Expiration dates are meaningless, but there is still a feeling of unease that can come with munching down on a snack whose packaging claims it expired weeks or months ago. That’s why it’s helpful to know which foods are especially fine to consume post-expiration date—and which ones you actually should not.
How to determine a food’s freshness
Although expiration dates are largely silly (they’re just general guidelines that aren’t even mandated by the Food and Drug Administration), you may still have concerns. Milk gets sour, cheese gets moldy, meat goes bad—so it’s fair to worry that most, if not all, foods, will eventually turn on you. The FDA does, however, have a FoodKeeper app that can help you learn more about nearly every kind of food. It’s designed to help “you understand food and beverage stories” and “maximize the freshness and quality of items.” Thus, the FDA says, “you will be able to keep items fresh longer than if they were not stored properly.”
You can click on a whole bunch of food types on FoodKeeper. For instance, clicking “dairy products and eggs” takes you to a page where you can select “butter,” “cheese curds fresh, unaged,” or “coconut milk.” Clicking coconut milk takes you to another page that says for freshness and quality, the beverage should be consumed before its use-by date if it’s refrigerated from the date of purchase and within seven to 10 days if refrigerated after opening.
Again, these are guidelines; expiration dates are not set in stone. Here are the foods you can feel especially confident about downing after the date.
The safest foods to eat after their expiration date
First of all, even if a food appears on this list, if it seems off somehow, don’t eat it. Trust your intuition and your existing knowledge of what good and bad food looks like, but feel freer to eat these things after their expiration dates:
- Canned foods are basically safe indefinitely, per Delish, but you want to store them in a temperature below 75 degrees, and you’ll probably enjoy eating them more within two to five years of purchase. One thing to keep in mind, though, is not to eat anything from a can that is bulging, as this is a warning sign that it could contain harmful toxins.
- Frozen foods are also good indefinitely, but their quality diminishes as time goes on. Largely, you have a few months to a year to eat these. This is a good example of when to check FoodKeeper.
- Eggs can usually be consumed for three to five weeks after you buy them, even if that time period passes the date printed on the carton.
- Stale bread is still safe bread, but don’t eat moldy slices (you can store it in the freezer so it stays fresh longer if you’re not going to consume it right away). This applies to cereal and chips, too: As long as you’re not munching mold and you can tolerate stale foods, don’t fret over these items’ expiration dates.
- Pasta is fine to eat and won’t be noticeably off even if you bought it two years ago, provided the box stayed closed in your cabinet. If you opened it, that time shrinks to about a year.
- Sugar never spoils. Do not worry about sugar.
- Peanut butter is fine to eat after its expiration date, especially if it’s unopened. If it’s opened, you’re dealing with a quality issue, but it’s not unsafe to eat.
Some foods to be careful with
There’s no good reason to overhaul your entire stock every few weeks, especially with inflation this high, but there are some foods you should simply avoid eating if they’re too old.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests you use or freeze your beef, veal, pork, and lamb products with a “sell-by” date within three to five days of purchase. Freezing is important: The USDA also notes that frozen foods are safe indefinitely, but should be used within a few months, depending what type of meat you have.
- Fresh fruits you didn’t freeze will last about a week, but some may stay fresh beyond that (even at room temperature, apples can last much longer, for example). You’ll know when they start to feel mushy, slimy, or otherwise look unappetizing. This basic guideline goes for leafy greens, too—give them more of a side-eye after a week, but some may last longer.
- Anything that looks or smells bad should be chalked up as a loss and you should throw it away.
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