Shelf Storage - Food Safety - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Shelf Storage

Tips for storing food properly to help prevent foodborne illness.

On this page:
After opening
Cans and jars
Storage precautions
Labels and product dating


How long can shelf-stable foods be safely stored on the shelf?

  • According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), food can be safe forever from a foodborne-illness standpoint - but if shelf-stable food has been on the shelf for an extended period of time, you might not want to eat it because the quality may not be good.
    • In this case, the "best if used by" date on the label of the product is an indication whether or not the quality of the food is good.
  • Food quality deals with the taste, texture, and nutritional value of food.
    • For example, freezer burn, rancidity, and food spoilage are all quality-related issues.
  • The FDA does not require an expiration date for shelf-stable foods, since the storage time for these foods is a quality issue, not a food safety concern.
    Source: Excerpted from FDA/CFSAN Food Safety A to Z Reference Guide, September 2001.

After opening

  • Always check the labels on cans or jars to determine how the contents should be stored after opening.
  • Many items besides fresh meats, vegetables, and dairy products need to be kept cold.
  • For instance, mayonnaise and ketchup should go in the refrigerator after opening.
  • If you've neglected to refrigerate items, it's usually best to throw them out.
    Source: Excerpted from FDA Consumer - The Unwelcome Dinner Guest: Preventing Foodborne Illness

Cans and jars

  • Check canned goods to see whether any are sticky on the outside.
    • This may indicate a leak.
  • Newly purchased cans that appear to be leaking should be returned to the store.
    • The store should notify the FDA of the leaking can.
      Source: Excerpted from FDA Consumer - The Unwelcome Dinner Guest: Preventing Foodborne Illness

Storage precautions

  • Some precautions will help make sure that foods that can be stored at room temperature remain safe.
  • Potatoes and onions should not be stored under the sink because leakage from the pipes can damage the food.
  • Potatoes don't belong in the refrigerator, either. Store them in a cool, dry place.
  • Don't store foods near household cleaning products and chemicals.
    Source: Excerpted from FDA Consumer - The Unwelcome Dinner Guest: Preventing Foodborne Illness.

Labels and product dating

  • Food Freshness and 'Smart' Packaging: FDA
    Food freshness is a key characteristic of overall food quality. And overall food quality is the result of all the desirable characteristics that make food acceptable to eat. Therefore, being able to tell when food is fresh is vitally important, at home, in a grocery store, or when dining out.

  • Food Product Dating: USDA
    Are dates required on food products? Does it mean the product will be unsafe to use after that date? Here is some background information which answers these and other questions about product dating.

Updated Monday, 25-Nov-2019 15:39:23 CST