Click here for Carolina Meadows Re-Opening Plan.

Food Waste & Food Safety
Sarah Ondrish

Written by Sarah Ondrish, a UNC dietetic intern currently at Carolina Meadows for her food service management rotation.

  • It is estimated that up to 30-40% of food in the U.S. is never eaten. That’s about 220 pounds of food per year per person!
  • Most of the uneaten food ends up in landfills, where it produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
  • Food spoilage is one of the biggest reasons why food is thrown out—it doesn’t help that food dating labels can be confusing (see below for more info about dating labels)

Benefits of Reducing Food Waste

  • Reduce methane emission & lower your carbon footprint
  • Conserve energy & resources
  • Save money

Food Safety: Product Dating

  • Product dating involves stamping a date on a product’s package to help the store determine how long they can keep the product for sale and help the buyer know the time limit to buy or use the product at its best quality.
  • 3 common product labels: “Use by,” “Sell by,” and “Best by/before.”
  • Follow the “Use by” date if it is provided.
  • If there is no date or just a “sell by” date, cook or freeze the product by the time included in the storage charts (see storage charts below).
“Sell by”“Use by”“Best by/before”
This date tells the store how long they can display the product for sale.   It does not pertain to safety, but you should buy the product before this date passes.
This date refers to the last date recommended to use the product while at its peak quality.   This date does not pertain to safety.              
This date indicates when the product will have its best flavor or quality.   It is not a safety or purchase date.  

Food Safety: Safe Storage

Regardless of the date provided on the food packaging, food requiring refrigeration should always be handled properly and kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below in the refrigerator.

To see if a food item has gone bad, check to see if it has an off odor, flavor, or appearance, but when in doubt, throw it out!

Below are tables on how long you should store certain food items in your refrigerator or pantry.

Shelf Stable Food Storage Chart

Table adapted from Shelf-Stable Food Safety | Food Safety and Inspection Service ( (click on this link for a more extensive list)

Food ItemStorage on Shelf
Low-acid canned goods. Examples: canned meat & poultry, soups/stews (except tomato), spaghetti products, potatoes, corn, carrots, spinach, beans, beats, peas, pumpkin2-5 years
High-acid canned goods. Examples: juices, tomatoes, grapefruit, pineapple, apples & apple products, mixed fruit, peaches, pears, berries, pickles, sauerkraut, vinegar-based sauces12-18 months
Tuna and other seafood in pouches18 months
Meat or poultry in pouchesUse manufacturer’s recommendation on the package
Rice and dried pasta2 years

Refrigerator Storage Chart

Table adapted from (click on this link for a more extensive list)

Food ItemRefrigerator
Fresh eggs, in shell3-5 weeks
Hard cooked eggs1 week
Deli & Vacuum-Packed Products
Store-prepared (or homemade) egg, chicken, tuna, ham, macaroni salads3-5 days
Store-cooked convenience meals3-4 days
Raw Hamburger, Ground & Stew Meat
Hamburger, stew meats, ground turkey, pork, lamb1-2 days
Ham, Corned Beef
Corned beef in pouch with pickling juices5-7 days
Ham, fully cooked, slices3-4 days
Hot Dogs & Lunch Meats
Hot dogs, opened package1 week
Hot dogs, unopened package2 weeks
Lunch meats, opened package3-5 days
Lunch meats, unopened package2 weeks
Soups & Stews
Vegetable or meat-added & mixtures3-4 days
Bacon & Sausage
Bacon7 days
Sausage, from raw meat1-2 days
Sausage breakfast links, patties7 days
Fresh Meat (Beef, lamb, pork)
Steaks, chops, roasts3-5 days
Meat Leftovers
Cooked meat & meat dishes3-4 days
Fresh poultry, chicken or turkey1-2 days
Cooked poultry dishes3-4 days
Fish & Shellfish
Fresh fish or shellfish1-2 days
Cooked fish3-4 days

Reducing Waste While Still Being Safe

  • Plan meals ahead—if you end up having some food leftover, plan on having your leftovers the next day instead of planning on making or buying another meal.
  • Share a meal with someone.
  • Keep the storage charts handy so you can quickly reference them!

Food Hoarding

This section written by Ana Lategan, Social Work Team Leader at Carolina Meadows.

Hoarding is described as the excessive accumulation of possessions due to a perceived need to save them. With regards to food, it can be very difficult for some people to throw out uneaten and unused grocery items.

How might you see this behavior manifested in our community?

  • You might notice that your loved one, friend or neighbor is purchasing surplus quantities of just one item
  • Or that their refrigerator is filled with CM Dining containers (especially: fruit cups, soups, desserts and pieces of bread) from several weeks ago; some even covered in mold
  • Or that there is a collection of water/soda bottles or cans in the home

Food hoarding can be due to a variety of reasons including dementia, a traumatic life event, or other mental health condition. And it can lead to poisoning. So if you see something, say something! Please contact one of the Social Workers at Carolina Meadows.



text size

We'd Love to Hear From You

    We're here for you

    Ask COVID-19 Related Questions