An Extensive Guide to the Shelf Life of Your Food

Most of us have experienced the disappointment of opening the refrigerator door to find an item of food that has developed a tinge of green mold or an unappealing black film. Even the most fastidious of housekeepers can struggle to determine the optimum shelf life of foods stored in the refrigerator, which can lead to moldy cheese, spoiled milk and other wasted food. So, here we provide an extensive guide to determine the optimum shelf life of your food.

Image of an open refrigerator

Dairy Products

Most dairy items develop an unpleasant smell when they start to go bad. If any items start to smell bad, it’s a sure sign it’s time for it to go in the garbage. The typical shelf life for dairy items include:

  • 3 weeks for eggs
  • 7 days for milk
  • 1 week for soft cheese
  • 2 weeks for cream cheese
  • 7 to 21 days for sour cream
  • 7 to 14 days for yogurt

Certain products will have a different shelf life depending on whether they are still sealed in their original packaging or have been opened. This includes:

  • Mozzarella or Cheddar cheese that can be kept for up to 6 months in sealed packaging.
  • Margarine can be kept for 4 months unopened or a month opened. Butter up to 3 months unopened or 3 weeks opened.

Meats & Fish

There are two telltale signs that meat has gone bad. If your meat has developed a smell or has changed color, it is best to err on the side of caution.

Certain meats such as fresh hamburger, chicken, and fresh fish only have a shelf life of 2 days in the refrigerator. Others, such as steak, pork chops, roasts and cooked fish can last for 3 to 5 days. Processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, breakfast sausages, cooked ham or lunch meats can usually last for up to a week.


Vegetables tend to be quite durable in the refrigerator, but there are some items that can be particularly perishable. Onions and hardier vegetables can last for up to 2 months, but fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, spinach and other delicate vegetables will usually last a week or less.


If fruit has a mushy, soft appearance or has developed an odd taste, it is likely to be past its best.

  • Canned fruits can usually last 3 days
  • Apples are good for up to 3 weeks
  • Avocados up to 10 days
  • Berries up to 3 days
  • Bananas 2 to 7 days
  • Grapes up to 2 weeks
  • Melons a week
  • Watermelon up to 8 days
  • Some fruits have a much longer lifespan and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks. This includes oranges, limes, lemons, and grapefruit.


You need to keep a close eye on leftovers. These items tend to be pushed in the back of your refrigerator and can quickly go bad. Generally, you can keep meat leftovers for up to 4 days, gravy for a day or two and pizza for up to 4 days.


Items Finally, don’t forget those items that sit in your refrigerator door, tucked in the back of the shelves. Many of these items can last for months, such as jams, jellies, and condiments, but it is still worth keeping an eye on how long those jars have been sitting in your refrigerator.

Taking note of the dates of shopping trips is a good way to keep track of perishable items and avoid spoilage. Where possible use the recommended storage methods to optimize lifespan and stay on top of any items that could spoil quickly. It is also a good idea to mark any packages of leftovers with the date, so you can ensure that they are eaten before they spoil. Finally, make sure your refrigerator is providing an even cool temperature to prolong the lifespan of any stored items.

There are a myriad of refrigerator repair problems that could compromise the lifespan of your produce. For an effective solution to minimize waste, you should seek help from a professional home appliance repair technician.