According to the USDA, approximately 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the U.S. goes to waste—so it’s important that we all do what we can to minimize how much of the food in our fridge, freezer, and pantry ends up in the garbage.
Different foods need to be stored differently, mainly due to their varying acidity levels and nutrient makeups. This is especially true when it comes to foods we turn to for protein. Tofu, which is made from soybean curds, for example, spoils much more slowly than animal products like chicken or beef. Engineered meat substitutes, such as Beyond Meat, meanwhile, also have specific storage requirements since they’re made up of a unique mix of ingredients.
To make the most of your proteins, keep these expert storage tips in mind.
Seafood of any kind should be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator at a maximum temperature of 41 degrees, notes Mary Opfer, R.D., C.D.N. professor at Pace University’s College of Health Professionals. In most refrigerators, the coldest spots are in drawers or in the lowest, most tucked-away parts of shelves.
“If fish is left out or stored above 41 degrees, it increases the chance of bacteria growth and can cause food-borne illness,” Opfer says.
After purchasing fresh fish from your local fish market or grocery store, the USDA recommends cooking it within a day or two. After cooking it, you can store it in a sealed container for three to four days, says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N.
In the freezer, “fatty fish like salmon and swordfish can last up to three months, while lean fish like cod and haddock can last four to eight,” she adds.
Just as with fish, Opfer recommends storing meat in the colder parts of your fridge at no warmer than 41 degrees. “Storing your red meat in the colder areas of your fridge will help keep it flavorful and moist, and decrease the likelihood of cross-contamination should the packaging leak,” she says. She also recommends placing your meat in a covered container or wrapping it in plastic, and stashing it raw in the fridge for three to five days maximum.
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Once cooked, the USDA recommends storing red meat for no more than three to four days before consuming it. If you’re not sure you’ll consume it during that time frame, put it in your freezer, where you can store it for up to six months.
When it comes to poultry, such as chicken or turkey, make sure you secure it tightly with plastic wrap, Opfer says. She suggests storing fresh poultry in the refrigerator for up to two days at no more than 41 degrees, and stashing it for another three to four days after it’s cooked.
If you plan on freezing poultry to eat at a later date, you’re in luck: You can store a whole turkey or chicken in the freezer for up to a year (and parts of chicken or turkey for up to nine months), according to Michels.
Eggs have a much longer shelf life than fresh meats, and can generally be stored in the refrigerator for up to five weeks, per the USDA. Just make sure to use the carton’s “sell by” date, not the date you purchased it, as your starting point, advises Nicole M. Avena, Ph.D., professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
And while it might be tempting to store eggs in that fancy container built into your refrigerator, Avena recommends keeping them in the carton you purchased them in, which can help reduce water loss and protect other flavors from getting into the eggs.
One of the benefits of this plant-based protein source is that it lasts longer in the fridge than most meats. In fact, most unopened tofu packages can last for a month or two before spoiling, says Michels. An opened package of raw tofu can typically last for up to five days. And once you’ve cooked it up, make sure to eat it within four or five days.
While freezing tofu definitely impacts its texture, you can freeze uncooked tofu for up to five months (and already-cooked tofu for up to three months), Michels says. “The best way to store tofu, whether in the fridge or freezer, is to cut it into cubes and keep it in an airtight freezer bag or container,” she suggests.
Made from soybeans like tofu, tempeh is a great source of protein that offers a little more storage flexibility than its soy-based cousin.
“Uncooked tempeh can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 days and can be kept in the freezer for up to 12 months before it could potentially cause foodborne illness,” says Avena. Once you’ve prepared your tempeh, keep it in the fridge and eat it within four days.
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She recommends keeping it in a sealed container and in a darker area of your fridge or freezer to prevent spoilage.
Whether homemade or store-bought, the best place to store your veggie burgers is in the freezer, unless you plan on consuming them within a day or two of making or buying them, notes Avena. “In the freezer, veggie burgers can stay good for up to six months, but store-bought ones also generally have a ‘best by’ date, which tells you when they won’t be at their peak quality anymore,” she says.
To avoid freezer burn, Avena recommends keeping store-bought burgers in the box or package they came in and popping homemade patties into a tightly-sealed container.
Are you a fan of Beyond or Impossible products? “Meat substitutes are generally less likely to be contaminated by bacteria, leading to a lower risk of food-borne pathogen infections,” says Avena. “However, if these substitutes are not stored correctly, the chance of getting food poisoning does increase as time goes on.”
You can store unopened plant-based burgers in the refrigerator for up to 10 days and in the freezer for several months. However, once a refrigerated burger package is opened, you should use it all within a span of three days.
Protein powders come in a variety of formulas and packaging but can generally be stored at room temperature, even if they’re meat- or bone-based, since all the liquid has been dehydrated from them, notes Opfer.
Still, she recommends checking the packaging for specific storage instructions and always keeping your protein powders in their original airtight containers and away from heat. “Be sure to tighten the lid so that moisture does not collect in the container and allow mold or bacteria to grow,” Opfer adds. Though a particular powder might not be spoiled or unusable after its “best by” date, it’s a good rule of thumb to use your tub or bag before then to ensure you’re consuming the product when it’s at its best.