If you’ve ever wondered whether something that’s been in your fridge for a while is still okay to eat, you’re not alone! The answer to this age-old question depends on multiple factors, like freshness, flavor, texture, smell, and more. It’s a complex question with complex answers!
While I can’t look into your fridge and tell you what to eat and what to throw away, I can offer some helpful guidelines you can use to figure it out on your own. And that’s exactly what we’ll be discussing in today’s blog post!
But before we get into what you should or shouldn’t eat, I think it would be helpful to start by exploring 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!
There are actually four types of dates that are commonly printed 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 detail worth noting is that food manufacturers aren’t required to put any of these dates on their food—the decision to do so is entirely up to them. As I said before, the seemingly simple question of “Can I still eat this?” is actually pretty complex to answer!
Let’s start by looking at some foods you should give special attention to when deciding whether or not to eat it. Here are 9 foods that should never be eaten past their marked expiration date, along with additional suggestions for storing and eating them safely!
9 Foods You Should Never Eat Past The Expiration Date
1. Liquid Eggs & Liquid Egg Substitutes
Once an egg leaves its shell, its lifespan will shorten considerably. 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. (And if you anticipate you won’t be able to use them up before they expire, you can always toss them in the freezer!)
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 a knife or spoon into the jar, you introduce more bacteria. If you want a longer-lasting option, make the switch to condiments sold in squeeze bottles rather than jars!
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 you want to make sure to drink them within a day or so of bringing them home!
Berries like raspberries and strawberries will only keep for about 3 days or so after purchase. After that, they’ll 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’re better off storing 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 or stored in the freezer within 24 hours of bringing it home.
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 the first couple days after 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 day or two!
While it’s important to be cautious with the foods I just mentioned, not all foods have the same risks! In fact, there are plenty of foods you can store for quite a while before eating, even after 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 you store them in your fridge. Many egg producers treat the eggshells with a thin layer of mineral oil, which seals the porous shell and preserves the freshness of the egg. (Keep in mind that rinsing or cooking the eggs will remove that protective layer, so hard-boiled eggs should be eaten within a few days.)
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 flavor extracts like almond, coffee, etc.) consist largely of alcohol. Such a high alcohol content means that it will keep almost indefinitely, though the flavor and aroma are best within the first 5 years. Store them in a cool, dark, non-refrigerated space.
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 carrots 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 surprisingly long time 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 they may even last indefinitely. White distilled vinegar won’t change over time, but other vinegar varieties may experience changes in color or clarity (but these changes shouldn’t affect the taste or quality.)
8. Hard Cheeses
Hard cheese like cheddar, Swiss, and Parmesan will last quite a while in your fridge. And if you make an effort to only handle them with clean or gloved hands, they’ll last even longer! If you notice a spot of mold on a hard cheese, you can cut it off and still eat the cheese safely. (Just cut away about 1” around the mold spot on all sides.)
I hope the tips in this post prove as useful to you as they have been for me, and that you leave here feeling much more knowledgable about what you can eat and when. And while we only addressed foods stored at room temperature or in your fridge today, keep in mind that many foods will last much longer in your freezer!
To learn more about using your freezer to keep food fresh, check out this blog post.