When is it Safe to Eat Expired Foods?
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When is it Safe to Eat Expired Foods?

Posted on Tuesday, September 27th, 2011 at 10:12 am
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Sell-by, best if used by, packaged on… You see these labels on every food product you buy, but what happens when you keep a product on the shelf past its expiration date? Do you throw it away? According to NBC, Americans throw away approximately 14% of the food they purchase each year, which adds up to about $600 annually for a family of four! Yet, the truth is, expiration dates are more about quality than safety, so the food we throw away because of expiration dates is still perfectly safe to eat in most cases.

How Long Do Foods Last Beyond the Expiration Date?

So, how do you know what is safe to eat past the expiration date, and what isn’t? Here’s what NBC had to report on some of the foods people throw away most often:

  • Eggs can actually last 3-5 weeks beyond the marked expiration date.
  • Milk lasts up to a week beyond the expiration date (less for whole milk). If it looks and smells normal, it is safe to drink still. If it appears off, toss it.
  • Cottage cheese will last 10-14 days beyond the expiration date.
  • Unopened mayonnaise lasts 30 days beyond the expiration date. Once opened, mayonnaise is good for 3-4 months.
  • Yogurt is good for 7-10 days past its sell-by date.
  • Bread, if kept refrigerated, can last 1-2 weeks. If frozen, bread can last for up to 3 months!
  • Lunch meat, once opened, only lasts 3-5 days in the refrigerator but can last 1-2 months in the freezer. Unopened refrigerated lunch meat is good for 2 weeks, or 1-2 months in the freezer.
  • For more information on the shelf-life of various foods, visit ShelfLifeAdvice.com. To keep track of your own expiration dates, mark your groceries with the date you bought them.


Sell By Versus Best By Versus Use By

So really, what do the different expiration dates mean?

  • Sell-By: When you see “sell-by,” this indicates the date that the product will start declining in taste and quality. Thus, this is the date that the store is supposed to remove the product from the shelves. However, the “sell-by” date does not mean the product is unsafe to eat still.
  • Best By (or Best if Used By): If a package is marked “best by” or “best if used by,” that only means that the flavor and quality is at its best through that date. This does not mean the product is inedible past the “best by” date.
  • Use By: If the package is marked “use by,” it simply means the manufacturer will no longer stand behind the quality of the product past the date marked. Again, many foods are still safe to eat after their “use by” date because the decline in quality beyond the “use by” date is gradual. It is just important to use your senses to tell if a product is still edible. If it looks, smells, and tastes normal it should be fine. If it looks and smells off, then it’s best to send it to the trash.


By understanding how long different foods are good beyond their expiration dates, you can save yourself a lot of money – as much as $600 a year – by not throwing away perfectly good food. Now that’s some serious grocery savings!

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Good Tip: Saving money is important – especially if you have a lot of expenses like bills to pay, loans to pay off, and all the other things that drain your bank account. Figuring out a way to save money can feel tedious to some, and like a punishment to others. U.S. News suggests that you try one of these money saving challenges. The “No Eating Out for a Month” Challenge This one is self-explanatory. The goal is to avoid eating out for an entire month. This might be super easy for people who enjoy making meals at home. People who really enjoy dining out, or ordering food to be sent to their home, may struggle with this one. It’s worth a try because spending money on take-out is more expensive than buying groceries. The Pantry Challenge This one is a variation of the “No Eating Out for a Month” challenge. The goal is to use up all of your groceries before you buy more. It forces you to try and remember why you bought a food or beverage that you don’t know what to do with, and gives you the opportunity to find a way to use it. The one exemption to this challenge is the foods that have expired. Don’t eat them! Throw them in the trash. The “No Spend” Challenge Make a goal to avoid spending money during an entire weekend. The only exemption in this challenge is that you are allowed to pay bills. This challenge is interesting because it requires creativity. You must be creative and find workarounds for problems that you would typically solve by spending money. You may have a different outlook on spending after finishing this challenge.