Safe food storage temperature

Dry Foods

A food service operation needs to have clearly defined storage areas and procedures for several reasons. First, by providing storage facilities it is possible to purchase supplies in quantities large enough quantities to get price breaks. Second, the ability to store supplies on the premises reduces the cost and time needed to order supplies and handle them upon delivery. Third, menu planning is easier when you are aware of the quality, quantity, and types of supplies that are on hand. If there is a run on a particular menu item, it is nice to know there are enough materials on hand to ensure that everyone who orders the item can be served.

In today’s market, many food service operations are reducing the amount of stock they keep on hand because storage is expensive. Not only does space need to be found but security needs to be tight. Many operators are willing to pay a bit extra to suppliers in order to avoid the headaches of keeping track of expensive items such as large quantities of high-quality meat, wines, and spirits.

Regardless, there still is a need for storing many types of supplies including dry foods, dairy products, frozen foods, produce, and fresh meats. Storage areas for such items often have design requirements that must be built into the space in order to efficiently handle the specific types of supplies.

The storeroom for dry foods should be located near the receiving area and close to the main kitchen. Unfortunately, the storeroom for dry foods is often an afterthought in food service facility designs, and the area designated for storage is sometimes in an inconvenient location.

No matter where the location, there are several essential points to be observed in the care and control of the dry storeroom.

  • The area should be dry and cool to prevent spoilage and the swelling of canned goods. The ideal temperature range is 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F).
  • The storeroom should be easy to keep clean and free from rodents and vermin. This means all wall, ceiling, and floor openings should be sealed and protected to prevent access.
  • It should be designed so it is easy to arrange and rearrange supplies to facilitate stock rotation. The best arrangement is to have shelves situated in the middle of the room so they can be stocked from both sides. This allows you to rotate stock by simply pushing out old stock by sliding new stock in from the other side of the shelf. This guarantees that first items received will be the first items used, or the “first in, first out” (FIFO) concept in stock rotation.
  • The area should be well lit.
  • Shelving must be at least 15 cm (6 in.) above the floor. Do not store items right on the floor.
  • Aisles should be wide enough to allow room for carts or dollies, which should be used to prevent possible injuries from lifting.
  • Food and supply storage areas should be kept under lock and key to prevent pilferage. Food storage control is an important step in the overall control of food costs. All storerooms should be considered to be like bank safes where the assets of the operation are being stored. This may mean that more valuable commodities such as liquor and wine should be stored and locked inside a larger storage area, such as the dry food storage area.

Refrigerated Products

The refrigerator, whether a walk-in or a standard upright, is an important component in planning the storage of food items. Most fresh foods must be stored in the refrigerator to delay their deterioration and decomposition. The most basic rule must be always followed: store raw products below, never above, your cooked or ready-to-eat products.

Keep foods 4°C (39°F) or colder, the safe temperature for refrigerated storage.

Here are some considerations to ensure that the refrigerator does not break down and risk spoiling food:

  • Monitor the temperature of the refrigerator daily. All refrigerators should be provided with a thermometer so that daily readings can be taken.
  • Keep refrigerators in good working order. Maintain a regular servicing contract with a local refrigerator repair company.
  • Most breakdowns are beyond the ability of kitchen staff to repair, but if the refrigerator does stop running, first check that the power supply cord hasn’t simply been pulled out or the breaker has flipped off.
  • Clean refrigerators regularly. Shelves should be shallow and well vented to make such cleaning quick and easy. Develop and follow a schedule to ensure that refrigerators are cleaned on a consistent basis.

There are also several general rules that all personnel using the refrigerator should follow:

  • Store raw products below cooked or ready-to-eat products.
  • Develop and follow a FIFO system for refrigerated food.
  • Designate areas in the refrigerator for certain items, and keep only those items in their designated place.
  • Never put hot foods in the refrigerator unless absolutely necessary. (Unfortunately, one person’s understanding of “necessary” may not be the same as another person’s, so consider developing guidelines.)
  • Never leave the refrigerator door open longer than needed.

Although lack of time and personnel shortages often make it difficult to observe these rules, it is imperative that they be followed.

Dairy Products

Dairy products must be stored in the refrigerator at temperatures of 2°C to 4°C (36° to 39°F). Follow these guidelines:

  • The fat in dairy products has a tendency to absorb strong odours from the storage surroundings. To reduce the likelihood of this happening, store dairy products in their own area in protective coverings.
  • Do not store dairy products in a vegetable cooler; a separate refrigerator is much more acceptable.
  • Keep the refrigerator clean at all times.
  • Rotate dairy products when fresh product arrives. Dairy products should not be ordered too far in advance of when they will be used. Ideally, such products should be delivered on a daily basis.


Most produce is stored in the refrigerator at 2° to 4°C (36° to 39°F) to ensure freshness and to prevent rapid deterioration. There are, however, a number of exceptions, including potatoes and bananas, which should be stored at higher temperatures.

Keep these factors in mind when storing produce:

  • Soft fruits should not be stored too long. It is often best to buy soft fruit as you need it, keeping very little on hand.
  • Unripe fruit can be ripened at storeroom temperatures of 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F). It will ripen much more slowly under refrigerator conditions.
  • Before storing and when rotating stock, it is important to remove rotting fruit from cases as one piece can affect others. The chain reaction can quickly destroy the quality of a whole case of fruit.
  • Be aware of special storage problems. For example, bananas stored in the refrigerator turn black quickly. Bananas should be stored under conditions where the temperature range is 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F).
  • The length of time produce can be stored varies widely. For example, hardy vegetables such as carrots and cabbage will last for weeks, while delicate vegetables such as lettuce should be bought as fresh as possible as they do not keep for long.
  • Moisture on vegetables tends to soften them, causing rot. Even though in the early stages of rot there is nothing basically wrong with such vegetables, they can be unattractive to the eye.

Fresh Meats, Poultry, and Seafood

These items are the most difficult to store and the most expensive food items sold by the restaurant. When storing meats, poultry, and seafood items, remember the critical control point.

Keep foods 4°C (39°F) or colder, the safe temperature for refrigerated storage.

Keep these factors in mind when storing fresh meats, poultry, and produce:

  • All carcass meats should be unwrapped and hung so that air can circulate around them. They should be stored at 1°C to 3°C (34°C to 37°F) in a walk-in refrigerator. Place absorbent paper under the meats for quick cleanup of any unwanted drips.
  • Fresh meat must not be kept too long. Boned meat should be kept no longer than three days. Individual cuts should be used within two days, preferably on the day they are cut.
  • Individual meat cuts such as steaks, chops, stewing meat, and ground meat should be kept covered on plastic or stainless steel trays at 2°C to 4°C (36°F to 39°F).
  • Fresh poultry should be packed in ice and stored in the refrigerator.
  • Fresh seafood should be packed in ice, stored at −1°C to 2°C (30°C to 34°F) and used as soon as possible.
  • Store raw products on the lower shelves of the refrigerator, below cooked products.

Frozen Foods

Frozen foods should be stored at –18°C (0°F) or lower. If the temperature rises above –18°C, food can become discoloured and lose vitamin content. Lowering the temperature after it has risen does not correct the damage.

Frozen food must be kept at −18°C or lower to maintain its quality.

Keep these factors in mind when storing frozen foods:

  • Fruit and vegetables that are received frozen will keep for months if they are properly wrapped. Fish and meat properly wrapped also have a relatively long freezer shelf life.
  • Freezing fresh fruits and vegetables on the premises is time consuming and may be too expensive to consider. Fresh fruit must be properly prepared for freezing or it will not store well.
  • All freezer products not properly wrapped will develop freezer burn, which is a loss of moisture that affects both the texture and the flavour of the food. A common sign of freezer burn is a white or grey dry spot developing on the surface of the frozen product. Meat is particularly susceptible to freezer burn.
  • Rotating stock is extremely important with frozen foods. Such rotation is difficult in standard chest freezers as it often means that old stock must be removed before new stock is added. The temptation with frozen foods is to develop the unacceptable habit of using the last item bought first, instead of FIFO (first in, first out).

First in, first out; the principle of using supplies and stock in the order they were received


Whether putting food in the refrigerator, the freezer, or the cupboard, you have plenty of opportunities to prevent foodborne illnesses.

The goal is to keep yourself and others from being sickened by microorganisms such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and C. botulinum, which causes botulism. Keeping foods chilled at proper temperatures is one of the best ways to prevent or slow the growth of these bacteria.

These food storage tips can help you steer clear of foodborne illnesses.

Storage Basics

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishables right away. Foods that require refrigeration should be put in the refrigerator as soon as you get them home. Stick to the “two-hour rule” for leaving items needing refrigeration out at room temperature. Never allow meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or produce or other foods that require refrigeration to sit at room temperature for more than two hours—one hour if the air temperature is above 90° F. This also applies to items such as leftovers, “doggie bags,” and take-out foods. Also, when putting food away, don’t crowd the refrigerator or freezer so tightly that air can’t circulate.
  • Keep your appliances at the proper temperatures. Keep the refrigerator temperature at or below 40° F (4° C). The freezer temperature should be 0° F (-18° C). Check temperatures periodically. Appliance thermometers are the best way of knowing these temperatures and are generally inexpensive.
  • Check storage directions on labels. Many items other than meats, vegetables, and dairy products need to be kept cold. If you’ve neglected to properly refrigerate something, it’s usually best to throw it out.
  • Use ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible. Refrigerated ready-to-eat foods such as luncheon meats should be used as soon as possible. The longer they’re stored in the refrigerator, the more chance Listeria, a bacterium that causes foodborne illness, can grow, especially if the refrigerator temperature is above 40° F (4° C).
  • Be alert for spoiled food. Anything that looks or smells suspicious should be thrown out. Mold is a sign of spoilage. It can grow even under refrigeration. Mold is not a major health threat, but it can make food unappetizing. The safest practice is to discard food that is moldy.
  • Be aware that food can make you very sick even when it doesn’t look, smell, or taste spoiled. That’s because foodborne illnesses are caused by pathogenic bacteria, which are different from the spoilage bacteria that make foods “go bad.” Many pathogenic organisms are present in raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs; unclean water; and on fruits and vegetables. Keeping these foods properly chilled will slow the growth of bacteria.
  • Following the other recommended food handling practices (clean your hands, surfaces and produce, separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods, and cook to safe temperatures) will further reduce your risk of getting sick.

Refrigeration Tips

  • Marinate food in the refrigerator. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in foods left to marinate at room temperature. Also, never reuse marinating liquid as a sauce unless you bring it to a rapid boil first.
  • Clean the refrigerator regularly and wipe spills immediately. This helps reduce the growth of Listeria bacteria and prevents drips from thawing meat that can allow bacteria from one food to spread to another. Clean the fridge out frequently.
  • Keep foods covered. Store refrigerated foods in covered containers or sealed storage bags, and check leftovers daily for spoilage. Store eggs in their carton in the refrigerator itself rather than on the door, where the temperature is warmer.
  • Check expiration dates. A “use by” date means that the manufacturer recommends using the product by this date for the best flavor or quality. The date is not a food safety date. At some point after the use-by date, a product may change in taste, color, texture, or nutrient content, but, the product may be wholesome and safe long after that date. If you’re not sure or if the food looks questionable, throw it out.
  • The exception to this is infant formula. Infant formula and some baby foods are unique in that they must be used by the use-by date that appears on the package.

Freezer Facts

  • Food that is properly frozen and cooked is safe. Food that is properly handled and stored in the freezer at 0° F (-18° C) will remain safe. While freezing does not kill most bacteria, it does stop bacteria from growing. Though food will be safe indefinitely at 0° F, quality will decrease the longer the food is in the freezer. Tenderness, flavor, aroma, juiciness, and color can all be affected. Leftovers should be stored in tight containers. With commercially frozen foods, it’s important to follow the cooking instructions on the package to assure safety.
  • Freezing does not reduce nutrients. There is little change in a food’s protein value during freezing.
  • Freezer burn does not mean food is unsafe. Freezer burn is a food-quality issue, not a food safety issue. It appears as grayish-brown leathery spots on frozen food. It can occur when food is not securely wrapped in air-tight packaging, and causes dry spots in foods.
  • Refrigerator/freezer thermometers should be monitored. Refrigerator/freezer thermometers may be purchased in the housewares section of department, appliance, culinary, and grocery stores. Place one in your refrigerator and one in your freezer, in the front in an easy-to-read location. Check the temperature regularly—at least once a week.

If You Lose Electricity

If you lose electricity, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Your refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it’s unopened. A full freezer will keep an adequate temperature for about 48 hours if the door remains closed.

Once Power is Restored . . .

You’ll need to determine the safety of your food. Here’s how:

  • If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40°F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 °F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
  • Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was not out for more than four hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.

Tips for Non-Refrigerated Items

  • Check canned goods for damage. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing or denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener. Stickiness on the outside of cans may indicate a leak. Newly purchased cans that appear to be leaking should be returned to the store for a refund or exchange. Otherwise, throw the cans away.
  • Keep food away from poisons. Don’t store non-perishable foods near household cleaning products and chemicals.

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StateFoodSafety Resources

Although it may seem like a small part of food preparation, refrigeration plays a large role in keeping food safe. The temperature of the refrigerator, the order of the food on shelves, and the amount of time left in the refrigerator can all play a large role in the growth of bacteria or other harmful pathogens on the food.

Follow these three food storage rules to keep you and your customers safe.

1. Know the recommended refrigerator temperature

To avoid your food reaching a temperature where pathogens can grow on your food, it’s important to measure the temperature of your refrigerator often. Keeping your refrigerator at 41°F (5°C) or below ensures an environment that will minimize the growth of pathogens.

Many refrigerators come with built in thermometers; if your fridge does not have this feature, an appliance thermometer should be kept in the fridge.

This can be very important, especially if there is a power outage. If when the power comes on, the refrigerator is still at 41°F or lower, the food is safe to consume. If the temperature of the refrigerator goes above 41°F, food should not be consumed as there is an increased risk of foodborne illness.

2. Arrange by proper food storage order

Although it may not seem like it would matter, the wrong order of food on shelves could potentially promote the growth of pathogens, increasing the risk of foodborne illness. Shelves should be ordered from lowest cooking temperature to highest, going down. This is done to prevent juices or other liquids from higher temperature cooking foods from contaminating foods that won’t reach that temperature.

Let’s break down what foods should be kept on each shelf.

Top Shelf: Ready-to-Eat

The top shelf should be reserved for ready-to-eat foods. These are foods that will be served without being cooked first.

Second Shelf: 135°F (57°C)

This category includes foods that will be hot-held that are not included in other categories.

Third Shelf: 145°F (63°C)

Foods that should be cooked to 145°F include whole seafood; whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, lamb; roasts; and eggs that will be served immediately.

Fourth Shelf: 155°F (68°C)

It is important that meat that has been ground, injected, or tenderized be kept on a lower shelf. This category also includes eggs that will be hot held.

Bottom Shelf: 165°F (74°C)

The bottom shelf should hold foods with the highest cooking temperatures. This includes all poultry (turkey, duck, chicken, or fowl); stuffing that contains foods that require temperature control; dishes with previously cooked foods, such as casseroles.

3. Know when to throw food away

Although refrigerators slow the growth of pathogens, it should be remembered that they do not stop the spoiling process. Throwing food away can seem like a waste, but knowing when to throw out food can help keep you and your customers safe and healthy.

Leftovers can often be kept for a few days, but should be thrown out before they spoil. Food that has been left out of the fridge for over 2 hours should not be consumed, even if it was put back in the fridge. When in doubt, throw it out.

Follow this food storage chart to know how long food can be kept:

Up to 2 Days
Ground beef, turkey, veal, pork, lamb; stew meats; variety meats; whole chicken or turkey; giblets; raw or poultry sausage; fresh fish and shellfish.
Up to 4 days
Cooked egg dishes; soups and stews; cooked casseroles; gravy, broth, patties, and nuggets; store-cooked dinners and entrees; fully-cooked ham slices.
Up to 5 days
Canned ham (labeled “Keep Refrigerated”); egg, chicken, tuna, ham, and macaroni salads; opened luncheon meats; fully-cooked ham, half.
Up to 7 days
Bacon; smoked sausage links or patties; fully-cooked ham, whole; corned beef in pouch (with pickling juices)
Up to 2 weeks
Unopened hot dog and luncheon meat packages.
Up to 3 weeks
Opened summer sausage packages; hard sausage (such as pepperoni)
This chart is meant to be a guide. If something exhibits qualities associated with spoiling, such as an unpleasant smell, discoloration, or an off-flavor, it should be disposed.

Leftovers should be kept as long as the fastest-spoiling ingredient it contains. For example, a casserole containing bacon should only be kept for a maximum of 4 days because it is a casserole, regardless of the fact that the bacon would be good for another 3 days.

Being aware of the ingredients of your dish and how long they are good for can help reduce the occurrence of foodborne illness.

Following these simple rules when it comes to refrigeration can help ensure food is safe to consume. Checking the temperature of the refrigerator, ensuring you order your food from lowest to highest cooking temperature, and storing food for the appropriate amount of time can help keep your food safe and your customers happy.

For more information and other food safety tips, take our online Food Handler course.

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  • History of Refrigeration
  • Importance of Refrigeration
  • Types of Bacteria in Refrigerated Foods
  • Safe Refrigerator Temperature
  • Safe Handling of Foods for Refrigerating
  • Placement of Foods
  • Shelves
  • Specialized Compartments
  • Safety of Foods Stored on the Door
  • Food Safety While Manually Defrosting a Refrigerator-Freezer
  • Keeping the Refrigerator Clean
  • Removing Odors
  • Storage Times for Refrigerated Foods

A refrigerator is one of the most important pieces of equipment in the kitchen for keeping foods safe. These electric units are so commonplace today, we forget a refrigerator was once little more than a box with a block of ice used to supply a rather undependable source of cold air. But we are instantly reminded of its importance to our daily lives when the power goes off or the unit fails, putting our food’s safety in jeopardy.

History of Refrigeration
In prehistoric times, man found that his game would last longer if stored in the coolness of a cave or packed in snow. He realized the cold temperatures would keep game for times when food was not available. Later, ice was harvested in the winter to be used in the summer. As man became more industrialized and mechanized, ice was harvested from lakes and rivers or manufactured, stored, and transported to many countries. Even today, ice is still manufactured for this purpose.

The intermediate stage in the history of cooling foods was to add chemicals like sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate to water causing the temperature to fall. Cooling wine via this method was recorded in 1550, as were the words “to refrigerate.” The evolution to mechanical refrigeration, a compressor with refrigerant, was a long, slow process and was introduced in the last quarter of the 19th century.

The science of refrigeration continues to evolve. In 1996, there was a change made in the type of refrigerant used to comply with the Regulatory Clean Air Act, Title 6. The old refrigerant known to most people as “freon,” a tradename, was replaced with HFC 134a, a new refrigerant less injurious to the ozone and still just as effective in keeping food cold. As consumers, we should notice no difference.

Importance of Refrigeration
Refrigeration slows bacterial growth. Bacteria exist everywhere in nature. They are in the soil, air, water, and the foods we eat. When they have nutrients (food), moisture, and favorable temperatures, they grow rapidly, increasing in numbers to the point where some types of bacteria can cause illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, the “Danger Zone,” some doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. A refrigerator set at 40 °F or below will protect most foods.

Types of Bacteria in Refrigerated Foods
There are two completely different families of bacteria: pathogenic bacteria, the kind that cause foodborne illness, and spoilage bacteria, the kind of bacteria that cause foods to deteriorate and develop unpleasant odors, tastes, and textures.

Pathogenic bacteria can grow rapidly in the “Danger Zone,” the temperature range between 40 and 140 °F, but they do not generally affect the taste, smell, or appearance of a food. In other words, one cannot tell that a pathogen is present.

Spoilage bacteria can grow at low temperatures, such as in the refrigerator. Eventually they cause food to develop off or bad tastes and smells. Most people would not choose to eat spoiled food, but if they did, they probably would not get sick. It comes down to an issue of quality versus safety:

  • Food that has been left too long on the counter may be dangerous to eat, but could look fine.
  • Food that has been stored too long in the refrigerator or freezer may be of lessened quality, but most likely would not make anyone sick. (However, some bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes thrive at cold temperatures, and if present, will multiply in the refrigerator over time and could cause illness.)

Safe Refrigerator Temperature
For safety, it is important to verify the temperature of the refrigerator. Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 40 °F or below. Some refrigerators have built-in thermometers to measure their internal temperature. For those refrigerators without this feature, keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator to monitor the temperature. This can be critical in the event of a power outage. When the power goes back on, if the refrigerator is still 40 °F, the food is safe. Foods held at temperatures above 40 °F for more than 2 hours should not be consumed. Appliance thermometers are specifically designed to provide accuracy at cold temperatures. Be sure refrigerator/freezer doors are closed tightly at all times. Don’t open refrigerator/freezer doors more often than necessary and close them as soon as possible.

Safe Handling of Foods for Refrigerating
Hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator or it can be rapidly chilled in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating. Cover foods to retain moisture and prevent them from picking up odors from other foods.

A large pot of food like soup or stew should be divided into small portions and put in shallow containers before being refrigerated. A large cut of meat or whole poultry should be divided into smaller pieces or placed in shallow containers before refrigerating.

Placement of Foods
The temperature in a refrigerator should be 40 °F or below throughout the unit, so that any place is safe for storage of any food. Raw meat, poultry, and seafood should be in a sealed container or wrapped securely to prevent raw juices from contaminating other foods.

Some refrigerators have special features such as adjustable shelves, door bins, crispers, and meat/cheese drawers. These features are designed to make storage of foods more convenient and to provide an optimal storage environment for fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, and cheese.

Shelves should be adjustable to accommodate a variety of packages. Tempered glass shelves are attractive and easy to clean. Some refrigerators feature sealed glass shelves to contain spills and make cleanup easier. Some shelves pull out to provide better accessibility to items in the back.

Specialized Compartments
Sealed crisper drawers provide an optimal storage environment for fruits and vegetables. Vegetables require higher humidity conditions while fruits require lower humidity conditions. Some crispers are equipped with controls to allow the consumer to customize each drawer’s humidity level.

An adjustable temperature meat drawer maximizes the storage time of meats and cheeses. Additional cool air is directed into the drawer to keep items very cold without freezing.

Safety of Foods Stored on the Door
Don’t store perishable foods in the door. Eggs should be stored in the carton on a shelf. The temperature of the storage bins in the door fluctuate more than the temperature in the cabinet. Keep the door closed as much as possible.

Food Safety While Manually Defrosting a Refrigerator-Freezer
Most refrigerators-freezers sold today don’t require defrosting by the consumer. However, there are still units on the market and in homes that do allow frost to build up and require periodic defrosting.

When food is removed from the freezer for defrosting and the unit is turned off, it’s important to keep refrigerated foods cold and frozen foods from thawing. To do this, place the food in a cooler with a cold source or pack it in a box and cover it with blankets for insulation.

Do not use any type of electrical heating device, ice pick, knife, or other sharp object to remove frost, as this could damage the inner lining.

Keeping the Refrigerator Clean
One very important step in keeping your food safe is keeping your refrigerator clean. Wipe up spills immediately – clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water; then rinse.

Once a week, make it a habit to throw out perishable foods that should no longer be eaten. A general rule of thumb for refrigerator storage for cooked leftovers is 4 days; raw poultry and ground meats, 1 to 2 days. Refer to the cold storage chart for storage of meat, poultry, and egg products in the home refrigerator.

To keep the refrigerator smelling fresh and help eliminate odors, place an opened box of baking soda on a shelf. Avoid using solvent cleaning agents, abrasives, and all cleansers that may impart a chemical taste to food or ice cubes, or cause damage to the interior finish of your refrigerator. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

The exterior may be cleaned with a soft cloth and mild liquid dishwashing detergent as well as cleansers and polishes that are made for appliance use. The front grill should be kept free of dust and lint to permit free air flow to the condenser. Several times a year the condenser coil should be cleaned with a brush or vacuum cleaner to remove dirt, lint, or other accumulations. This will ensure efficiency and top performance.

Removing Odors
If food has spoiled in a refrigerator – such as during a power outage – and odors from the food remain, they can be difficult to remove. The following procedures may have to be repeated.

  • Wipe inside of unit with equal parts vinegar and water. Vinegar provides acid which destroys mildew.
  • Wash inside of unit with a solution of baking soda and water. Be sure to scrub the gaskets, shelves, sides, and door. Allow to air out several days.
  • Stuff unit with rolled newspapers. Close the door and leave for several days. Remove paper and clean with vinegar and water.
  • Sprinkle fresh coffee grounds or baking soda loosely in the bottom of the unit, or place them in an open container.
  • Place a cotton swab soaked with vanilla inside freezer. Close door for 24 hours. Check for odors.
  • Use a commercial product available at hardware and housewares stores. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions.

Storage Times For Refrigerated Foods
NOTE: These short but safe time limits will help keep home-refrigerated food from spoiling.

Storage Times For Refrigerated Foods

Ground Meat, Ground Poultry, and Stew Meat

Ground beef, turkey, veal, pork, lamb

1-2 days

Stew meats

1-2 days

Fresh Meat (Beef, Veal, Lamb, and Pork)

Steaks, chops, roasts

3-5 days

Variety meats (Tongue, kidneys, liver, heart, chitterlings)

1-2 days

Fresh Poultry

Chicken or turkey, whole

1-2 days

Chicken or turkey, parts

1-2 days


1-2 days

Bacon and Sausage


7 days

Sausage, raw from meat or poultry

1-2 days

Smoked breakfast links, patties

7 days

Summer sausage labeled “Keep Refrigerated”

Unopened, 3 months;
Opened, 3 weeks

Hard sausage (such as Pepperoni)

2-3 weeks

Ham, Corned Beef

Ham, canned, labeled “Keep Refrigerated”

Unopened, 6-9 months;
Opened, 3-5 days

Ham, fully cooked, whole

7 days

Ham, fully cooked, half

3-5 days

Ham, fully cooked, slices

3-4 days

Corned beef in pouch with pickling juices

5-7 days

Hot Dogs and Luncheon Meats

Hot dogs

Unopened package, 2 weeks;
Opened package, 1 week

Luncheon meats

Unopened package, 2 weeks;
Opened package, 3-5 days

Deli and Vacuum-Packed Products

Store-prepared (or homemade) egg, chicken, tuna, ham, and macaroni salads

3-5 days

Pre-stuffed pork, lamb chops, and chicken breasts

1 day

Store-cooked dinners and entrees

3-4 days

Commercial brand vacuum-packed dinners with/USDA seal, unopened

2 weeks

Cooked Meat, Poultry, and Fish Leftovers

Pieces and cooked casseroles

3-4 days

Gravy and broth, patties, and nuggets

3-4 days

Soups and Stews

3-4 days

Fresh Fish and Shellfish

Fresh Fish and Shellfish

1-2 days


Fresh, in shell

3-5 weeks

Raw yolks, whites

2-4 days


1 week

Liquid pasteurized eggs, egg substitutes

Unopened, 10 days;
Opened, 3 days

Cooked egg dishes

3-4 days

The Danger Zone: Following Food Safety Temperatures

Keeping your food at a safe temperature is a simple and effective way to protect customers from foodborne illnesses and keep health inspectors happy. It’s the responsibility of your restaurant, buffet, or catering business to prepare and hold food out of the temperature danger zone. Keep reading to learn all about the temperature danger zone, how long your food can stay in the danger zone, and the proper holding temperatures for hot and cold food.

What Is the Temperature Danger Zone?

The temperature danger zone is food temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit, and the most rapid bacteria growth occurs between 70 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The longer food sits in this temperature range, the greater the risk that bacteria will begin to grow on your food.

As these bacteria reach unsafe levels, this can cause food to spoil and become dangerous for consumption. As a food service professional, it’s your responsibility to avoid these issues by ensuring food is quickly chilled or heated to food safe temperatures.

How Long Can Food Stay in the Temperature Danger Zone?

As a general rule, it is recommended foods enter their proper temperature zones within 2 hours. For cold foods, the food safe temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below. For hot foods, the safe temperature is above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Additionally, if you’re operating in a warm kitchen that’s above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, your food shouldn’t be in the danger zone for longer than an hour. The warmer temperature can help bacteria grow faster, making it more important for you to heat or chill it to safe temperatures quickly.

How to Keep Food Out of the Temperature Danger Zone

The easiest way to keep food out of the temperature danger zone is to take and monitor temperatures regularly. This is imperative not only while cooking your temperature control for safety (TCS) food, but it is also imperative when holding food on your buffet line or salad bar.

Follow these important tips to ensure you’re making the best use of your thermometer to keep food safe for consumption.

  • Consistently monitor your refrigerator or freezer temperatures. You may want to use a secondary refrigerator or freezer thermometer, as the thermometer built into your appliance may not be accurate.
  • Keep a written record including the temperature measured and the time it was taken.
  • Clean and calibrate thermometers often.
  • Regularly test employee’s knowledge of proper thermometer handling and use.

How Do You Rapidly Cool Hot Foods?

Many larger establishments prepare dishes ahead of time for maximum efficiency in their kitchen. When doing this, however, it’s imperative to know the best way to quickly cool food that won’t be served right away.

If you’re preparing food ahead of time, you must bring the temperature down below 41 degrees Fahrenheit within 2 hours of hitting its proper internal temperature.

Tips for Cooling Hot Foods to Food Safe Temperatures

Placing hot food directly into your refrigerator or freezer is never recommended because it endangers the food around it by raising the ambient temperature in your fridge or freezer. This creates the possibility of other foods in your refrigerator or freezer entering the temperature danger zone and developing bacteria without you even knowing. Instead, follow these tips for quickly cooling your hot foods.

  • Use a commercial blast chiller to quickly cool foods while minimizing time food spends in the danger zone.
  • Store foods in shallow containers to allow the temperature to distribute more evenly.
  • Consider using a cooling paddle to reduce the temperature of hot liquids including soups, stews, and sauces, or lay it on top of warm casseroles to quickly bring foods below the danger zone.
  • Create an ice bath by filling a pot, container, or sink basin with ice. Containers of hot foods can be placed in the ice bath to quickly cool food to food safe temperatures below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hot and Cold Food Holding

Once your food is cooked to the proper internal temperature or chilled below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s important to maintain these safe temperatures before serving. There are a number of instances in which food service professionals need to hold food for extended periods of times. These could include salad bars, buffet lines, transporting to off-site or satellite locations, and catering events.

When transporting food, it is recommended you use a food pan carrier or insulated catering bag to ensure your hot or cold foods remain safe for consumption.

How Cold Does a Salad Bar or Refrigerator Have to Be to Keep Food Safe?

Salad bars and refrigerators need to maintain temperatures below 41 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria. This is especially important as you house vulnerable TCS foods including cheese, yogurts, meats, salad dressings, and egg products.

How Often Should I Check the Temperature of Hot or Cold Holding Food?

It is recommended you check the temperature of your hot or cold holding food every four hours. However, if you check every 2 hours instead, this allows enough time to take corrective action in the event that food has fallen into the danger zone. By staying on top of your food’s internal temperatures, you can prevent the spread of dangerous bacteria and eliminate food waste by simply re-heating or re-chilling the affected foods before bacteria has time to spread.

How Do You Hold Hot Food?

Here are some tips to properly hold hot foods so they don’t fall into the danger zone:

  • Hot holding equipment is typically not designed to reheat or bring food to temperatures out of the danger zone. Instead, it’s meant to hold already hot food at 140 degrees or higher.
  • When possible, keep food covered to help maintain temperatures and keep contaminants out.
  • Stir frequently to evenly distribute heat throughout the food.
  • Use the appropriate thermometer to monitor food temperatures often.
  • Discard food that has been sitting below 140 degrees for more than 2 hours.
  • Never mix freshly prepared food with foods already being held for service to prevent cross contamination.

How Do You Hold Cold Food?

Here are some tips to properly hold cold foods so they don’t fall into the danger zone:

  • Ensure your cold-holding equipment is designed to keep foods at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
  • With the exception of fruits, vegetables, and molluscan shellfish, never place food directly on ice. This can cause bacteria to grow on the ice and create cross-contamination.
  • Keep food covered to protect from contaminants.
  • Cold food may be held without refrigeration for up to 6 hours starting from the time it was removed from refrigeration at a temperature below 41 degrees.
  • Discard any cold food that reaches a temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Cold Food Storage

In addition to holding and serving cold foods, it’s important to know how long you can store cold foods before they become unsafe for consumption. Always date label your refrigerated foods and use a first-in, first-out (FIFO) system. Use this chart as a reminder of how long items can be safely kept before they must be discarded.

Food Item Refrigerator (40°F) Freezer (0°F)
Bacon 1 week 1 month
Beverages 3 weeks unopened, 7-10 days opened 8-12 months
Cheese – hard (Swiss) 3-4 weeks 6 months
Cheese – soft (brie) 1 week 6 months
Chicken, egg, macaroni, and tuna salad 3-4 days Do not freeze
Cottage cheese 1 week Do not freeze
Dough – cookie Use by date 2 months
Dough – tube cans of rolls, biscuits, pizza dough Use by date Do not freeze
Egg substitutes – opened 3 days Do not freeze
Egg substitutes – unopened 3 days 1 year
Eggs – fresh in shell 3-5 weeks Do not freeze
Eggs – hard cooked 1 week Do not freeze
Fish – fatty (salmon) 1-2 days 2-3 months
Fish – lean (cod) 1-2 days 6 months
Ground meats – raw 1-2 days 3-4 months
Ham – fully cooked, slices 3-4 days 1-2 months
Ham – fully cooked, whole 1 week 1-2 months
Hot dogs – opened 1 week 1-2 months
Hot dogs – unopened 2 weeks 1-2 months
Luncheon meats – opened 3-5 days 1-2 months
Luncheon meats – unopened 2 weeks 1-2 months
Margarine 4-5 months 12 months
Mayonnaise – opened 2 months Do not freeze
Milk 1 week 3 months
Poultry – cooked 3-4 days 2-6 months
Poultry – fresh, chicken or turkey 1-2 days 6 months
Prepared leftovers 3-4 days 2-3 months
Sausage – raw 1-2 days 1-2 months
Sausage – cooked 1 week 1-2 months
Steaks, chops, and roasts – raw 3-5 days 4-6 months

Safe Temperatures for Cooking Meat

To prevent the spread of salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, listeria, and other dangerous bacteria, it’s important to closely monitor the internal temperature of the meat you serve.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) recommends the following meat and poultry temperatures to ensure food safety:

Category Food Temperature Rest Time
Ground Meat and Meat Mixtures Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb 160° None
Turkey, Chicken 165° None
Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb Steak Roasts, Chops 145° 3 minutes
Poultry Chicken & Turkey, Whole 165° None
Poultry Breasts, Roasts 165° None
Poultry Thighs, Legs, Wings 165° None
Duck & Goose 165° None
Stuffing (Cooked Alone or in Bird) 165° None
Pork and Ham Fresh Pork 145° 3 minutes
Fresh Ham (Raw) 145° 3 minutes
Precooked Ham (To Reheat) 140° None
Eggs and Egg Dishes Eggs Cook until yolk and white are firm None
Egg Dishes 160° None
Leftovers and Casseroles Leftovers 165° None
Casseroles 165° None
Seafood Fin Fish 145°, or cook until flesh is opaque (no longer transparent) and easily separates with a fork None
Shrimp, Lobster, and Crabs Cook until flesh is pearly and opaque None
Clams, Oysters, and Mussels Cook until shells open during cooking. None
Scallops Cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm None

What Do You Need to Know About Resting Time for Meats?

Before taking temperatures, it’s important to note the rest time required when removing meat from the grill, oven, or other heat source. During this time, the temperature will remain consistent or continue to rise. This process helps to destroy harmful germs.

It’s every food service operator’s top priority to keep the food they’re serving safe for consumption. Following these important tips and guidelines will ensure your managers and staff have the knowledge to keep food out of the danger zone, take corrective action, and keep customers safe from harmful foods.

Trading Standards Institute Advice

This leaflet is for all food businesses, including those involved in food preparation and production, retail premises, catering, restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaway and fast-food shops or businesses working from home.

What is temperature control?
Temperature control is the term used for making sure food is kept at a temperature that will keep it safe and limit the possibility of food poisoning. Using temperature control correctly helps to increase the shelf life of food and so reduce wastage and costs. These are important factors in your business.

What happens if food temperature is not controlled?
There are two groups of micro-organisms that can cause problems: pathogenic and spoilage organisms.

Pathogenic organisms cause food poisoning. They are micro-organisms that can contaminate food and make you ill. You can’t see pathogens or know that they are there – food will look, smell and taste completely normal. Symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhoea, appear later if the food was contaminated and unsafe.

Spoilage organisms cause food to deteriorate and eventually to go off. They do not usually make you ill, but increase food wastage and costs.

Both groups of organisms are able to multiply to high levels in a warm environment. With spoilage organisms it is usually quite easy to tell that food is going off – it may change in colour, texture, smell or taste and in some cases show signs of mould or mildew. People will not want to eat it.

The pathogenic organisms are more of a problem because you cannot see, taste or smell them. They can multiply quickly at temperatures between 5°C and 63°C – known as the danger zone (the temperature range within which bacteria grow most efficiently). If they do multiply, they may reach levels that could cause food-related illness.

To limit the growth of both these groups, you should always keep food at temperatures either below 5°C or above 63°C. This gives the bacteria as little chance as possible to grow. Average room temperature is approximately 21°C – an ideal temperature for bacteria to multiply.

What do I need to do?
Identify dishes and products that you think are high risk. ‘High risk’ is the term used for food that is most likely to cause food poisoning. High-risk food is usually food that contains protein, but also includes rice and pasta and especially any food that is prepared ready to eat, such as quiche or cream cakes.

It is important that all food handlers are trained to identify high-risk food and know how to process it safely. One of the main causes of food poisoning is not cooking things properly.

When you buy food it will have a ‘use by’ date, which shows that it has a short shelf life and is dangerous to eat past the date shown. Remember to apply the same stock-rotation rules for foods that you have prepared and stored. Use older products before newer ones.

Think about your storage equipment and whether there is enough equipment for all the food and dishes you need to store chilled. You may need some fridges for storage and some for display.

You must check and record the temperatures of these fridges regularly to make sure they are working properly and are keeping the food cold.

By law, the temperature of chilled high risk food must always be 8°C or below. If the law was based on the lowest temperature at which organisms could grow, storage temperatures would be very low (some can multiply at minus temperatures). Remember, the law refers to the temperature of the food, not the temperature setting of the fridge.

For pathogens, although 8°C is in the danger zone, bacteria will only grow slowly at this temperature. So at 8°C, or preferably below, food will be safe for at least a couple of days. The law also makes allowances for companies that have food with specific storage requirements and for food where the quality spoils if it is kept too cold, for example pastry goods, cheese and salad.

The operating temperature of a general storage fridge where a range of high-risk chilled food is stored must be set to operate at an air temperature of between 1°C and 4°C. This will ensure that high risk chilled food stored in the fridge can be maintained at a food temperature of 8°C or below (the legal requirement).

Fridge / chilled food temperatures should be checked at least twice a day; therefore an effective system for monitoring and recording the temperature of your fridge / chilled high risk food must be in place. This can be done by first checking your fridge to make sure that it is working properly, the air temperature shown on the fridge display or independent air temperature thermometer inside the fridge should be between 1°C and 4°C.
You should check at least twice a day. The most important reading is the one you take first thing in the morning. The fridge will have been closed for a long time and should give the fridge display or air temperature thermometer should show an air temperature reading between 1°C and 4°C depending on the temperature you have set the fridge to operate at. Any reading above this, shows that the fridge is not working properly and you need to find out why. A reading taken later in the day will probably be higher as you will have been opening and closing the fridge as you use it. Each time you open the fridge, warm air from the room replaces cold air in the fridge and warms it up.

By law the temperature of chilled food must always be 8°C or below. If you have any doubts about the reliability of your fridge you should check the temperature of the food stored in the fridge using a clean digital probe thermometer. Probe thermometers should be cleaned using probe wipes before being inserted into food.

The following methods can be used to check the air temperature in fridges or the temperature of chilled high risk food in your fridge:

  • the temperature on the visual display on the fridge, the reading should between 1°C and 4°C
  • an independent internal fridge thermometer to measure air temperature, the reading should between 1°C and 4°C
  • a digital probe thermometer inserted into a dummy food sample, e.g. a block of unmade jelly or similar
  • you can check the temperature of food before you remove it from your fridge when you are doing your stock rotation, e.g. food you are throwing away because it has passed its shelf life or use by date (both of the methods in ‘c’ and ‘d’ will provide a representative food temperature of the food in your fridge. Food temperatures must be 8°C or below)

You should open the fridge as little as possible, and always close it immediately. Never leave the door open while you use something from it – for example, putting milk in tea.

Never put a fridge next to kitchen equipment that produces heat, such as an oven or griddle. Always make sure that there is enough ventilation, so that the unit can work properly and not overheat.

Some fridges have a built-in digital thermometer that displays the temperature on the outside of the fridge. It is important to remember that these thermometers are not always accurate. Other fridges may just have a range of settings you can use, but these settings do not normally relate to specific temperatures. You can take an exact reading by placing a thermometer on the inside of the fridge or by using a probe thermometer.

If you are worried that the fridge is too warm, check the temperature of the food itself. The air temperature inside the fridge may change, but the cold food will hold temperature for longer, so although the fridge is warm the food is still at a safe temperature to keep.

How do I store cold food safely?
All food handlers must make sure that, wherever possible, high-risk food is kept cold.

By law, the longest period of time that you can keep food out of chill storage is four hours – this usually means when food is on display such as on a buffet. You can only keep food out of cold storage for a single four-hour period

It is good practice for all food handlers to make sure that food is kept cold and the time out of the fridge is kept to a minimum. This means you must only remove food to prepare or serve it – at all other times it must be safely stored.

When you store any food in the fridge, you must:

  • cover it to protect it from contamination
  • label it so that everyone knows what it is
  • date it so you can make sensible decisions about your stock rotation and whether the food is safe to use

It is also important to keep your fridges clean and, if necessary, to defrost them. Most modern fridges are ‘frost free’, which means they are designed defrost automatically and prevent a build-up of ice which may stop them working properly. You should also make sure that refrigerators are serviced regularly.

A quick reminder
Remember, it is a criminal offence to use food that is not fit for people to eat. By using spoiled, out-of-date or unsafe food you are risking your customers’ health and your reputation. If in doubt, throw it out.

More information
You will find further guidance in our other leaflets on this website. Information can also be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Alternatively, contact your local environmental health service for advice.

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance.

© 2020 itsa Ltd.

Refrigerator temperatures do not destroy pathogenic or spoilage microorganisms. The lower temperature does, however, slow the growth of microorganisms already in the food. Perishable food will deteriorate, even at refrigerator temperatures, due to spoilage microorganisms, enzymes and oxidation. Time and temperature are important factors in food quality. Here are more tips:

  • Maintain your refrigerator between 34°F and 40°F. Refrigerator thermometers are available to help monitor the temperature inside the appliance. See more on thermometers.
  • Use food quickly, and don’t expect food to remain high-quality for the maximum length of time. Opened and partially used items usually deteriorate more quickly than unopened packages.
  • Foil, plastic wraps or bags or airtight containers are the best choices for storing most foods in the refrigerator. Open dishes may result in refrigerator odors, dried-out foods, loss of nutrients and mold growth.
  • Don’t stack foods tightly or cover refrigerator shelves with foil or any material that prevents air circulation from quickly and evenly cooling the food.
  • Some foods, including milk, meats and leftovers, should be kept colder than others.
  • The coldest part of the refrigerator is usually the area nearest the freezer compartment, but a refrigerator thermometer will provide an accurate check for each appliance.

Freezer Storage

Keep your freezer at zero degrees (0°F) or below to maintain the quality of frozen foods.
Most foods will maintain good quality longer if the freezer temperature is -10°F to -20°F. At temperatures between 0°F and 32°F, food deteriorates more rapidly. Fluctuating temperatures, such as those in self-defrosting freezers, also may damage food quality. Do not plan to store frozen foods for the maximum suggested time if your freezing unit cannot maintain zero degree temperatures. Even foods stored properly will lose color, texture, flavor and nutritional quality but will not cause food-borne illness.

Freezer temperatures, however, do not destroy pathogenic or spoilage microorganisms, which will begin growing under warmer temperature conditions. When frozen foods are thawed at room temperature, the surface of the food warms enough for microorganisms to grow and multiply.

If your freezer does not have a built-in thermometer, check the temperature frequently.

  • One easy way to estimate the freezer’s temperature is to check the consistency of ice cream stored inside the compartment. If the ice cream is not brick-hard, the temperature of your freezer is too warm.
  • A warning light or other device may be installed to warn you if the freezer is not operating correctly. A plug protector may be used to keep the electrical plug in the outlet.

Time is an important factor in maintaining high-quality frozen foods. Frozen foods will not last forever. The chart on the associated page lists the maximum length of storage times to help you maintain quality food products.

  • Label frozen food items, maintain a rotation system and use the items with the oldest dates first.
  • Allow proper air circulation in the freezer.