How long does chicken last in the refrigerator? Apparently not as long as we thought.

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Food waste is always a cause for concern, and as diligent as we all are about using up our leftover food, it's important to know exactly how long it's safe to keep certain foods hanging around in your fridge. Although we try to freeze as much as possible, sometimes we lose track of how long the package of lunch meat has been sitting in the fridge. Understanding food package labels is also a helpful step in knowing whether dating information is intended for us, the consumers, or the distributors.

I reached out to a food safety specialist at the USDA to learn more about what they advise when it comes to storing certain foods in the fridge. The main information to note is that consumers tend to hold on to certain fresh meats, poultry, and leftovers for longer than the recommended time period, Archie Magoulas, a food safety specialist with the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline, says.

Refrigerator shelf
Credit: Getty Images

Another common confusion is consumers storing fresh meats and poultry based on the "sell by" dates on packaging, Magoulas says. A sell by date is for retailers and producers who use colder temperatures in their refrigerators and can preserve foods for longer than what is recommended for to do consumers at home. A "use by" date is the last date that food safety experts recommend using the product before it's no longer in peak quality, according to the USDA's fact sheet on fresh poultry. So exactly what foods have shorter refrigerated lives than we thought? You can see the full detailed list on the USDA's Cold Food Storage Chart. We've included the foods that were most shocking to us in the table below.  

Type of Food

Refrigerator
(40 °F or below)

Opened package of deli or sliced meat

3-5 days

Raw sausage made from chicken, turkey, pork, or beef

1-2 days

Ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken, other poultry, veal, pork, lamb, and mixtures)

1-2 days

Cooked, store-wrapped slices, half, or spiral-cut of ham

3-5 days

Fresh, whole or pieces of, chicken or turkey

1-2 days

Fresh crab meat

2-4 days

Shrimp or crayfish

3-5 days

Opened liquid egg substitutes

3 days

Soups with vegetables or meat added

3-4 days

While we're brushing up on our food safety rules, might as well review leftover food policies because who knows how long that slice of pizza has been sitting in the fridge. If you find yourself having a lot of leftover food, your best bet is to cool it properly, and then freeze it for future use. You can also download the USDA FoodKeeper app, or visit the site, for the latest information on properly storing all types of food.