packs if you don’t actually see yourself going through it all in the next two weeks.
3. Cooked Rice
If you’re stashing some leftovers for later, then you’d best be enjoying them in a short time frame. Cooked rice goes from being dry and shelf-stable for years, to being extremely moist.
If you don’t store cooked rice properly, it’s like having little bacteria-enriched pods of food in your fridge that don’t develop mold by the time they’ve gone bad.
Cooked rice should be consumed within three to four days after it’s been stored there. Whether it’s white rice, brown rice, or even quinoa, this rule applies across the board.
If you’re using a standard rice cooker at home, you might notice that sometimes it comes out a bit watery (rice might be a bit sloshy). If that’s the case, cut your expected throwaway date down by one day.
Cooked rice from leftovers are a different story. I would only store it for about two days. You have to think about all the time in transit (from the plate at the restaurant, to the doggy bag, to the drive home) that it spends in the danger zone.
You have to play that one close to the chest. If the cooked rice has been in your car for more than four hours, it’s time to toss it out instead of storing it in the fridge.
4. Leftover Pizza
You’re dealing with dairy, vegetables, and bread—all of which can go bad if not refrigerated. I know that many people enjoy leaving their pizza out at room temperature and enjoying it the next day, but it’s ill-advised.
Bread can mold, the milk in the cheese can mold (it won’t sour since it’s cooked), and the tomato sauce will grow bacteria if left out. Any toppings, especially meat, will also grow bacteria at an accelerated rate.
Okay, I know I’ve said bacteria a lot, but there are a lot of variables at work here. Leftover pizza needs to be stored in the fridge, and even then, it’s only good for a few days before it hardens and becomes difficult to eat.
5. Fresh Breads
If you made the bread yourself, you have about two days in the fridge before it becomes tough to eat, but four days until it reaches a point where you shouldn’t eat it.
If you leave your yeast cultures out to rise on their own, like in a bowl that’s covered with a cheesecloth, pay attention to how long you left it out.
A bread with more of a yeasty, sour bite to it might not last as long in the fridge. It won’t mold in the first four days, but it isn’t going to be delicious, either.
For store-bought breads, you usually have seven to ten days before they start molding. While store-bought breads have more moisture in them, they are also filled with preservatives to extend their shelf life.
If you want to, you can stash your store-bought bread on the counter if you don’t enjoy it cold, but it will cut your time down. Store-bought bread has about two weeks in the fridge, and one week on the shelf before it begins to develop mold spores.
6. Turkey and Chicken
Raw? You’ve got until the sell-by date. Plenty of people say, “You can actually go two or three days over the sell-by date,” but when you’re messing with poultry, it’s not a good idea.
We have such amazing food precautions in this country that you don’t hear about salmonella very often, but it’s still a persistent threat.
Cooked chicken and turkey is good for about three or four days in the refrigerator. However, if you cook chicken and leave it out, you have half the amount of time to refrigerate it as most other foods.
Because of the protein found in poultry, it’s like a bacterial nesting ground. If you leave it out, it’s going to spoil quickly.
Two hours is all you should wait before refrigerating your chicken and turkey. I know this is going to make some of your Thanksgiving days a little hectic with trying to remember, but it’s very important.
If you have cooked chicken in something, like a pot pie or a soup, stick to the two-hour rule to be safe.
7. Salmon and Other Fish
Fish is a tricky one, because it’s so difficult to tell if it’s gone bad even before you cook it.
When you buy fresh fish from the store, sometimes there’s no sell-by date other than what the monger has behind the counter. It’s packaged in paper with a sticker on it, but the date range could be off.
It’s always best to cook fish as soon as possible after purchasing it. But if you must store it in the fridge, do it for no more than two days.
You have to think olf all the time the fish has already spent out of the water, how long it took to clean it, package it, and get it on the ice in your local supermarket. Two days is the best way to ensure fresh fish stays fresh.
But what about when you cook it? Well, it actually extends the timeline quite a bit. If you wait the full two days to cook it, you can still expect about three to four days of freshness in your refrigerator to enjoy it as a leftover.
The cooking process kills harmful bacteria that may have built up, but not built up enough to spoil the food.
8. Cooked Red Meat
Red meat also follows the same rule as fish.
You weren’t there when it was cut, you weren’t there when it was packaged, you’re just getting to it now: you have to operate under the assumption that you have a short window to enjoy it. In fact, you do: a maximum of five days.
However, if you’ve ever had meat in your fridge for five days, then you know it starts to brown and become unappetizing. This is simply an effect of oxidation, which occurs in all meats (including fish), but if you want to avoid that, then I recommend cooking your meat within the first three days of it being in your fridge.
For cooked red meat, you have about two days. While most foods actually have a longer shelf life once you cook it, cooking meat breaks down the proteins in it, and allows bacteria to grow more rapidly.
If you’ve ever accidentally left a cooked steak or burger out, you’ll know what I’m talking about when you recall all those white specks that appeared all over it.
9. Soups and Stews
Just because all of your ingredients are submerged doesn’t mean they don’t oxidize the same way.
Bacterial growth still occurs on the surface of the broth, and it doesn’t just sit there in a layer that can be removed: it grows beneath the surface from that point.
Many soup recipes include a type of meat or dairy product in them, and while this isn’t the case for all, these run a higher risk of spoiling than a vegetable-only broth, for example.
The funny thing is, your soup needs to come down to room temperature for about two hours before you should even put it in the fridge.
Putting hot food in the fridge isolates salmonella bacteria, and allows it to grow freely in your food until it cools down.
In turn, it can spoil your food faster than if you just left it out for two hours, got it down to room temp, and then placed it in the fridge. This applies to plenty of foods, but with soup, it’s dire.
You can purchase a stirring wand for soup that you fill with water, and put in the fridge.
That way, you can bring down the temperature of the soup by stirring with this stick before putting it in the refrigerator, and effectively cutting down the time it spends on the counter.
Most soups will have about three to five days in the fridge before they should be tossed out.
10. Fresh Vegetables
This is another tricky one, because you never know how long it spent in a truck, then in the back room, then on the shelves before you were able to buy it. Each vegetable has their own shelf life.
Broccoli can be good for ten to fourteen days, while carrots can withstand nearly a full month of being in the fridge. Cucumbers can withstand about seven days in the fridge (high water content).
It all depends on what you get, but the baseline is about one week for most vegetables, while root vegetables (carrots, beets, potatoes) can stand one week up to four to six weeks.
11. Restaurant Leftovers
This is just a general rule of thumb. I don’t know what restaurant you go to or what you ordered, but if you’re bringing home leftovers to put in the refrigerator, you need to eat them by the next day in most cases.
You have a four-hour timer that starts from the moment your food is finished cooking. When it’s served to you in a restaurant, it’s hot, but it’s safe to assume that the temperature drops to 140°F or below by the time you begin enjoying it.
Bacteria growth occurs the second that it falls below 140°F, and after four hours, it’s no longer safe to consume. Think about where you usually eat, and if it’s the last stop on your outing.
Let’s assume it takes you an hour at the restaurant, you’re making another thirty minutes stop on the way home, and it takes an additional thirty minutes to get in the door.
Your food just spent time in a warm car, with bacterial growth setting in. Put it in the fridge, and eat it in twenty-four hours to ensure your own safety.
At the very most, do not exceed three days, especially if you’re dealing with seafood or meats.
12. Cooked Pasta
Sealed properly in a Ziploc bag, cooked pasta is good for about one or two days on its own.
That is, if you made plain pasta with no sauce (common food for babies and toddlers), and you want to store them in the fridge that way. You have to think of all the moisture that you put into your pasta, and the bacterial risk that it brings when it goes below 140°F.
However, if cooked pasta is in something, such as a casserole or sauce, you go by the expectancy on the sauce since it’s covering the pasta and taking on most of the oxidation.
Most sauces that are made with milk (cheese sauce, alfredo) have about two to three days in the fridge, while you might be able to get away with four days for tomato sauces.
13. Cream Cheese
More often than not, cream cheese is good for an astounding nine to ten months in your fridge. That is, if you don’t open it.
Cream cheese usually comes in an aluminum sealed package, such as Philadelphia cream cheese. That helps preserve everything and eliminate the risk of oxidation.
If the cream cheese you purchase is in a small tub, it should also come with an aluminum seal on top. This has about six to eight months of a shelf life before removing that tab.
But after you open it, you dramatically cut down the clock to just ten days. Seven to ten days is the best time to enjoy it, before oxidation takes hold and begins to harden the edges of cream cheese.
If you’re going for the best time to fully enjoy it, I would recommend in the first seven days before there is a noticeable difference in the consistency and flavor.
Out of everything we’ve talked about here today, there have been some short expiration dates. Fortunately, butter (store-bought) can last for about nine months in the refrigerator.
Because of its high fat content, it’s easily preserved. Salted butter may last longer since salt helps prevent bacterial growth.
Butter can be difficult to gauge. If it’s gone bad, it might be extremely soft to the touch, like counter butter. It might also be hard enough that it’s difficult to cut through with a steak knife.
Homemade butter is a different story. You’re devoid of preservatives, and everything is nice and fresh, so you might only have four to seven days on it before it goes bad, or turns to water/goop.
Any time you make homemade dairy products, they have a much shorter shelf life since we can’t ultra-pasteurize them the way big companies do.
15. Homemade Baked Goods
If you’re a fan of baking cookies, brownies, or even pies, you’ve got a few days to a week left in the fridge.
Homemade baked goods are different from anything you buy on the shelves (even from the bakery at your local supermarket), because when you make it at home, it has as few preservatives as possible.
Pie crusts can last for about two days in the fridge before they become soft and chewy, while a fully made pie with a filling can last for five days, or three if it’s a custard.
Provided that you cover your baked goods properly, cookies can last for a little less than a week, while cakes and cupcakes have about three days before they dry out.
There’s obviously a very big catalogue of homemade baked goods that you can store, but one of the most difficult to gauge is homemade bread.
Because you want to slow down the bacterial growth of live yeast cultures, you want to eat bread as soon as possible once it’s been refrigerated. It not only runs a higher risk of growing mold, but it also tastes chewy (in a not-so-good way) the longer that it’s in the refrigerator.
How Does Food Spoil in the Fridge?
You have two bacterial growths that contribute to food rot.
Bacteria like to gather in moist areas, which is why freeze-dried food is stripped of nearly all moisture to prolong shelf life. The more moisture content in your food, the worse off it is for your expectancy.
There’s a difference between rotten food and spoiled food. Spoiled food is when food gets old, and when the first group—spoilage bacteria—grows to the point of overtaking the food in question.
It will happen to all refrigerated food, no matter what, it just takes more time then if you kept most things at room temperature.
Pathogenic bacteria, which is what we are avoiding when we talk about the danger zone of 40°F to 140°F, will cause food rot.
This causes food to mold, give off mold spores and create more harmful bacteria, and break down the proteins in foods (by feeding off of them) to ravage the item in question.
It’s extremely dangerous, and can cause viruses, parasites, food poisoning, and runs a risk of fatality in extreme circumstances.
Why do Some Foods Rot Faster in the Fridge?
Some foods are actually pretty good as sustaining themselves in room temperature settings.
One great example of this is garlic. Garlic is highly acidic, and all of that moisture is protected beneath layers and layers of garlic peels. It protects the actual food inside very well.
However, refrigerators provide cold air, and when you open the fridge to take something out of it, moisture from the air is getting inside.
It’s just one part that’s unavoidable, but that additional moisture can degrade the peels on your garlic faster than leaving it at room temperature, because it turns to condensation in the refrigerator.
It’s all about adding more moisture into the food than it actually contains in the first place, or rather, coating the exterior of the food in moisture to expedite bacterial growth.
Some climates in states like Florida can be tricky to deal with if you don’t have central AC, because humidity runs rampant. However, if you can control your air temperature fairly well, then you can leave some foods out.
These, of course, include things such as fruits and vegetables, and even sometimes breads. It all comes down to moisture versus the shelf life of your food.
A Dirty Fridge Can Spoil Food Faster
I’m not just trying to convince you to clean your fridge for no reason.
Even if you don’t think it looks dirty outside of a few drops of coffee near the crisper drawer, or the spillover from a ketchup bottle sitting on the shelf, it could be a very big problem.
A rough 70% of refrigerators, found in a study done by Which?, contain harmful bacteria that can cause respiratory issues, urinary infections, and even exploit weakened immune systems in those suffering with autoimmune diseases.
It’s a big deal, and bacteria is only going to grow in the moisture and condensation in your refrigerator.
In food service, ice machines have to be cleaned once every fourteen days for this exact reason: bacterial buildup in moisture. You should clean your fridge twice a month to ensure your food will last as long as possible.
Date and Check Everything in Your Fridge
If you get your food into the fridge as soon as possible and avoid that four hour window (to the best of your ability), you’ll be sitting pretty.
Bacterial growth is no joke, and the amount of time that food spends outside of the fridge largely impacts how fast bacteria will grow.
Your refrigerator slows down bacterial growth to an almost grinding halt, and if you’re storing any of the fifteen foods that we talked about, it’s a good idea to bookmark this so you can come back later and be sure about what you’re doing.