We get our food from all sorts of places—grocery stores, restaurants, farms, relatives, our own gardens—and sometimes community food banks. In each and every case, food education plays an important role in our relationship with food and can protect us from getting sick from contaminated food.
This page is dedicated to providing health education resources and tools around food handling, preparation, and safety so that you know your food is safe for consumption. Food safety is a top priority at the Redwood Empire Food Bank and we work hard to ensure that all food distributed is safe to eat.
Foodborne illnesses are preventable. By implementing safe food practices at home you will ensure the health and safety of you and your loved ones.
“Best By” Information
The FDA does not require manufacturers to place any dates on food products. Is this necessary?
Best Before Date—The “Best Before Date” is, according to the manufacturer, the last day by which a product’s ﬂavor or quality is best, the optimal time of its shelf life for quality. The product may still be enjoyed after the “Best Before Date.”
Use By Date—The “Use By Date” is the last day the manufacturer vouches for the product’s quality. The use by date is the date recommended for peak quality. The food may be enjoyed after the “Use By Date.”
Sell By Date—The “Sell By Date” on a product is the item’s expiration date, the end of its shelf life at the store. This is the last date the stores are supposed to display the product for sale. Although the food product may be used and enjoyed past this date, it is not recommended to purchase a product if the “Sell By Date” has passed.
You can still use products for the amount of time indicated below after the “Best Before,” “Use By,” and “Sell By” dates. Keep shelf stable foods in a cool, dry place to extend shelf life.
Bread: Past Best By date, until sour or moldy, 6 months freezer
Butter: 1 month refrigerator, 6 months freezer
Canned Goods: 3 years in a cool, dry place
Cereal: 6 months
Cheese: shredded 1 week, hard block 6 months
Cottage Cheese: 5 days, 3 months frozen
Cream: 5 days, 2 months freezer
Cream Cheese: 3 weeks
Dried beans: indeﬁnite
Dried Fruits: 6 months pantry, 1 year refrigerator, indeﬁnite freezer
Eggs: 3 weeks
Flours: 6 months
Frozen Meals: 3 months
Frozen Protein: (beef, poultry, pork, ﬁsh) 2 years
Granola Bars: 6 months
Herbs & Spices: 1 year
Hot Dogs: 2 weeks refrigerator, 6 months freezer
Ice Cream: 1 month
Jam/Jelly: 6 months
Juice: 6 months
Ketchup: 1 year
Lunch Meat: Packaged 5 days
Mayonnaise: 3 months
Milk: 5 days after printed date
Mustard: 1 year
Oatmeal: 2 years
Oils: 1 year
Frozen Fruit/Veg: 1 year
Olives: 1 year
Peanut Butter: 1 year
Pickles: 1 year
Popcorn: Plain, indeﬁnitely; microwave, 6 months
Rice: White 4 years, brown 6 months
Salad Dressing: Creamy 1 month, oil-based 3 months
Salsa: 1 month
Shelf Stable Milk: 3 months
Snacks: (chips, crackers) 2 weeks
Sour Cream: 1 week
Tea: 6 months pantry, 1 year freezer
Tuna: 2 years pantry
Yogurt: 1 week
Storing Food Safely
Whether putting food in the refrigerator, freezer, or cupboard, you have plenty of opportunities to prevent foodborne illnesses. These food storage tips can help you steer clear of foodborne illnesses.
- Keep your appliances at the proper temperatures. Appliance thermometers are required, even if units have outside gauges. Keep the refrigerator temperature at or below 40° F (4° C). The freezer temperature should be 0° F (-18° C). Check and log temperatures at least once a week, daily if serving at risk clients, i.e. children, those with illnesses, and seniors.
- Refrigerate or freeze perishables right away. Foods that require refrigeration should be put in the refrigerator as soon as you have reached your storage destination. When putting food away, don’t crowd the refrigerator or freezer so tightly that air can’t circulate.
- 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.
- 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.
- Follow all recommended safe food handling practices—clean your hands, all food contact surfaces, and produce. Separate and store ready-to-eat foods above any raw foods requiring cooking to further reduce your risks of cross contamination and getting sick.
- Clean your refrigerator(s) 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.
- Store leftover cooked refrigerated foods in covered containers or sealed storage bags clearly marked with contents and date.
- 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.