Safe food storage

Eating a nutritious and balanced diet with plenty of variety is one of the best ways to protect your health. While the food we eat in Canada is among the safest in the world, some raw foods and their juices can be contaminated by bacteria, viruses and parasites (foodborne pathogens) which can make you sick. Every year, thousands of Canadians get food poisoning. Storing your food properly is one of the key things you can do to protect yourself and your family from foodborne illness.

Health risks

Some people can get foodborne illness, also known as "food poisoning", and not even know they have it. Food poisoning is caused by eating foods that are contaminated.

Symptoms can include:

  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • constipation
  • persistent fever

These symptoms can start suddenly, several hours or even days after you eat contaminated food. Most people recover completely from foodborne illness, but on rare occasions some people may suffer more serious effects. The groups at higher risk for serious health effects include pregnant women, children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 60, and people with weakened immune systems. You should see a health care professional and contact your local public health unit as soon as possible if you think you have a foodborne illness.

Safety tips

Storing food properly is an important part of protecting yourself and your family from food poisoning.

Did you know?

You can't tell if food is unsafe by its smell or taste. When in doubt, throw it out!


  • Buy cold or frozen food at the end of your shopping trip.
  • You can buy and eat foods after the best-before date has passed. Foods that are likely to spoil should be properly stored and they should be eaten as quickly as possible.
  • Keep your raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood away from other food in your grocery cart.
  • Examine fruits and vegetables carefully and avoid buying items that are bruised or damaged.
  • If you use reusable grocery bags or bins, make sure to use a specific bag or bin for meat, poultry or seafood. Label the bag or bin with the type of food it carries.


It is extremely important to keep cold food cold and hot food hot, so that your food never reaches the "temperature danger zone". This is where bacteria can grow quickly and cause food related illness.

  • Keep your raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood cold. Refrigerate or freeze them as soon as you get home from the grocery store.
  • Refrigerate fresh fruits and vegetables that need refrigeration when you get home. This includes all pre-cut and ready-to-eat produce.
  • Make sure your refrigerator is set at 4 °C (40 °F) or lower and your freezer at -18 °C (0 °F) or lower. This will keep your food out of the temperature danger zone between 4 °C (40 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F) where bacteria can grow quickly.
  • Keep your raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood separate from other food in the refrigerator at home. Do this by storing them in different containers.
  • Place raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood in sealed containers or plastic bags on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator so raw juices won't drip onto other food.

Fridge and freezer storage

The following recommended refrigeration times are for safety, and the freezing times are for quality. If you store properly wrapped food in your freezer the quality may be maintained for longer periods of time.

Fridge and freezer storage
Food Refrigerator at 4 °C (40 °F) or lower Freezer at - 18 °C (0 °F) or lower
Fresh meat
Beef 2-4 days 10 - 12 months
Pork 2-4 days 8 - 12 months
Lamb 2-4 days 8 - 12 months
Veal 3-4 days 8 - 12 months
Ground meat 1-2 days 2 - 3 months
Fresh poultry
Chicken/Turkey - whole 2-3 days 1 year
Chicken/Turkey - pieces 2-3 days 6 months
Fresh fish
Lean fish - cod, flounder etc. 3-4 days 6 months
Fatty fish - salmon etc. 3-4 days 2 months
Shellfish - clams, crab, lobster etc. 12-24 hours 2-4 months
Scallops, shrimp, cooked shellfish 1-2 days 2-4 months
Canned ham 6-9 months Don't freeze
Cooked ham 3-4 days 2-3 months
Bacon and sausages
Bacon 1 week 1 month
Raw sausage 1-2 days 1-2 months
Pre-cooked sausage links or patties 1 week 1-2 months
Hot dogs
Un-opened hotdogs 2 weeks 1-2 months
Opened hotdogs 1 week 1-2 months
Lunch meat and deli food
Un-opened lunch meat 2 weeks 1-2 months
Opened lunch meat 3-5 days 1-2 months
Deli packaged lunch meat 3-4 days 2-3 months
Deli or homemade salads 3-5 days Don't freeze
Cooked meat, stews, egg or vegetable dishes 3-4 days 2-3 months
Cooked poultry and fish 3-4 days 4-6 months
Meat broth and gravy 3-4 days 4-6 months
Soups 2-3 days 4 months
Frozen dinners
Keep frozen until ready to cook   3-4 months
Fresh in shell 3-4 weeks Don't freeze
Fresh out of shell 2-4 days 4 months
Hard-cooked 1 week Doesn't freeze well
Egg substitutes un-opened 10 days 1 year
Egg substitutes opened 3 days Don't freeze
Dairy products
Un-opened milk Best before date 6 weeks
Opened milk 3 days Don't freeze
Un-opened cottage cheese Best before date Doesn't freeze well
Opened cottage cheese 3 days Don't freeze
Un-opened yogurt Best before date 1-2 months
Opened yogurt 3 days Don't freeze
Soft cheese 1 week Doesn't freeze well
Semi-soft cheese 2-3 weeks 8 weeks
Firm cheese 5 weeks 3 months
Hard cheese 10 months 1 year
Processed cheese 5 months 3 months
Un-opened salted butter 8 weeks 1 year
Un-opened unsalted butter 8 weeks 3 months
Opened butter 3 weeks Don't freeze
Beans green or waxed 5 days 8 months
Carrots 2 weeks 10-12 months
Celery 2 weeks 10-12 months
Leaf lettuce 3-7 days Don't freeze
Iceberg lettuce 1-2 weeks Don't freeze
Spinach 2-4 weeks 10-12 months
Summer squash 1 week 10-12 months
Winter squash 2 weeks 10-12 months
Tomatoes Don't refrigerate 2 months


Cleaning your hands, kitchen surfaces and utensils, fruit and vegetables and reusable grocery bags will help eliminate bacteria and reduce the risk of food related illness.

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use one cutting board for produce, and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
  • Use paper towels to wipe kitchen surfaces, or change dishcloths daily to avoid the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria and avoid using sponges, as they are harder to keep bacteria-free.
  • Sanitize countertops, cutting boards and utensils before and after preparing food. Use a kitchen sanitizer (following the directions on the container) or a bleach solution (5 ml household bleach to 750 ml of water), and rinse with water.

How the Government of Canada protects you

The Government of Canada is committed to food safety. Health Canada establishes regulations and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of foods sold in Canada. Through inspection and enforcement activities, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency verifies that food sold in Canada meets Health Canada's requirements.

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