I've been paying more attention to food safety but I don't understand how people remember exactly how long a given item has been sitting in the fridge.

If I want to make sure to stay safe, do I have to just write down what I bought/cooked/took out of the freezer and when? I have started doing that but I never used to and doubt that most people do that. Or do I just label everything?

  • I don't know if my question would be considered a duplicate of this one: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/17458/… But I still wonder if most people just estimate how old something is.
    – padma
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 4:50
  • 2
    Are you asking for methods/systems for remembering or keeping track down to the exact day, as your first sentence suggests? Or are you asking how people in practice keep track well enough for decent food safety purposes? Both of those seem like solid questions. The more general question of what people do and how much they actually care about super-careful food safety is more of a poll, and less of a good fit as a Stack Exchange question.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 5:53
  • 2
    Some people actually do label everything with a date. I can't say I am that diligent, but "mm/dd" on a piece of masking tape doesn't really take all that much effort for people who get into the habit of it.
    – Lorel C.
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 5:55
  • Just wondering because I seem to lose track of how old things are although in the past I wasn't too bothered. It seems that food safety guidelines are quite precise but without labeling or logging dates it's difficult to remember. I guess that I am asking the second question, how do people keep track well enough for food safety purposes?
    – padma
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 7:24
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    Thanks for clarifying. I've edited your question to try to match. Please edit further if there's anything you see to improve; I'm just trying to prevent getting even more answers that say "well here's what I do" rather than giving recommendations and explanations that meet your needs.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 21:35

3 Answers 3


Label everything with the date it goes in the fridge. That's about all there is to it. In my house we keep a marker and a roll of painter's tape in a drawer near the fridge, which makes labeling food easy; then you just stick to the system, religiously.

Incidentally, if it's not instantly obvious what's in a container (e.g., you have a container with opaque sides, or similar-looking substances like gravy and soup), put that information on the label as well.

  • In commercial kitchens there are even handy rolls of "day of the week" labels (printed and color-coded) with space for the date - perhaps overkill for home use.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 17:10

We write the date on every item we put in our freezers. Even better is to have a document (especially a spreadsheet) with all the freezer's contents and dates so you can look for things that are getting close to their date and use them prior to it.

For the refrigerator, if it's anything that might go bad before you use it, then yes, write it down if you can't remember. If I anticipate something won't get used before it goes past its time, I will freeze it if freezing is appropriate for that food.


One of the big advantages of meal planning (which for us just means writing meal names on a list) is that it helps you remember when leftovers are from. Did we make macaroni and cheese Monday, or Tuesday? Check the list.

In most cases you only need to remember for a few days. Things you cooked and put in the fridge are not good for longer than that, so you don't have to be able to remember whether it was 9 days ago or 10, either way it's going to be thrown out. Sometimes I will put mashed potatoes in the fridge and see there are some from an earlier meal already there; I throw those out immediately so there isn't confusion about which ones are from last night and which ones are from over a week ago.

When it comes to items you buy, either it has a best before on it (milk, cheese, sliced meat, eggs) or you can tell by looking (vegetables, fruit, bread.) As a result I see no need to add labels. The one exception is eggs, which I get from the farm in reused egg cartons, meaning the best before on the carton means nothing. I keep a little slip of paper on the fridge, and when I buy eggs I note the date and a description of the carton on the paper. (Eg "blue Burnbrae CSA Jul 7th.) CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it's where I get my eggs from. I would rather not write on the carton, because it's going back there when the eggs are finished.

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