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When things in the fridge start to mold, ooze, or smell, you know it’s time to throw them out. But how do you avoid getting to that point?

How long do leftovers last?

According to the FDA Food Code, all perishable foods that are opened or prepared should be thrown out after 7 days, maximum. No leftovers should survive in your fridge for longer than that. Some foods should be even be thrown away before the 7 day mark. Refer to expiration dates and food safety guidelines to know how to handle specific foods. The chart below from is a useful guide for food in the fridge.

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How to make leftover food last longer

If you want your leftovers to last longer, freeze them. Just be sure to keep track of how long you had it in the fridge before you put it in the freezer. Freezing stops bacterial growth in its tracks like a car at a red light. When you thaw your food, however, the light turns green and bacterial growth continues from where it left off. So, according to the chart below, steak that was in the fridge for 3 days before it was frozen will be good for 1 to 2 days after it is thawed. Remember that frozen foods are safe indefinitely, so the following guidelines for freezer food refer to food quality, not safety.

Check out our chart to see if there’s any food in your fridge or freezer that needs to be thrown out.

CategoryFoodRefrigerator(40 °F or below)Freezer(0 °F or below)
SaladsEgg, chicken, ham, tuna, & macaroni salads3 to 5 daysDoes not freeze well
Hot dogsOpened package1 week1 to 2 months
Unopened package2 weeks1 to 2 months
Lunch meatOpened package or deli sliced3 to 5 days1 to 2 months
Unopened package2 weeks1 to 2 months
Bacon & sausageRaw bacon7 days1 month
Raw sausage made from chicken, turkey, pork, or beef1 to 2 days1 to 2 months
Hamburger & other ground meatsRaw hamburger, ground beef, turkey, veal, pork, lamb, & mixtures of them1 to 2 days3 to 4 months
Raw beef, veal, lamb, & porkSteaks3 to 5 days6 to 12 months
Chops3 to 5 days4 to 6 months
Roasts3 to 5 days4 to 12 months
Raw poultryChicken or turkey, whole1 to 2 days1 year
Chicken or turkey, pieces1 to 2 days9 months
Soups & StewsVegetable or meat added3 to 4 days2 to 3 months
LeftoversCooked meat or poultry3 to 4 days2 to 6 months
Chicken nuggets or patties3 to 4 days1 to 3 months
Pizza3 to 4 days1 to 2 months

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Learn about this and more in the Food Handler Course.

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— Suzanna Sandridge

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2014 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.