Is the food in my cupboard, freezer or fridge safe to eat? – Sunday

We live in an “empty nest”. Our three children have been living alone for some time now.

Cooking for two can be a bit of a challenge after cooking for a family.

“Should I throw this away now?” asked my husband.

“The rest of the chili can go on the baked potatoes,” I replied.

I noticed the small amount of chili in a container in the fridge the next morning. He also doesn’t like to waste food.

As he ate his chili, I thought about the leftovers from the restaurant. In my to-go box was roast chicken, potatoes and other vegetables. I chopped up the leftovers, added some chicken stock and made a soup for two meals.

By the way, the standard shelf life of perishable foods in the refrigerator is four days. Remember “four-day disposal”.

As a food and nutritionist, I get asked questions about shelf life and food storage. People often find food in their fridge, freezer or cupboard and wonder if it’s still edible.

What would you do in each of these scenarios?

Scenario 1:

“I’ve noticed that many restaurants leave their ketchup on the tables all day. Why don’t they keep them in the fridge? I have two partially full bottles of ketchup in my fridge. They have been there for about five months. Is ketchup safe to eat?’

Ketchup is an “acidified food” so it is safe without refrigeration for some time after opening. Acidified food has an acid added to it, such as vinegar, to keep it safe longer at room temperature.

Bottles of ketchup may end up on restaurant tables because restaurants go through ketchup faster than people typically do at home. However, ketchup bottle labels usually indicate that the products should be refrigerated after opening.

Unopened ketchup in your pantry is best used within a year of purchase. After opening the bottle of ketchup, the USDA recommends that it be refrigerated for up to six months for best quality.

You are close to the usual time recommended for chilling your ketchup. You might want to consider making a few casual side dishes (or burgers or barbecues or whatever you call them) for an upcoming meal.

Scenario 2:

“I have spices in my cabinet that I got a few years ago. Are they safe to eat?’

Spices lose their flavor over time, but they do not become dangerous. You may need to add an extra amount of seasoning to get the same flavor.

Use whole spices within four years for best quality. Ground spices have a shorter shelf life. Use within three years for best quality.

Scenario 3:

“I have a frozen turkey in my freezer that I bought two years ago. Is it safe to use this year?”

As long as the food remains solidly frozen throughout its storage time, it is safe. Frozen food packaged for freezer storage in freezer bags, vacuum packs, or freezer containers will retain its quality (taste, texture) better than food that is not properly packaged.

For best quality, the USDA recommends using the turkey within a year of purchase, but your turkey is safe. Be sure to thaw the turkey in your refrigerator or under cold water. Cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit and measure the temperature in the thigh and breast. You may want to baste the turkey more often so it doesn’t dry out while roasting.

In general, try to use the food within a reasonable amount of time to keep it at its best. Do not forget to write the date of purchase of the packaged foods. Organize your pantry with the “oldest” food in front so it’s used first.

We’ve all seen the rise in grocery prices lately. Create menus based on what you have on hand to avoid food waste. Here’s a recipe that can use some fresh produce in your fridge, other items in your cupboard, and frozen ground beef from your freezer. See to learn more about food safety.

Hearty beef and lentil soup

  • 1 kilogram of lean beef
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 (4-ounce) can mushroom stems and pieces
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • ¾ cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup dry lentils (about 6 ounces)
  • 3 ¼ cups beef broth
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • Salt to taste)

Cook ground beef with onion and garlic. Drain off excess fat. Add the mushrooms (with the liquid) and the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer until lentils are tender, about 40 minutes. Add additional stock if desired for a thinner soup. This soup freezes well for later meals.
Makes six servings. With no added salt, each serving has 320 calories, 14 grams (g) fat, 24 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber and 630 milligrams sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson is a food and nutrition specialist at North Dakota State University and a professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Science. Follow her on Twitter



Julie Garden-Robinson writes a weekly column called Prairie Fare where she shares her knowledge of food and nutrition from her role at North Dakota State University Extension.

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