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Food Expiration Dates – Rule Or Guideline?

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Food Expiration Dates - Rule Or Guideline?Have you ever poured out some milk or thrown away some canned soup, not because it looked or smelled bad, but because it was past the expiration date? Chances are, you threw away some perfectly good food. Every year, consumers throw out over $200 billion worth of food, oftentimes because of the expiration date.

And why are they throwing out so much food? Because up to 90% of Americans are confused about expirations dates. The fact is, most expiration dates are more like guidelines than rules. Even the USDA says food is still safe to eat after the date has passed as long as it’s not showing any signs of spoilage.

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Just imagine how many hundreds of dollars you’ve wasted by throwing out edible food. It’s not your fault, though. The idea that food is no longer safe to eat after it expires is just common sense, and I’m sure no one ever told you otherwise. Until now.

In this article, we’ll examine the various expiration date terms, what they mean, which foods to throw out after they expire, and which ones to keep.

Food Expiration Date Terms

Here are some common food expiration date terms and what they mean:

BEST IF USED BY

This means the food will be at peak quality by the date listed. It is still safe to eat after the date, but the flavor of the food probably won’t be as good.

USE BY

This date means that the food should be consumed by the expiration date. It *might* still be safe to eat after the used by date, but to be on the safe side, you would eat it by the date given.

SELL BY

This date is for retailers and means that the product needs to be sold off of the shelves by the date given. Most foods are still safe to eat for a while after that.

So as you can see, not all of these dates indicate that the food is unsafe to eat.

Stand Back - Expiration Date

Foods To Throw Out By Expiration Dates

Now I don’t want you to read this article and start ignoring expiration dates completely. There are a wide variety of foods that you should still throw out after they expire. These include:

BERRIES

Berries such as blueberries and strawberries will grow soft and potentially even moldy after their expiration date. They should always be kept in the fridge and eaten no more than ten days after their date of purchase. In the freezer, they can last up to six months.

MEAT

Sliced deli meat will last five days at the most after opening, and maybe only three or four days. Never consume prepackaged sliced deli meat after the date on the packaging. Otherwise, they can carry bacteria that will grow even in cold temperatures. While other kinds of meat such as ground beef or roasts or pork chops can last longer, to be on the safe side you still shouldn’t eat them more than a few days after the date of expiration.

MILK

Milk needs to be stored at the same temperature as it was in the grocery store or else it can be contaminated with bacteria. Always consume milk and other dairy products by the date of expiration.

SEAFOOD

Seafood, in general, is very vulnerable to contamination by bacteria. Always eat as soon as possible after buying.

Foods You Can Eat After The Expiration Date

Here is a list of common foods that should be safe to eat after the date of expiration:

ANYTHING PICKLED

Anything that is pickled, meaning it is stored in acidic and salty liquid, will last for several months if not years following the expiration date.

BREAD AND CEREAL

As long as you freeze your bread before the expiration date, it will last a lot longer than it would on the counter or even in the refrigerator. The same goes for cereal, except cereal doesn’t need to be frozen in order to last long.

So long as your cereal is properly sealed off against outside oxygen, it should last anywhere from six months to one year following the expiration date. It may not taste as fresh, but it will still be safe to eat.

CANNED GOODS

This is the big one. One of the reasons canned goods are so popular among preppers is because they last for a long time after their official expiration date. The reason for this is that the cans, assuming they remain untampered with, do not get any air or oxygen inside of them, so there’s no potential for bacteria to grow. But to be on the safe side, keep the cans in a cool and dark location.

EGGS

So long as you keep your eggs properly refrigerated, they will last for at least one month after the expiration date. Here’s a good test you can use to know if your eggs are safe: if the egg sinks to the bottom in a bowl of water, it is safe to eat. If it floats, then throw it out.

MAYONNAISE

Believe it or not, mayonnaise can last up to four months after the date of expiration, so long as it’s stored at the same temperature at home as it was in the grocery store.

MEAT

As we discussed previously, meat can go bad rather quickly. But if you freeze your meat, it can last up to a year past the expiration date.

PASTA

As long as you store it properly (sealed and kept in a cool, dark location), you should be able to keep pasta for several years after the expiration date, thanks to the fact that it is a dried good. Just keep it inside the pantry and NOT in the fridge.

POTATO CHIPS

Potato chips will last for several months following the date of expiration as they are highly processed.

SODA

Soda can last for nine months to one year following the expiration date, both in the fridge and outside of it.

Conclusion

As a final piece of advice, remember to exercise caution when eating food that goes past the expiration date. If there’s anything about a food that you don’t like, such as a taste or smell that’s just ‘off,’ then it’s better to stay on the safe side and to avoid eating it.

For more information, be sure to read these signs your canned food has spoiled and these signs your survival food has gone bad.

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10 Comments

  1. Rick Palmer on July 19, 2020 at 10:59 am

    The majority of us were born with our five senses completely functional. Even the visually impaired have the sense of smell . These senses are there to help us survive . When your sliced deli meats have a rainbow sheen ,it’s past due for the trash . If the sliced swiss has green spots , don’t eat it . The primary sense that seems to have fallen out of the gene pool is , COMMONSENSE ! Rarely do we go to the deli counter and ask for an 1/8th pound of any thing . We go instead to the back wall and grab a prepackaged 1/4 pound of something and wind up throwing away half . All for the sake of convenience and maybe price at point of sale . Economics 101 , is that if you wind up throwing it away , you did not save money in the long run .
    One of the main reasons this and other survival channels are becoming more and more popular is that “some” of us realize that our predecessors were survivors because the understood what made sense . We have become an emotion driven society, instead of a thinking one . We used our senses in the past , and they were life and money savers. The one side of the coin that is a major factor in expiration dating , is profit . Producers want to sell you more , if they can convince you to prematurely get rid of something , they will sell you more . It is the very rare producer that does not have increased profit as the main motivator of their business.

  2. Dave on April 25, 2020 at 1:42 am

    Eggs will last a number of months and even at room temperature. Think about birds in the wild. They lay one egg a day until they have a nest full. Could be even twenty days. Every egg is still perfect and will develop when sat on and heated by the bird finally. We live on a farm and collect eggs every few days. We just put them on the counter and eventually in the refer. Never in forty years had a bad egg. Floater are still good up to six or eight months. I purposely save those for boiled eggs because the shell comes of easier.

    Ask yourself this, how long has the eggs you bought at the store been at the farm, stored in a cooler,stored in the back of the store and then finally you get it from the cooler. They just do not go bad.

  3. ida on December 11, 2019 at 9:51 pm

    When my short term food storage, can goods are about to expire or have expired I freeze dry them in my freeze dryer giving them a renewed shelf life of 20 years

  4. Alan on June 18, 2019 at 10:13 am

    test comment

  5. Cass on February 8, 2019 at 5:47 pm

    We have forgotten how to check food for edibility. Those dates are recent history. Never saw a date on any product until I was in my 20’s. Before that we knew how to check food to see if it was spoiled.

    I regularly eat cold cereal a full year past that date, crackers 12 – 18 months past that date and canned foods 2 – 3 years past the date on the can. (I need to better plan my cereal purchases LOL) I have only had ONE box of anything taste a little “off”…I ate it anyway. I am still alive to tell the tale.

    All of this is done on purpose, actually. I need to KNOW what will and what won’t be good past it’s date, so I can make plans for the future. (ie if cereal goes bad less than a year past the date on the box, I need to purchase only a year’s worth and spend my money on other things so I don’t waste one single dollar of my hard earned money)

  6. Charlie on February 7, 2019 at 9:34 am

    How long will an MRE last pass its expiration date.

    • Alan on February 7, 2019 at 2:13 pm

      It really depends because certain foods in an MRE will last longer than others. If it’s stored below 75 degrees, most of it should be good for several years beyond the expiration. But again, it depends on the type of food.

  7. David on February 6, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    Having worked for many years at a pharmaceutical business, the expiration date is important. It is important because that is when the company can throw away(incinerate) the sample lot of that production run. They are no longer liable is anything happens when someone takes a pill after the expiration date. Pharmaceuticals have buildings full of samples from each lot they produce, just in case.

    • Kiwi82 on September 3, 2019 at 10:27 am

      I still vote that expired meds can be saved for emergency prepping instead of throwing away. I have a bag full of expired stuff and I made sure to mark it All labeled as expired. I keep it around in case there’s ever a disaster.

  8. Ray on February 6, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    Virtually everything in this “expiration date” article is wrong. I have proven it in my own experiences. “ALL” expiration dates, best by dates and sell by dates are only to sell more product. One of my favorites is the old belief that aspirin can become toxic after the expiration date. Total bunk according to a chemist at Bayer. It loses some of its potency and smells a little more like vinegar but, “never” actually goes bad or becomes toxic. Before you believe articles like the one above, do some research and testing as I have done for over 15 years in real life situations. Oh by the way, potato and macaroni salad and thanksgiving turkey won’t kill you if they sit out at room temperature for a few hours either.

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