As a savvy consumer, you may have noticed various dates printed on food packaging, such as “Use By,” “Best By,” “Sell By,” or “Expiration” dates. These labels often lead to confusion about whether the food is still safe to eat. Contrary to popular belief, these dates do not necessarily indicate food safety. Instead, they primarily serve as guidelines for peak flavor and quality.
In this article, we will explore 20 common foods that can be consumed safely even after their expiration dates. So, before you toss out that supposedly expired item from your pantry or fridge, let’s take a closer look at these foods and learn how to determine their freshness.
Understanding Expiration Dates and Shelf Life
Before we delve into specific food items, it’s important to understand what expiration dates and shelf life mean. The terms “Use By,” “Best By,” “Sell By,” or “Expiration” dates are not regulated (except for baby formula) and are intended to provide an estimate of when food is at its best quality or flavor.
The key point to remember is that these dates do not necessarily indicate food safety. Additionally, proper storage and handling play a crucial role in maintaining the quality and safety of food items.
Shelf life refers to the length of time that a food product can be stored before it becomes unsafe to consume. The growth of bacteria is a significant concern when it comes to determining shelf life. Foods that are high in carbohydrates, protein, and moisture are particularly susceptible to bacterial growth.
Examples include dairy products, fish, eggs, meat, cooked grains, and certain fruits and vegetables. However, proper storage methods such as refrigeration, freezing, canning, or keeping foods raw without moisture can help extend their shelf life and prevent bacterial growth.
Now that we have a better understanding of expiration dates and shelf life, let’s explore 20 food items that can be safely consumed beyond their expiration dates.
Eggs are a versatile and nutritious food that can be enjoyed in various ways. Contrary to popular belief, eggs can last up to five weeks past their expiration date if stored in the refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). Fresh eggs taste the best, so it’s recommended to avoid eggs that have developed a sulfur smell or fail the float test. To perform the float test, simply place the egg in a glass or bowl of water. If it sinks, it’s fresh; if it floats or tilts upward, it’s old. Hard-boiled eggs can last about a week in the fridge, making them suitable for meal prep.
Milk is a staple in many households, and its freshness is often a concern. The best way to determine if milk is still fresh is by smelling it. If it smells sour, it has gone bad. Milk can last up to a week after the expiration date, but it’s recommended to only consume a small amount if it has started to turn sour. Slightly spoiled milk can still be used in baking, soups, stews, salad dressings, and even to tenderize meat or fish. However, if the milk has curdled, developed mold, or appears slimy, it’s time to discard it.
3. Dry Pasta
Dry pasta, including whole grain and bean varieties, can be consumed well past its expiration date. Due to its dry nature, pasta can last up to two years past the expiration date. However, the quality and flavor may be affected over time. Fresh pasta found in the refrigerated section has a shorter shelf life and should be consumed within five days of the expiration date, unless frozen. Frozen pasta can last up to eight months.
Yogurt, despite being a dairy product, can have a longer shelf life. Unopened yogurt can last up to three weeks past its expiration date. The probiotics and lactic acid naturally found in yogurt help fight off bacterial growth. Even if your yogurt is past its date, it can still be consumed as long as there is no mold or discoloration. Separation of whey from the curds is common, but it does not indicate spoilage.
5. Raw Meat and Poultry
Raw meat and poultry have a short shelf life in the refrigerator, typically lasting only a few days. However, if you want to extend their storage time, freezing is the way to go. Ground meat can last between three and four months in the freezer, while a whole chicken or turkey can last up to a year. Keep in mind that the longer meat is stored, the more it may dry out and lose flavor.
To prolong the shelf life of fish, it’s best to transfer it to the freezer. Frozen fish can last between six and nine months, depending on the type. Smoked fish has a shorter freezer life, lasting around three to six months. Canned tuna or salmon, when unopened, can last up to two to five years past their expiration date. However, always check for signs of spoilage before consuming.
7. Frozen Fish and Vegetables
Frozen fruits and vegetables are a convenient way to add nutrition to your diet. The good news is that they have a long shelf life. As long as they remain frozen and unopened, many frozen fruits and vegetables can last up to 10 months past their best by date. It’s important to note that the quality and texture may deteriorate over time, but they are still safe to eat.
Bread is a staple in many households, but it can go stale if not consumed in a timely manner. However, bread can last around a week past its expiration date when stored in a cool, dry place. Freezing bread can significantly extend its shelf life, up to six months. Keep an eye out for mold, especially in humid environments. Homemade bread and bakery bread without added preservatives may not last as long and should be stored in the fridge or freezer.
9. Canned Vegetables
Canned vegetables have a remarkably long shelf life. Manufacturers often provide best by dates that are years into the future. These foods are still edible up to two years past their expiration date as long as the cans are unopened. While the flavor may degrade over time, foods like beans, mushrooms, and chili can last long past their expiration date.
10. Tomato Sauce
Tomato sauce, whether it’s marinara or tomato paste, can last months past its expiration date. The high acidity of tomatoes helps prevent spoilage. Even after opening a jar of sauce, it can last weeks in the fridge if properly sealed. Ketchup, another tomato-based product, can last up to six months when refrigerated and up to a year when unopened in the pantry.
11. Root Vegetables
Root vegetables such as carrots, beets, parsnips, and potatoes have a long shelf life when stored in cool, dark environments. These vegetables can last several weeks without significant changes to taste or texture. While root cellars are no longer common, storing root vegetables in a cool pantry or refrigerator can help prolong their freshness.
12. Leafy Greens
Fresh produce, including leafy greens, generally does not come with specific expiration dates. However, bagged salads and greens often have best by dates. If your greens start to wilt, you can revive them by submerging them in ice water for a few minutes. Washing and storing them in a salad spinner can also help extend their shelf life in the fridge.
Nuts have a relatively long shelf life due to their low moisture content. They can last for weeks or even months past their expiration date. However, the high-fat content in nuts can cause them to go rancid over time. Always check for any signs of spoilage, such as a bad smell, darkened appearance, or oily texture. Storing nuts in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer can help prevent them from going rancid more quickly.
14. Dry Cereal
Dry cereals and granola can last weeks or even months past their expiration date when stored in sealed containers. However, beyond that, they may start to taste stale and lose their crispness. Exposure to air can accelerate the staleness of cereals, so it’s important to keep them properly sealed. Prepared cereals like overnight oats have a shorter shelf life of about four to five days unless frozen.
15. Hard Cheeses
Hard cheeses like Parmesan, Asiago, and Romano can be consumed even if they start to show signs of aging. These cheeses can last weeks after their expiration date. If you notice any mold on the cheese, you can simply cut or scrape off the affected parts with a clean knife. The remaining cheese will still be safe to eat. Hard and semi-hard cheeses have lower moisture content compared to soft cheeses, which contributes to their extended shelf life.
16. Dried Beans
Dried beans, lentils, and other legumes can last nearly indefinitely when stored in a cool, dry place. These foods are safe to eat even after their freshness has diminished, and they provide essential nutrients. Properly cooked dried beans can be enjoyed in soups, stews, salads, and various other dishes.
17. Baking Ingredients
Dry baking ingredients such as flour, baking soda, and baking powder have a long shelf life when stored in a cool, dry place. It’s important to check for signs of pests, moisture, or unusual smells before using these ingredients. Using expired or contaminated baking ingredients may affect the quality and taste of your baked goods.
Salt is a preservative that can last indefinitely without spoiling. As a result, it is often used in food preservation. However, it’s still essential to check for any signs of moisture, pests, or strange smells in your salt. For the best flavor, it’s recommended to replace salt every two years.
Honey, with its low moisture and acidic properties, can last indefinitely when stored in a cool, dry place in a sealed container. It naturally prevents bacterial and other microorganism growth. However, make sure to check for any signs of contamination, such as moisture or pests, before consuming honey.
Similar to salt, sugar has an indefinite shelf life and does not spoil. However, it’s important to check for signs of moisture, pests, or unusual smells before using sugar. For the best flavor, it’s recommended to replace sugar every two years.
By understanding the nature of expiration dates and practicing proper storage methods, you can confidently consume many food items beyond their expiration dates. However, always use your senses to determine if a food is still safe to eat.
If something looks or smells off, or if you’re unsure about its freshness, it’s better to err on the side of caution and discard it. Reducing food waste is important, but your health and safety should always be a top priority. In a recent study, it was found that junk food can cause damage to your mental health.
Remember, these guidelines are general and may vary depending on factors such as storage conditions and individual food items. When in doubt, consult the manufacturer’s recommendations or seek advice from a food safety expert.
- When in doubt, it’s best to discard food that looks or smells off, or if you’re unsure about its freshness.
- Proper storage methods such as refrigeration, freezing, canning, or keeping foods raw without moisture can help extend their shelf life and prevent bacterial growth.
- Always use your senses to determine if a food is still good to eat, including checking for signs of spoilage, such as mold, unusual smells, or sliminess.
- If you have concerns about food safety, seek advice from a food safety professional.