Meal prep is the simplest way to ensure you eat well throughout the week, but just how long does prepared food stay fresh? That's the question we posed to Katie Heil, a certified professional in food safety (CP-FS) at StateFoodSafety.
Katie explained that prepared foods — such as cooked poultry and meats, salads, and soups and stews — should last in the refrigerator for three to four days. If you store meal prepped food in the freezer, it can last even longer — at least two months, in most cases. "Technically, because freezers halt bacterial growth, meal prepped foods that are kept frozen will stay safe to eat indefinitely," she told POPSUGAR. "Refrigerated foods are similarly protected because most bacteria multiply slower at fridge temperatures. With this in mind, the following recommendations are based on food quality and not necessarily food safety."
When it comes to the quality of a food, some simply don't fare as well in the freezer as others. "For example, cooked meats can last two to six months in the freezer, while soups and stews last two to three months," Katie said. "I wouldn't recommend storing salad in the freezer because it doesn't freeze well." Interestingly, she also explained that freezer burn is a sign that the quality of your food has been compromised, not so much that it's unsafe to eat. "You can still eat food that's been freezer burned, as long as you cut away the burned portions before eating it," Katie said. "If a food is heavily freezer burned, you may have to throw it away."
Of course, one of the most important factors in keeping food fresh is ensuring you store it properly. "The best way to store meal prepped foods is in an airtight container," she said. Even a plastic bag that seals can help keep harmful bacteria from multiplying. If you don't think you'll be able to eat what you've prepared in the next three to four days, store it in the freezer from the start.