When their lifetime is up, several items in your kitchen almost seem to scream, “Throw me away, now!” You know, those scary green patches on the Cheddar? A sure sign that it needs to be thrown out. Chunky milk? Down the drain it goes.
But what about that carton of eggs and the Ziploc baggie of turkey cold cuts — both marked with mysterious “Sell-By” dates? How are you supposed to know when their time has passed?
Expiration and “Sell By” dates can be super confusing. Because of this, we’ve compiled a list of what you need to know to keep your food fresh, delicious, and safe.
A HANDY KEEP-OR-TOSS GUIDE FOR 36 POPULAR FOODS:
1. Milk. Typically safe until one week after the “Sell By” date.
2. Eggs. Safe* for about 3-5 weeks after you bring them home (assuming you bought them before the “Sell By” date). Peggy VanLaanen, EdD, RD, a professor of food and nutrition at Texas A&M University explains that ‘AA’ eggs will go down a grade the first week but are still perfectly edible.
* Unsure whether or not your eggs are still safe to consume? Here’s how to tell if your eggs have gone bad: Simply submerge each questionable egg in a cup with water. Happy, safe, and delicious eggs will sink, while a rotten egg will float. Don’t risk it — throw out the floaters.
3. Poultry and seafood. Cook or freeze within a day or two.
4. Beef and pork. Cook or freeze within three to five days.
5. Canned goods.* Highly acidic foods like tomato sauce can be kept 18 months or more. Low-acidic foods like canned green beans are probably risk-free for up to five years.
“You do not want to put cans in a hot place like a crawl space or garage,” Peggy VanLaanen tells WebMD.
VanLaanen suggests keeping canned and dry foods at 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in a dry, dark place. Humidity can be a factor in speeded-up deterioration. The FDA notes that taste, aroma, and appearance of food can change rapidly if the air conditioning fails in a home or warehouse.
*Obviously dented cans, as well as cans bulging with bacteria growth should be discarded – no matter what the expiration date!
6. Beer. Unopened: can be kept up to 4 months.
7. Brown sugar. Indefinite shelf life; stored in a moisture-proof container in a cool, dry place.
9. Coffee. Ground & Canned: Unopened: Up to 2 years; Opened: Up to 1 month if refrigerated.
Gourmet Beans: 3 weeks in a paper bag; and longer in a vacuum-seal bag (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume). Instant: Unopened: Up to 2 years; Opened: Up to 1 month.
10. Diet soda (and soft drinks in plastic bottles). Unopened: 3 months from “Best By” date. Opened: Doesn’t spoil, but taste is affected.
11. Dried pasta. 12 months.
12. Frozen dinners. Unopened: 12 to 18 months.
13. Frozen vegetables. Unopened: 18 to 24 months; Opened: 1 month.
14. Honey. Indefinite shelf life.
15. Bottled juice (apple or cranberry). Unopened: 8 months from production date; Opened: 7 to 10 days.
16. Ketchup. Unopened: 1 year (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume). Opened or used: 4 to 6 months (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)
17. Maple syrup (real or imitation). 1 year.
18. Mayonnaise. Unopened: Indefinitely; Opened: 2 to 3 months from “Purchase By” date (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume).
19. Mustard. 2 years (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume).
20. Jarred Olives (green with pimento). Unopened: 3 years; Opened: 3 months.
21. Olive oil. 2 years from manufacture date (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume).
22. Peanuts. Unopened: 1 to 2 years unless frozen or refrigerated; Opened: 1 to 2 weeks in airtight container.
23. Peanut butter. Natural: 9 months. Processed (Jif): Unopened: 2 years; Opened: 6 months; refrigerate after 3 months.
24. Pickles. Unopened: 18 months; Opened: No conclusive data. Discard if slippery or excessively soft.
25. Protein bars (PowerBars). Unopened: 10 to 12 months. Check “Best By” date on the package.
26. White rice. 2 years from date on box or date of purchase.
27. Bottled salad dressing. Unopened: 12 months after “Best By” date; Opened: 9 months refrigerated.
28. Soda (regular). Unopened: In cans or glass bottles, 9 months from “Best By” date; Opened: Doesn’t spoil, but taste is affected.
29. Steak sauce. 33 months (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume).
30. Tabasco. 5 years, if stored in a cool, dry place.
31. Tea bags (Lipton). Use within 2 years of opening the package.
32. Canned tuna. Unopened: 1 year from purchase date; Opened: 3 to 4 days, not stored in can.
33. Bottled soy sauce. Unopened: 2 years; Opened: 3 months (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume).
34. Vinegar. 4 years.
35. Wine (red, white). Unopened: 3 years from vintage date; 20 to 100 years for fine wines; Opened: 1 week refrigerated and corked.
36. Worcestershire sauce. Unopened: 5 to 10 years (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume). Opened: 2 years.
EXPIRATION DATE LINGO:
“Sell By” date: The labeling “Sell By” tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires. This is basically a guide for the retailer, so the store knows when to pull the item. This is not mandatory, so reach in back and get the freshest. The issue is quality of the item (freshness, taste, and consistency) rather than whether it is on the verge of spoiling. Paul VanLandingham, EdD, a senior faculty member at the Center for Food and Beverage Management of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., tells WebMD the “Sell By” date is the last day the item is at its highest level of quality, but it will still be edible for some time after.
“Best If Used By (or Before)” date: This refers strictly to quality, not safety. This date is recommended for best flavor or quality. WebMDexplains that it is not a purchase or safety date. Sour cream, for instance, is already sour, but can have a zippier, fresh taste when freshly sour (if that’s not an oxymoron!)
“Born On” date: This is the date of manufacture and has been resurrected recently to date beer. Beer can go sub-par after three months. “It is affected by sun,” VanLandingham says. The light can reactivate microorganisms in the beer. That’s why you have to be especially careful with beer in clear bottles, as opposed to brown or green.
“Guaranteed Fresh” date: This usually refers to bakery items. They will still be edible after the date, but will not be at peak freshness.
“Use By” date: Similar to the “Best If Used By” date, this is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
Good friends don’t let friends eat expired and dangerous food. Share this handy list if you learned something new about your family’s favorite foods.