We’ve all stood in front of our fridges at some point and pondered this age old question: “Can I still eat this?” The answer often depends on several different factors, like freshness, flavor, texture, smell, and more. It’s a complex question with complex answers! So while I can’t look into your fridge and help you decided what’s worth eating, I can give you a few helpful tips about when things are safe to eat. And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing in today’s blog post!
Before we get into what you should or shouldn’t eat though, I thought it would be helpful to identify the different types of dates that appear on packaged foods. People often assume that any date that appears on food is the expiration date, but that’s not necessarily true! Here are four common types of dates that are included on food packages:
- Sell-By Date – the last date the store should display or sell the product
- Use-By Date – the date the manufacturer thinks the product will be at its peak quality
- “Best If Used By” Date – the last date you can expect peak flavor, texture, or quality
- Closed-By or Coded Dates – a packing number used by the manufacturer
None of these dates are expiration dates, and they don’t indicate anything about food safety. In fact, the FDA allows almost any food to be sold past these dates (with the exception of baby formula). Another interesting detail is that food manufacturers aren’t even required to put any of these dates on their food—the decision to do so is entirely up to them. Like I said, the question of whether or not you can eat something is a complex one with complex answers! But there are a few foods that you want to pay special attention to when it comes to deciding when to eat it. Here are 9 foods that you should never eat past their marked expiration date, as well as some suggestions for storing and eating them safely!
9 Foods You Should Never Eat Past The Expiration Date
1. Liquid Eggs & Liquid Egg Substitutes
Eggs that aren’t in their shell will expire much more quickly than usual. So if you use liquid eggs or egg substitutes that come in paper cartons, make sure to throw them out once the expiration date has passed.
2. Soft Cheeses
Ricotta, cream cheese, goat cheese, and other soft cheeses are susceptible to mold and bacterial growth. You should toss them out on the expiration date or at the first sign of spoilage, which ever comes first. Feel free to toss them in your freezer too, if you feel like you won’t be able to use them up before they expire!
3. Jarred Condiments
While condiments themselves can stay good for a long time, jarred condiments are exposed to bacteria much more frequently. Every time you dip your knife or spoon into the jar, you introduce more bacteria. Make sure to throw your jarred condiments out on the expiration date, and consider switching to squeeze bottle condiments. They last longer because you don’t need a utensil to use them!
4. Cold-Pressed Juices
Unlike the juices you can buy at the grocery store, fresh cold-pressed juices aren’t pasteurized. That means they will spoil quickly, so make sure you’re drinking any fresh juice you buy within a day or so!
Berries like raspberries and strawberries will only keep for about 3 days or so after purchase. After that, they start to get soft, mushy, and much less appetizing. Blueberries are a bit sturdier, so they tend to stay fresh for about a week.
Fresh meat and fish should be refrigerated or frozen as soon as you bring it home from the store. If you’re going to cook it within a day or two, you can safely keep it in the fridge. If you won’t get around to cooking it for a few days, you’ll be better off if you store it in the freezer instead.
While you need to act fast when it comes to fresh meat and seafood, you should act even faster with shellfish! Shellfish should be eaten right away, or within the first 24 hours. Store it in the freezer if you’re planning to eat it later.
8. Deli Meat
Fresh-sliced deli meat does not have the same shelf life as packaged deli meat. After slicing, deli meat only lasts about 3-5 days. Make sure you’re only buying as much as you can eat during that time period.
Leftovers should always be eaten within a few days of when you cooked them. Be especially careful with foods that have been scooped out of a large container, like potato salad or pasta salad. These are more likely to be exposed to bacteria from repeated scooping, so be sure to finish those leftovers within a couple of days!
While the foods I listed above should not be eaten after they expire, not all foods are quite so risky! In fact, there are plenty of foods you can store for quite a while before eating, even past the expiration date.
8 Foods You Can Still Eat After The Marked Date
1. Whole Eggs
Most cartons of eggs are marked with a “sell by” date, but they will generally stay fresh for about 3 weeks after that if kept in your fridge. Many egg producers treat the eggshells with a thin layer of mineral oil, which seals the porous eggshell and makes it less susceptible to spoiling. (Any cooking will wash away the oil coating, so hard-boiled eggs should be eaten within one week.)
2. Dry Pasta
As long as you store your dry pasta in a cool, dry place, you can eat it whenever you like! It may lose some of its flavor over time or taste a bit stale once cooked, but it won’t really “go bad.”
3. Vanilla Extract & Other Extracts
Vanilla extracts (as well as other extracts like almond, coffee, etc.) are largely made of alcohol. Such a high alcohol content means that it will keep for years (though the flavor and aroma are best within the first 5 years.) Store them away from light and heat, but not in your refrigerator.
4. Worcestershire Sauce
An unopened bottle of Worcestershire sauce will last for up to 10 years! And even once opened, Worcestershire sauce will stay good for 2-3 years if stored in a cool, dark place.
Due to their low respiration rate, carrots can stay fresh for weeks in your refrigerator. Just cut off the tops first, as they can steal moisture and nutrients away from the actual carrot. Store them in an unsealed ziplock bag in your crisper drawer for maximum longevity.
Peppers typically last longer in your fridge than other kinds of produce, thanks to a gene that prevents their cell structures from breaking down. Green peppers in particular can last a while in your fridge, up to about 2-3 weeks. Once your peppers start to look limp or wrinkled, toss them.
The high acidity in most vinegars acts as a natural preservative, inhibiting bacterial growth to the point where it may last indefinitely. While white distilled vinegar doesn’t change over time, other vinegar varieties may experience changes in color or cloudiness (but these changes shouldn’t affect taste or quality.)
8. Hard Cheeses
Hard cheese like cheddar, Swiss, and Parmesan will last quite a while in your fridge. You can make sure they last even longer by handling them with clean or gloved hands! If you notice a spot of mold on your hard cheese, you can cut it away and still eat the cheese safely. (Just cut away 1” around the mold spot on all sides.)
I hope this post proves useful to you, and that you feel more knowledgable about what you can eat and when. While we only covered foods stored at room temperature or in your fridge, many foods can last much longer when stored in your freezer! You can learn all about freezing foods by reading my post at the link below!