Storage and safety tips for your coronavirus “supermarket stockpile”

I know many people stocked up on much more than just their “essential” groceries back in March when their state implemented a “stay-at-home” order, thanks to the coronavirus.

Well, now, as many states are beginning to lift those orders, it’s a good time to make use of what you had packed away. And I’ll give you a suggestion for one dish, in particular, in just a moment.

But first, let’s go over some basic guidelines for how long various foods stay fresh in the freezer and in the refrigerator…

Pull out those fruits and vegetables from the deep freezer

As you know, I prefer to keep most types of fruit right out on the counter. For one, I find that most fruits taste better at room temperature. They also don’t shock my teeth or taste buds when I bite into them. Plus, keeping fruit in view reminds me to enjoy some throughout the day. And since most fruits will only last on the counter for about a week, it encourages me to eat them before they get too ripe.

Now, if you stocked up and put some fruits into the fridge or freezer at the beginning of the stay-at-home order, or for any reason, here are some guidelines for how long they’ll stay fresh in colder storage:

Refrigerator Freezer
Apples 1-2 months 10-12 months
Bananas 5-7 days 2-3 months
Cantaloupes 3-5 days 10-12 months
Peaches 3-5 days 10-12 months


And many vegetables last even longer than fruits:

Refrigerator Freezer
Asparagus 3-4 days 12-18 months
Broccoli 3-5 days 12-18 months
Brussel Sprouts 3-5 days 12-18 months
Carrots 3-4 weeks 10-12 months
Cauliflower 1 week 12-18 months
Green Beans 3-5 days 12-18 months
Mushrooms 4-7 days 10-12 months


And of course, staples like onions and potatoes will stay fresh for many months if kept in the dark at room temperature. (Placing them in a paper bag in a pantry or in the basement will do too.)

Dairy and meat hold up in the freezer

I know a lot of people also stocked up on extra dairy a few months ago. Here are some guidelines for how long it will stay fresh:

Refrigerator Freezer
Butter 1 month after “sell by” date 6-12 mon
Block cheese (e.g. cheddar) 6 months 6-8 months
Milk 5-7 days after “sell by” date 3-4 months
Yogurt 1-2 weeks after “sell by” date 1-2 months


Of course, even though many types of full-fat dairy can stay fresh in your freezer, I find butter and cheese—like fruit—tastes best when served at room temperature. So, if you still have some cheese and butter packed in your deep freezer, pull out what you need for the week ahead and leave it out on the counter to enjoy!

Indeed, my French and Italian grandparents never refrigerated their cheeses. Instead, they brought them home from the market and kept them at room temperature under a glass dome. In my view, this simple habit encouraged them to enjoy cheese throughout the day, which I think contributed to their good health and long life.

In fact, as I’ve discussed before, cheese is a huge part of the healthy, balanced Mediterranean diet, which research links to lower chronic disease and mortality risk across the board.

Yet, for some reason, U.S. nutrition “experts” don’t seem to mention cheese as an integral part of the diet—perhaps since it doesn’t fit with their false narrative to avoid fat.

Of course, you can also keep meat and seafood in your freezer—now and even after stay-at-home orders are lifted. After all, some food manufacturers are predicting a shortage. So, stocking up may be a good idea now and in the months to come, too. Here are some guidelines:

Refrigerator Freezer
Bacon 7 days 1 month
Ground Beef 1-2 days 3-4 months
Chicken (whole) 1-2 days 1 year
Fish 1-2 days 3-8 months
Ham (Pre-Cooked; whole) 7 days 1-2 months
Pork (roasts & chops) 3-5 days 4-12 months
Shellfish 1-2 days 3-12 months
Steak 3-5 days 4-12 months


Now—try putting it all together

If any of the foods in your refrigerator or freezer are coming up on their deadline, you can pull them out and combine them to make a tasty stew, some Spanish paella, or Portuguese cataplana.

I actually did just this kind of big “clear out” back in 1980, on my last day in my apartment near Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.

I wanted to prepare a nice “thank you” dinner for friends who helped me move across town to a rowhouse that I had purchased in an old Italian neighborhood in Upper Darby.

So, I took the entire contents from my apartment freezer to the Portuguese restaurant on South Street called Caravella and asked them to make a paella for eight people with it.

They agreed and gave me a good price to prepare it. And they told me to come back on Tuesday night, since it would be slower for them.

As I recall, that Tuesday night did turn out to be rather slow at Caravella. It was Election Day, and most of the country was home watching the results come in for the presidential election between Ronald Reagan and incumbent Jimmy Carter.

At first, the mainstream media had been consistently predicting Carter’s re-election. Then, at most, it was to be a “close” election. And the final polls indicated a “neck and neck” race, right up until election night..

So, we enjoyed a leisurely dinner, thinking I would have plenty of time to get back to my new house and follow the election returns late into the night. (The television set was still sitting on top of its packing box, and I was sitting on a crate.)

But when I walked through the door and turned on the television, they were already calling the election for Reagan…and Carter had conceded before the polls in California had even closed.

This story just goes to show that we had “fake news,” even way back then. And while good food doesn’t stay fresh indefinitely, some political news stories, like this one, never seem to grow old.

P.S. For additional insight into how long certain foods stay fresh, take a look at the current issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“My ultimate ‘Spring Cleaning’ food storage guide”). Not yet a subscriber? All it takes is one click!