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How to Know How Long is Too Long When Storing Items in Refrigerator

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When was the last time you took stock of your freezer or fridge? How long has some of that stuff been in there? In part two of her report, NY1's Jill Urban shows us how long we should store items in our refrigerators.

Sometimes, it looks bad, other times, it smells bad, and sometimes, there's no way to tell when something in your fridge is past its prime.

In our last report, we outlined how to properly store food in your refrigerator or freezer. But once in there, how long is too long?

"Things don't last forever in the fridge or the freezer, even though they seem like they can and they get lost in there forever," says Jennifer Beck of Every Day with Rachael Ray Magazine. "It's important to know the shelf life of items that you're eating on a daily basis and the ones that you're going to pick up from time to time."

First, you obviously need to use common sense. If any part of it looks or smells bad, toss it. Otherwise, Beck helped outline some food storage guidelines so that we all know when it's time to toss. For example, how long can condiments last?

"Most restaurants keep ketchup and mustard bottles right on the table, and that's fine, because they're shelf-stable items that can be kept at room temperature," Beck says. "But you have to remember, a restaurant is going to go through their ketchup and mustard much faster than your family is going to. If you keep it in the fridge, it's going to stay fresh a little bit longer, for 12 to 18 months."

The deli meats average about three to five days from the deli counter. If they're commercially packaged, you may get a little bit longer.

Eggs can last four to five weeks in the refrigerator, but don't store them on the door even if your fridge has a spot for them there. That's the warmest spot and can cut down on shelf life. Stick them in the middle, where they belong. Same with milk.

"Once opened, milk can last for five to seven days in your fridge," Beck says. "Maybe a little longer, depending on what kind you're drinking."

If you want to make sure your milk lasts, the trick is to keep it in the fridge as long as possible. If you take it out in the morning to put a little in your coffee, put it right back in the refrigerator. Otherwise, you'll significantly reduce its shelf life.

Raw beef and chicken can last three to five days, but the sooner you cook it, the better. If you freeze it, beef is good for up to a year. Same with a whole chicken, but pieces and breasts are good anywhere from six to 12 months.

For more shelf life information and a full list of food storage safety tips, go to foodsafety.gov.

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