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Guidelines or rules? How worried should you be about food expiration dates?
By Michelle Simmons // Jun 18, 2019

In some cases, the “expiration date” on food products does not indicate that they are expired. Each year, consumers throw out more than $200 billion worth of perfectly good food because of the expiration date. In reality, most expiration dates serve as guidelines more than rules. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says the food is still safe to eat even after the date has passed, as long as it’s not showing any signs of spoilage. (h/t to UrbanSurvivalSite.com)


Understanding date labels

Here are some dating labels that will explain what food expiration date terms mean, which foods to throw out by expiration dates, and which ones to keep to help reduce food waste. (Related: Food waste is costing us all: The environmental and financial cost of spoiled food.)

  • Best if used by – This indicates that the food will be at peak quality by the date listed. While it is still safe to eat after the date, its taste won’t be as good.
  • Use by – This means that the food should be eaten by the expiration date. To be safe, consume it by the date given.
  • Sell by – This date is for retailers; it means that the products must be sold off the shelves by the date given. Most foods are still safe to eat for some time after that.

Foods to throw out by expiration dates

  • Berries – Blueberries, strawberries, and other berries should be thrown out after the expiration date because they will grow soft and moldy. Always keep them in the fridge and eat them within 10 days after their date of purchase. If you put them in the freezer, they can last up to six months.
  • Meat – Sliced deli meat may last for three to five days after opening. Prepackaged sliced deli meat can carry bacteria that grow even in cold temperatures, so its best to avoid eating them after the date on the packaging.
  • Milk – Store milk at the same temperature as it was in the grocery store to avoid bacterial contamination. Milk and other dairy products should be consumed by the date of expiration.
  • Seafood – Seafood is generally very susceptible to contamination by bacteria, so eat it as soon as possible after buying.

Foods you can eat past the expiration date

  • Anything pickled – Pickled foods are stored in acidic and salty liquid, so they will be safe to eat for several months after the expiration date.
  • Bread and cereal – Putting your bread in the freezer before the expiration date will extend its shelf life a lot longer than it would on the counter or in the refrigerator. The same goes for cereal, except it doesn’t need to be frozen in order to last long. Make sure to properly seal it to make it last for six months to one year after the expiration date. Although it may not taste as fresh, it will still be safe to eat.
  • Canned goods – Canned goods are popular among preppers because they last for a long time, even after their official expiration date. This is because the food inside the cans does not get any air or oxygen, so there’s no potential for bacteria to grow. Generally, if the cans are untampered and stored in a cool and dark place, they are safe to eat. However, some canned goods are best used by the following dates: Canned fruit and canned tomatoes – use within 12 to 18 months of purchase; canned vegetables, meat, and fish – consume within two to five years of purchase.
  • Eggs – Eggs will last for at least one month after the expiration date as long as you keep them properly refrigerated. You can test your eggs if they’re safe to eat by putting them in a bowl of water; if they sink, they’re still good; if they float, throw them out.
  • Mayonnaise – Mayonnaise can last up to four months following the expiration date if it is stored at the same temperature at home as it was in the grocery store.
  • Meat – Meat goes bad fast, but freezing it can extend its shelf life by up to one year after the expiration date.
  • Pasta – Pasta can last for several years past the expiration date. Make sure to seal it properly and store it in a cool, dark place.

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