How long should you keep meat, fish and vegetables in the fridge?

Worried about whether you can eat the contents of your fridge? We guide you through the ins and outs of fridge safety

Keeping on top of a full fridge can be challenging.

If you’ve stocked your shelves with fresh fruit, veg and meat, packed up your leftovers, and have been for several shops throughout the week, it’s easy to lose track of the contents of your fridge.

But what can you salvage and what should you scrap? Here are some handy tips…

Stay cool

Make sure you keep the temperature of your fridge at 5degrees C or below. Fridge thermometers can be bought for less than £5 and will give you an accurate reading if you’re not sure how the dials on your fridge work.

[Read more: How to organise your fridge to keep food fresher for longer]

“Keeping your fridge at 5C or below prevents harmful germs from growing and multiplying,” says as spokesperson for the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

“Ensure food has cooled down before you put it in the fridge and don’t overfill your fridge as it allows air to circulate and maintains the set temperature.”

Bear in mind the best by and use by dates

“Use by dates are found on perishable products, such as dairy, meat and fish, and are based on scientific testing to determine how long these foods will stay safe,” says the FSA.

“After that date, food could be unsafe to eat even if it is stored correctly and looks and smells fine.”

So what about best before dates?

“Best before dates are used on foods that have a longer shelf life and tell us how long the food will be at its best,” explains the FSA.

“After that date it is normally safe to eat, but its flavour and texture might have deteriorated.

“It’s more risky to eat foods past their use by date, but with best before dates there is much more flexibility.”

Keep it clean

"Clean the refrigerator regularly and wipe spills immediately," says Mike Hinchcliffe, trading manager for approvedfood.co.uk, an online retailer selling clearance food, and a former food technologist.
"This helps reduce the growth of bacteria and prevents drips from thawing meat that can allow bacteria from one food to spread to another."

Leftovers

If you’re boxing up leftovers, be sure to cool them down as soon as possible, refrigerate and eat within two days. It can be useful to stick a Post-It note on the container with the date on it so you know when you refrigerated it.

[Read more: Sell-by and best before dates – what’s the difference?]

Plan

It sounds like plain common sense, but thoroughly rifling through your fridge to see what you have before you do your food shop can save you money and ensure you waste less food.

If you know you’re not going to get through the food or freeze it, steer clear of offers like two for one on food with ‘use by’ dates.

The freezer is your friend

If you have food in your fridge that you know you won’t eat before its use by date and it’s still within that date range, check the packaging to see if it’s suitable for freezing.

Fruit and veg

It’s best to keep fruit and veg in their original packaging before sticking in the fridge. This means it’ll keep much longer than if stored in a fruit bowl. Bananas and pineapple are better off being stored outside the fridge, as are potatoes and onions. Wrap halved citrus fruits in cling film before refrigerating to keep them fresh.

Cheese

Wrap opened cheese in parchment, foil or in an air tight container to better preserve it.

Jams, pickles and sauces

There are varying rules on keeping opened jars of condiments in the fridge so the best course of action is to check the label for instructions.

Meat

“It’s important to store meat safely in the fridge to stop bacteria from spreading and avoid food poisoning,” says the FSA.

“Raw meat should be kept separate from cooked meat. Raw meat and poultry should be stored in clean, sealed containers and properly wrapped or covered on the bottom shelf of the fridge to avoid raw juices contaminating other foods.”

Open tins

“Never put open cans in the fridge, as the metal may transfer to the can's contents,” says the FSA. “Place the contents in a storage container or covered bowl instead.”

More from BT