What'll keep?

With consumers purchasing large quantities of food items during the coronavirus pandemic, Erin Ruggierio, Medina County Extension Service Family and Consumer Science educator, offers consumers some storage safety guidelines.

For most of us, our refrigerators, freezers and pantries are full of food in hopes that we’ve squirreled away enough to last us though the coronavirus pandemic.

On the other hand, you may be asking yourself how long will all of those “pandemic” groceries will be safe to eat? The answers can vary greatly, according to Erin Ruggiero, Ohio State University's Medina County Extension family consumer science educator.

In fact, Ruggiero said there’s even “an app for that!”

When contacted by The Post, Ruggiero herself was working from home – like many are these days – but was happy to answer a whole list of questions regarding food safety. She provided guidelines for storage of the most common foods and pointed out that food storage safety guidelines for all foods are available on the web at Foodsafety.gov as well as a free USDA App called Foodkeeper.

As a general rule, Ruggiero advised consumers to look at the “sell by” or “use by” date stamped on the product. Ruggiero reviewed storage guidelines for some of the most popular foods starting with dairy products. A big favorite with consumers are eggs and these can be stored in their shells for three to five weeks, but freezing eggs still in their shells is not recommended. Hard boiled eggs can be refrigerated for one week.

“It’s not a good idea to leave eggs out on your counter for more than two hours because after that time eggs begin to sweat and form bacteria on their shells,” said Ruggiero. “With Easter coming up, it may be tempting to leave colored eggs on display, but that is not advisable, you need to refrigerate colored hardboiled eggs.”

Ruggiero said some people think it is safe to leave butter on a counter at room temperature until it’s used up. She said butter should be left out at room temperature for no more than a day or two. In the refrigerator, butter can be stored for 1-2 months and stored in the freezer 6-9 months.

“While most people are very used to looking at the ‘use by’ date on cow’s milk, almond milk has become very popular,” said Ruggiero. “Once opened, almond milk can be refrigerated for seven to 10 days. Yogurt, also very popular, can be refrigerated for a week or two. Shredded mozzarella cheese, used in many casserole recipes, can be refrigerated for up for a month.”

In regards to meat, all types should be stored in the refrigerator once purchased. Ground beef needs to be used within one to two days of purchase as well as fresh chicken. Freshly-sliced deli meats should be used within 3-5 days (pre-packaged deli meats are good for up to two weeks.) Ruggiero said you have a little more storage time with a freshly baked ham, good for about a week in a refrigerator.

When freezing foods, Ruggiero advised to use plastic freezer bags. Frozen foods not only allow for much longer storage time but are just as nutritious as fresh produce. Guidelines for storage of frozen meats are as follows: beef, 3-4 months; raw poultry, 9 months; boneless pork, 4-12 months; and vegetables, 10-18 months. Bread can be frozen for three to four months.

“You can extend the life of frozen foods a little, but they might not taste as good,” she added.

For pantry items, such as sugar and floor, Ruggiero advised a storing time of 18-24 months. She added that some canned goods can be good for two years but to always follow the date stamped on the can.

Ruggiero urges consumers to go to the web or use the app for a complete list of food storage guidelines. And while a “use by” time for chocolate isn’t listed here, let’s just assume that’s not going to be around the house long enough to spoil in the first place.

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