How To Store Pet Food: 7 Ways To Keep Your Pet's Food Fresh and Safe

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Jun. 1, 2023

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Feeding a nutritious diet is one of the most important things you can do to keep pets healthy and happy. That said, high-quality dog and cat foods are expensive. Knowing how to store pet foods properly can help you reduce waste, prevent food-borne illness, and save you money.

Check Expiration Dates

Most types of unopened wet or dry pet food remain fresh for quite a long time. Check the label of your dog or cat food. You should be able to find a best-by or best-before date printed there. While pet foods certainly don’t go bad the day after this date, you also don’t want to buy so much food at one time that you’re still reaching into the same bag months after these dates have passed. Aim to buy a new bag of food at least every four to six weeks.

Never feed your dog or cat foods that appear spoiled or contaminated. Throw out bulging cans or any food that looks or smells “off.” The most common signs of food-borne illnesses are vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, and abdominal discomfort.

Keep Pet Food in Sealed Containers

Once pet food has been opened, it rapidly starts to become less fresh—and the risk of contamination starts to increase. This is especially true of wet pet foods. Once you open a can, pouch, or tray of wet food, it can start to spoil within just a few hours at room temperature.

Open containers can be sealed (can covers are a convenient method) and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you need to keep opened wet food longer than this, freeze meal-size portions for several months and thaw them in the refrigerator as you need them.

And while dry foods remain safe at room temperature much longer than wet foods, putting the bag in a sealed container will keep them fresher longer, and protect them from insects, rodents, water, curious animals, and kids. Purchase a pet food container big enough to hold one bag of food but not much more. Minimizing the food’s contact with air and the elements is the best way to keep it fresh.

It's usually better to place the bag directly into the pet food container rather than dumping the kibble in. Pet food bags are designed to help keep the food fresh, and if you roll the top of the bag over, you essentially get a second layer of protection for free. If you do pour the food into the container keep the bag or take a picture of the label (including the best-by date and UPC) in case of a food recall or other issues.

Ensure Pet Food Bags Are Sealed Tightly

If you don’t want to purchase a pet food container, keep your dog or cat food in the bag it came in. After you’ve scooped out a meal-size serving, tightly roll the open top of the bag and secure it with a bag clip. This will minimize the food’s exposure to air and help keep bugs out. Store the bag off the floor in a cool and dry location.

Keep Food and Treats Secure

Pet food bags that aren’t stored in a sealed container should be placed in a cupboard so dogs and cats can’t help themselves to extra meals. Use a cabinet latch if you have to!

Don’t forget about treats and flavored medications. These can smell especially enticing and pose a special risk to pets if they get into too much at one time. Decorative treat jars may not do much to keep prying noses and paws out, either. Shatter-resistant, air-tight treat jar options offer more protection. 

Don't Leave Food Out Too Long

Concerns about safety and freshness don’t end once pet food is in a bowl. In a perfect world, dogs and cats would eat all the food offered to them in one sitting, leaving behind a bowl that has been licked clean—but this isn’t always what happens.

Wet pet foods start to spoil quickly at room temperature. Pick up any uneaten portions of a wet meal after four hours. Dry foods shouldn’t be left out in a bowl for more than 24 hours. Exposure to air, humidity, bacteria from the environment, and your pet’s mouth can significantly degrade your pet’s food.

Wash Food Containers and Bowls Regularly

Bowls or plates used to serve wet foods should be washed between each use. Dry food bowls and water bowls need to be dumped out and washed in soapy water at least once a week. Scum that builds up on the bottom of unwashed bowls can harbor mold and bacteria that not only make food and water smell and taste bad but could also make your pet sick.

Pet food and treat storage containers should also be cleaned regularly. If the food has direct contact with the container, dump out crumbs, wash the container with soapy water, and make sure it’s thoroughly dry before emptying a new bag into it. Wash out the container whenever it looks a little bit “grungy."

Don't Let Kids Touch Pet Food

Finally, minimize human contact with pet food. Despite manufacturers’ best efforts, dog and cat foods are sometimes contaminated with pathogens like salmonella and listeria that can make humans sick. The very young and immunocompromised are at the highest risk. Conversely, we can introduce bacteria and other disease-causing microorganisms into our pet’s food when we handle it. It’s best to wash your hands both before and after handling your pet’s food.

How To Store Pet Food FAQs

Is it safe to store pet food in plastic containers?

Plastic food containers are a safe way to store pet foods. Look for BPA-free options made from food-grade plastic. For an extra layer of protection, place the bag of food directly into the container rather than dumping the food directly out and having it come into contact with the plastic.

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Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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