Most people believe that the date printed on the package is the deadline to throw it out. But according to Paul VanLandingham, member of Food and Beverage Management of Johnson & Wales University, “best by” dates refer to food quality, not safety. So you can safely eat more foods beyond their expiration dates.
If the printed dates don’t determine food safety, how do you know when to clean out your fridge? Here, we’ll go over the real expiration dates for raw meat, spices, cooking oils, and dairy products based on information provided by food safety experts.
Dry Pasta Remains Good Two Years Past The Printed Date
According to the US Department of Health & Human services, dry pasta remains fresh for two years in the pantry. If you’ve already opened the package, you should consume it within one year. Eat By Date offers the same estimate.
Because fresh pasta often contains eggs, it only lasts one to two days in the fridge. Cooked pasta, whether dry or fresh, lasts up to a week in the fridge. If you want it to last longer, you can keep it in the freezer for six to eight months.
Cook Eggs Within Three To Five Weeks
Packaging expiration dates reflect food quality, not safety. This rule is especially true for eggs, which can last in the refrigerator for three to five weeks. As a general rule, you can safely eat your eggs two to three weeks beyond the “sell by” date.
The US Department of Agriculture offers a more detailed method. “This three-digit code indicates the date of packaging, starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365…You can store fresh shell eggs in their cartons in the refrigerator for four to five weeks beyond this date.”
Raw Meat And Poultry Last A Long Time In The Freezer
Although meat only lasts a couple of days in the fridge, it can stay fresh long after the expiration date in the freezer. According to FoodSafety.gov, whole meat can last up to one year in the freezer, while ground meat can last three to four months.
“Food poisoning bacteria does not grow in the freezer,” reports the US Department of Agriculture, “so no matter how long the food is frozen, it is safe to eat. Foods that have been in the freezer for months may be dry, or may not taste as good, but they will be safe to eat.”
Coffee Creamers Stay Fresh For Weeks
Since most coffee creamers contain a lot of preservatives, they usually last weeks after their expiration date. Liquid creamers usually last two to three weeks after opening, regardless of the printed date. The USDA recommends tossing it out after three weeks.
Half and half is one of the freshest creamers out there, so it only stays fresh for three to four days. However, you can keep it in the freezer for up to four months. Non-dairy creamer can last up to two years if they are stored at room temperature. Once you open it, store it in the fridge for one to two weeks.
Throw Away Spices After A Certain Amount Of Time
Although many people think their spices are indefinite, that isn’t always the case. McCormick & Company, an American spice seller, says that the only indefinite spices are salt and vanilla extract. Other extracts will become rancid after two to three years.
Although old spices won’t harm you, they will grow stale. Ground spices last up to three years beyond the “best by” date, while whole spices (such as whole peppercorns and bay leaves) last for up to four years. You can revive the flavor of some spices by cooking them in hot oil or gently toasting them on a skillet.
Vegetables Last For Weeks Beyond Their ‘Best By’ Date
Not all vegetables come with an expiration date, and these usually last around one to two weeks in the fridge. Those that have a date — like carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, and spinach — often last longer than their date suggests.
Once vegetables go bad, they develop a slimy texture, brown spots, and rotten smell. Many don’t reach this point until a couple of weeks beyond the “best by” date. However, prepackaged greens often go bad around their expiration date since they’re chopped.
Cooking Oils Will Remain Safe For Years
While there are several different types of cooking oil, they all have similar shelf lives. The USDA agrees that most cooking oils are safe to use for up to one year after opening. Coconut oil will remain fresh for up to three years.
Storing cooking oils in a cool, dark pantry is the best way to keep them fresh. Since oxidation causes the oil to decay, tightly seal the lid after each use. If the oil smells or tastes rancid, it’s gone bad. Some oils also grow dark and flavorless once they’ve expired.
Bad Cheese Relies More On Smell Than The Package Date
Because cheese is made through molding, it often lasts beyond its expiration date. The USDA claims that soft cheese lasts one to two weeks in the fridge, while hard cheese can be consumed up to six months in the fridge unopened. If you’ve opened the package, it’ll last three to four weeks.
In general, you can tell when your cheese goes bad through smell. If some areas have molded, you can cut them off and eat the rest safely. Some mold colors, such as orange, blue, and green, are not edible.
You Can Safely Drink Milk Beyond Its Printed Date
Milk’s life span depends on its fat content. In general, most dairy milk can last five days beyond its printed date. Non-fat milk stays fresh up to ten days, while whole milk can last up to a week. If the milk looks discolored or smells rotten, it’s spoiled.
While non-dairy milks keep up to a month if they’re unopened, they usually last around a week after opening, according to FoodSafety.gov. Spoiled non-dairy milks will taste sour and have a thicker texture than fresh milk.
Alcohol Does Go Bad After A While
Contrary to popular belief, most alcohol won’t last forever on your shelf. According to researchers at Bacardi, glass bottles make alcohol more prone to spoiling. While this research isn’t peer-reviewed, it does suggest that light, warmth, and air accelerate alcohol’s decay rate.
According to FoodSafety.gov, white and red wines remain fresh for one to two years. Beer only stays good for six to nine months after its expiration date. Hard liquors, such as whiskey, tequila, vodka, and brandy, will last for many more years. Once you open the bottle of any alcohol, it’ll only stay fresh for a couple of days.
Raw Fish Lasts Longer Than Cooked Seafood
How long fish stays fresh depends on the type of seafood and how it was prepared. In general, raw fish lasts longer in the freezer but less long in the fridge. Raw cod, salmon, and halibut stay fresh one to two days in the fridge and six to nine months in the freezer. Smoked fish can stay in the fridge for five to seven days, but only three to six months in the freezer.
Some canned fish, like tuna, can last two to five years past its printed date. And air-packed smoked fish can last two to three weeks in the fridge, according to FoodSafety.gov
Some Condiments Can Last A Year Or Two If Unopened
While most labels recommend refrigerating condiments, you can keep them in the pantry, according to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Similarly, the expiration date on these condiments is only quality-based. How long they stay fresh depends on the condiment.
Mustard can stay fresh up to one year after opening, while relish remains good for nine months. Ketchup and chili sauces remain edible for six months after opening. You can safely eat commercial mayonnaise and horseradish within two to three months after opening.
Butter’s Expiration Date Depends On How You Store It
Butter can last beyond it’s “best by” date if you store it correctly. If you keep butter at room temperature, it’ll only stay fresh for one to two days, according to the USDA. When the butter is anywhere above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the oils inside of it begin to decay.
Keep your butter in the fridge, and you can enjoy it up to one month later. In the freezer, it’ll last for six to nine months. Fortunately, you can easily tell when butter goes bad; it becomes too soft, too hard, or develops mold.
Chocolate With White Film Is Still Fresh
According to Eat By Date, chocolate lasts for months beyond the printed date. In the pantry, chocolate chips and bars last two to four months, and they last for six to eight months in the fridge. Truffles and Belgian chocolate stay fresh for one to two months after the expiration date.
If you see a white film on your chocolate, don’t fret. That’s called “chocolate bloom,” when the cocoa butter melts and re-solidifies. You can still eat it. If you see white dots on the edge of your chocolate, that means it’s getting old. However, you can still use the bar in cooking.
You Can Store Nut Butters For A Long Time
Whether or not it’s refrigerated, nut butter can last up to a year unopened. Commercial peanut butters will last longer; you can eat some peanut butter up to two years after buying it. Natural butter, such as natural peanut, almond, or cashew butter, last up to three months after opening.
You’ll know when your nut butter goes bad when it tastes rancid. To keep them fresh, store your nut butters in a cool area such as a shaded pantry or fridge. Contrary to other butter types, Nutella only stays fresh around two to three months after the printed date.
Cereal Lasts Six To Eight Months Unopened
If you keep your cereal box unopened, it’ll last for six to twelve months on the shelf, according to FoodSafety.gov. After you open it, you can keep it for two to three months. Breakfast cereals don’t go bad in the same way that fresh foods do.
“There is not that much of a quality issue,” Emily Broad Leib, director of Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic, told TIME. “If you leave your cereal box open, it can get stale, but you are not going to get sick from it.”
Yogurt Can Be Eaten Past Its “Best By” Date
Yogurt doesn’t go bad as quickly as other dairy products do. Both Greek yogurt and low-fat yogurt last around one to two weeks in the fridge, regardless of the printed date. If you freeze yogurt, you can eat it for up to two months later, according to Eat By Date.
Drinkable yogurts and yogurt with fruit don’t last as long. Both will stay fresh for up to two weeks. If your yogurt produces extra liquid, develops mold, or smells sour, throw it out.
You Can Safely Store Canned Goods For Years
If you store your canned food in a cool, dark location, it will last years beyond it’s “best by” date. Cans containing meat, vegetables, or potatoes will are safe to eat two to five years in the pantry. Highly-acidic canned foods (such as pickles, tomato soup, and sauerkraut) last for a year and a half.
If a food can appears rusted, dented, or swollen, it’s gone bad. And after you open them, they’ll only stay fresh for a couple of days in the fridge. Acidic food remains ripe for a week, while canned meat and vegetables stay fresh for up to four days in the fridge.
Frozen Fruits And Vegetables Go Bad Within The Year
Most of us tend to toss food into the freezer and forget about it. But some frozen treats, such as fruit and vegetables, will go bad within the year. Regardless of its “best by” date, frozen fruit will last for six to nine months. Frozen vegetables remain safe to eat for eight to ten months.
To tell if frozen produce has gone bad, wash off the ice crystals. If the fruit or vegetable maintains its color and texture, then it’s safe to eat. Spoiled frozen produce can also shrivel or lose color.
For Frozen Dinners, Breakfasts, And Desserts
How long food lasts in the freezer depends on what it is and whether it’s cooked. Most pre-made meals are already cooked, so they’ll go stale within three months. However, frozen food never produces a health risk as long as it’s kept frozen. After a while, the flavor will disappear.
Frozen dairy products like ice cream usually last two to four months. Grain-based dishes, like pancakes and waffles, stay fresh for two months. Most TV dinners will remain tasty for up to three months in the freezer.
Salsa Can Last For Weeks
Have you ever found a bottle of salsa shoved way to the back of the fridge and wondered what to do with it? Maybe you’re preparing Mexican food, or maybe you’re throwing a party and just need some dip. In any event, relying on the best-by date isn’t always best.
When it comes to salsa, you can safely eat it up to two weeks after the best-by date. However, the greatest sign is the appearance. If it seems to have a film on it, throw it out.
Don’t Open The Chips!
Unopened, chips can last for months. Once the chips are opened, they still can last for a very long time. The issue is whether or not they are kept in a truly air-tight environment. Chips that haven’t been opened are less likely to be exposed to oxygen, which enables bacteria to grow.
However, since chips are often doused in salt, the likelihood of them developing a substance that can harm you is slim. The real issue is simply quality. They’ll eventually get stale.
Bread Is All About The Looks
Bread is pretty much good to eat so long as it doesn’t have any mold on it. For this reason, many people will put their bread in the refrigerator to extend the shelf life. While this can be a great temporary fix, it will actually cause the bread to become undesirable long before it goes bad naturally.
That’s because the refrigerator dries out the bread. So if you want to not only keep the bread safe to eat, but also tasty, just throw it in the freezer and defrost it in a toaster oven when ready.
Salad Mix Lasts Longer Than It Seems
Lettuce can be tricky. Especially if you aren’t using your lettuce or salad mix every single day, it can seem like it turned on you overnight. However, the telling sign that the leaves have gone bad isn’t just that they’ve wilted.
When it comes to things like spinach and arugula in particular, they’ll become really slimy when it’s time to toss them. Depending on the size of the salad mix, you can sometimes pick out safe bits and toss the rest. Ultimately, just stay clear of any dark, blackish gunk.
Cookies Are All About The Oil
When it comes to cookies, it really comes down to the oil. While sugar acts like a natural preservative, the oil can make the cookies smell rancid when they’ve gone bad. If they’re the really soft cookies that have been made at home, you’ll notice they’ve gone bad when they’re dried out and don’t taste like grandma’s anymore.
However, for the store-bought cookies that are chock-full of preservative, the same rule applies to them as to chips. When they taste stale, particularly if they’ve been open for a while, they won’t harm you. But the taste also might not be worth the calories.
Crackers Can Stay In Great Shape For A Long Time
Opened, crackers can maintain their best quality more up to two months. The most important factor is storing them properly. Tightly sealing the crackers and placing them in a cool, dry area is the most important thing.
Crackers will likely lose their quality before they become dangerous to consume. As a general rule, if the color or smell seems off, it’s best to throw them out. Once something appears to be growing, definitely toss it.
Pickled Foods Are The Original Preservative
Before the days of electricity, and thus refrigeration, people relied on salt to keep things fresh. For this same reason, pickled foods later longer than the average fridge item. This is because they have two strategies working together– salt and cold– to prevent bacteria from growing.
You can bank on your pickled foods lasting a solid six months after they’re opened in the fridge. However, this can be longer depending on the food. Pickles can last up to two years beyond their best-by date.
Honey Lasts Indefinitely
Honey really doesn’t go bad. What happens with honey is that it crystalizes over time, which some people mistakenly take as meaning it has gone bad. Usually, the best-by date on honey addresses when the quality will be at its prime, about two to five years after being manufactured.
So let’s say you find honey that’s been shoved in the cabinet for more than five years and is hard as a rock. The best thing would be to place the entire bottle into hot water to dissolve the crystals. Once melted, stir it up and give it a taste.
Lunchmeat Has Rules
Lunchmeat, also known as deli meat, is one of the more obvious foods to be able to deem edible or not, so long as you know the rules. Unopened, lunch meat can last up to ten days past the best-by date. However, once it’s been opened, it’s best to aim to consume it within five days.
If it’s been a week since you touched your opened package of deli meat, don’t fret. The meat will become covered in film, making it extremely slimy to the touch, if it’s gone bad.
Oats Last A Long Time
Studies have shown that oats can last decades without becoming harmful. The dry grains should be stored in an airtight, dry place. However, unlike chips or cookies, they’ll maintain their quality for years. Usually, once the package is opened, oats will still maintain their best quality for about two years.
If you are especially perceptive, you’ll notice a slight increase in volume once the oats have gone bad. Otherwise, a simple tactic is to just smell them. The best oats have a very subtle smell.
Throw This Baking Aid Out If It Smells Like Play-doh
Depending on the kind of flour, it will last well beyond its best-by date. All-purpose flour will last up to eight months past its best-by date so long as it is stored properly, preferably in the fridge once opened. However, some prefer the whole wheat flour since it is higher in fiber and other nutrients.
Wheat flour lasts about four to six months past its best-by date. The best way to tell if it’s bad is if it has developed a sour, rubbery smell that might somehow resemble the odor of play-doh.
White Rice Can Be Safe For Decades
Dried rice will last long after its best-by date. However, how long that is really depends on the variation of rice. For white rice, it can be used from four to five years after the best by date. However, if it remains in an oxygen-free, airtight environment, white rice is good for up to thirty years.
Minute rice will also last four to five years, and brown or wild rice will last about seven months after the best by date. Once cooked, throw it in the fridge for a week or the freezer for half a year.
Powdered Milk Is All About The Container
In its original container, powdered milk will last up to two years past its expiration date. However, if you keep the powdered milk in a special airtight container, you can stretch it out to ten years past the best by date.
That’s because powdered milk, like dried fruit, is dried out for the sake of preservation. It’s important to note that the powdered milk should also be kept away from heat and water. Once it is reactivated by water, it is safe to consume for four to five days.
Here’s A Science Lesson On Sugar
We’ve mentioned that sugar is a sort of natural preservative. However, to explain its immortality, we’ll need to explain what about sugar is so foolproof. The explanation is really quite basic, as it is explained by Does It Go Bad.
In essence, sugar doesn’t contain water. Therefore, when bacteria attempt to grow in sugar, the sugar absorbs all of the bacteria’s moisture through osmosis, leaving the bacteria dehydrated and ultimately unable to survive. Therefore, sugar itself never actually expires.
Dried Beans Become Even More Impenetrable With Time
The best-by date on dried beans has everything to do with quality and nothing to do with safety. Dried beans don’t go bad. Technically a seed, the little guys actually become even drier with time. This just means that the more years go by, the longer you’ll need to soak and/ or cook the beans to prepare them.
Canned beans can last up to a year after their expiration date, while cooked beans should be used within five days of refrigeration. The best way to tell if they’ve gone bad is if a white layer appears.
To Grind, Or Not To Grind
Unopened ground coffee will last about four months past its best-by date, and still taste terrific when stored in the pantry. However, if you put that stuff into the freezer, it’ll last up to two years past the best by date and still taste great. Taste aside, if the coffee is properly stored it shouldn’t expire in a way that harms you.
On the flip side, opened ground coffee only lasts two weeks in the pantry. Whole coffee beans will last up to six months on the shelf and nine in the freezer after opening. Unopened, they’ll last around two years either way.
Look Out For These Signs In Dried Fruit
Dried fruit will last about a year after its best-by date. In the freezer, dried fruit can last indefinitely. However, the technique used to dry the fruit can vary. Since you probably don’t want to hunt down the manufacturer who made the dried fruit you bought, here are some simple signs that will determine how fresh your dried fruit has remained.
Discoloration, hardness, and lack of taste are all signs that the dried fruit has begun to lose its quality. However, you might prefer this version of the dried fruit, which is completely harmless. Once a rancid smell develops, it’s time to throw it out.
If It Doesn’t Pop, It Isn’t Edible
Popcorn is actually full of moisture down in those little kernels. As the kernels heat up, the moisture inside builds pressure that eventually forces them to pop open. Once a kernel’s internal moisture has dried up, it is old and will not pop. That is the sign that the popcorn is no longer good.
However, popcorn made for the microwave is slightly different. Because it is made with oils, the oils will likely expire before the kernels do. If a rancid smell develops it’s because the oils have gone bad and the package needs to be thrown out. This usually occurs about seven months past the box’s printed date.
Vinegar Will Last Forever
The Vinegar Institute has confirmed that vinegar will last indefinitely. However, due to added ingredients, the taste will change and may become undesirable after five to ten years. All kinds of vinegar are high in acidity, which makes them spoil-proof.
How long the quality of the vinegar lasts depends on the kind, or what it was made from. Harmless aesthetic changes like cloudiness or sediments may occur with time as well. One plus of vinegar is that it can be used for other purposes, such as cleaning, once the taste becomes undesirable.
This Holiday Staple Will Last Through Multiple Winters
Hot chocolate is a winter-time must, but if it’s been untouched since last January, you may be wondering if it’s still safe. Unopened cocoa powder that’s been properly stored can last up to three years past its best by date. So long as you don’t double-dip with a milky spoon, it is unlikely that cocoa will develop mold.
When cocoa powder is made, the fat is removed which prevents it from going rancid. However, manufacturers are mere humans, and sometimes a slight amount of fat can remain. In this case, the powder would be able to go rancid. Therefore, is it best to check and be sure that the cocoa still smells like home sweet home.