12 Foods You Must Toss After Their Expiration Date
Think the sniff test can protect you from foodborne illness? Not necessarily, when these items are involved.
Throw out these foods once the expiration date passes
We’ve all come across this scenario while organizing the pantry and fridge. We sort through the food and look at the packaging, only to realize the expiration date has come and gone. Yikes! Does that mean you should throw it away immediately, even if it looks okay?
The answer: It depends. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, many foods are okay to eat after their best-by and sell-by dates pass, since those dates reflect food quality, not food safety. Aside from baby formula, the FDA doesn’t regulate these dates, meaning they’re mainly used to help people determine when food will taste its best. So, as long as the food hasn’t spoiled, it should be fine to eat.
However, there are certain foods that require a greater adherence to expiration dates, like meat and certain dairy products. It’s also best to toss the other foods on this list once their expiration date passes, unless you want to roll the dice on an extra sick day. And don’t forget to read up on how long milk lasts after the sell-by date, if it’s safe to eat expired eggs and how long cooked meat lasts in the fridge—important information that helps reduce food waste.
How long they last: Three to five days if opened; 10 days if unopened
A full carton of eggs has a little more leeway than their boxed substitutes, but both should be consumed in a timely manner. If you’re debating whether to finish off that two-week-old carton of whites—don’t. “It’s very safe to keep eggs in the refrigerator for three to five weeks if they’re raw and in the shell. For egg-substitute products, you have about three to five days on average once they’re open. If they’re unopened you have about 10 days,” says Jessica Crandall, RDN, a Denver-based registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
How long they last: One to two weeks, depending on the type of soft cheese; however, they should be tossed at the first sign of spoiling
Harder cheeses like cheddar or gouda have a longer shelf life in the fridge because it’s more difficult for bacteria and mold to permeate them. Once opened, though, hard and processed cheeses last about three to four weeks, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—and you can cut out a one-inch square around a small moldy area and use the rest of the cheese if you have to.
However, softer cheeses like ricotta, cream cheese or goat cheese are more susceptible to bacteria and should be tossed at the first sign of spoiling or once the expiration date has passed, whichever comes first. As a general rule, the softer the cheese, the shorter the shelf life, so two weeks max for cream cheese and one week for ricotta, say the experts at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Something else to take note of: Does butter actually expire?
How long they last: One month or one year, depending on the condiment; however, they should be tossed if there’s discoloration or an odd odor
It may seem like spreads and sauces last forever, but just because they’re in a glass jar tucked away in the cool refrigerator doesn’t mean they’re untouchable by bacteria. “Once you’ve opened the lid, that safety seal is broken, and you should be using that condiment in a timely fashion,” says Crandall. “In addition, as we make sandwiches, for example, we dip our knife into the spread container and wipe it onto the sandwich and then dip it back into the container. By doing this you’re putting some of that bacteria back into the container.”
Mustard can last up to a year in the fridge, but chuck the salsa after one month, mayo after two, BBQ sauce after four months and ketchup after six, according to New York’s Department of Agriculture. But if you notice any water floating on top, discoloration or weird smells, it’s best to toss it no matter how long it’s been refrigerated.
How long it lasts: Three to five days
Similar to jarred spreads, potato, tuna or egg salads are more susceptible to bacterial growth because they have more instances of exposure—say, when you take just a few scoops at a time from the container. You may also simply forget that the salad has been sitting there for days. And once your salad has been contaminated, you’re more at risk for food poisoning. “Our food system is very safe, but sometimes when things fall out of temperature or if there is bacteria introduced, we have to be extra cautious,” says Crandall. So toss deli or homemade salads after three to five days, warns the USDA. If you want to sprinkle some salt on that potato salad, here’s what to know about salt expiration.
How long it lasts: Five days after opening, but it could last up to 30 days if it went through high-pressure processing
Green juices may be filling up your Instagram feeds, but raw versions should not find a permanent home in your refrigerator. Raw, untreated juices are incredibly popular among the health-conscious because they’re nutrient-dense, but it’s important to consume them very soon after buying.
Unlike typical processed juices, which undergo pasteurization to kill off harmful bacteria and increase shelf life, these raw juices are not pasteurized, making them much more prone to bacterial contamination. Some cold-pressed juices are treated with high-pressure processing, sometimes called cold pasteurization. This can extend the shelf life of fresh juice to about 30 days, and they’re usually fine when refrigerated properly for five days after opening. Be sure to check a product’s label for the use-by date and handling instructions. Here’s why you should never leave food in the car.
How long it lasts: Go by the meat’s sell-by date
With fresh meat you’re usually dealing with a sell-by date, which tells the store the last day it can keep that product out for sale. What does this mean for you? You either need to eat it or freeze it when you get home. “The sell-by is telling the store when should be the last day to have it on their shelf. They may even be discounting the food to try to get rid of it if it’s the last day they can have it on their shelves,” says Crandall. A lot of fresh raw meat is also contaminated with Salmonella, E. coli or other bacteria. With that in mind, it’s very important to cook the meat at the proper temperatures as a greater defense against bacteria.
How long they last: Two days after purchase (if not frozen)
The USDA says that ground meat should be eaten or frozen within two days of purchase—whether it’s beef, pork, turkey, lamb or another type. Because it’s ground, the bacteria that were originally present on the surface can be mixed throughout the meat, increasing your risk of contracting food poisoning or another illness.
How long it lasts: Three to five days
Take your ticket, but don’t load up too much at the deli counter. Those ham and turkey slices will only last about three to five days, according to the USDA, so it’s important to buy only what you’ll realistically eat during that period (unless you plan on freezing it). Prepackaged deli meats sold in air-tight packaging will last two weeks longer than the fresh-sliced varieties if they’re unopened, but as soon as you crack the seal you’re working with the same three- to five-day consumption window for safe eating.
Deli meat, in particular, is susceptible to a certain kind of bacteria called Listeria, which can multiply in cold environments like your refrigerator, so just because it’s cold doesn’t mean it’s completely protected. You can’t see, smell or taste some of the bacteria that can make you sick. But if the deli meat is a little slimy or giving off a funky smell, then that’s a good sign it needs to go. Also check that your fridge’s thermometer is set to below 40 degrees.
How long it lasts: One to two days after purchase
Fish is no less prone to bacteria than meat and should be consumed in one or two days after purchase, according to the USDA. Otherwise, wrap it up in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil and put it in the freezer, where it can stay for three months or longer.
How long they last: Between three days and two weeks, depending on the type of berry
Whether you get them from the store or a farmers market, berries have a short lifespan. Raspberries and strawberries are good for only about three days after purchase, while blueberries can last up to two weeks, according to FoodSafety.gov’s FoodKeeper app. Pro tip: Freeze any berries you know you won’t eat in that time frame. After that, they turn mushy and become susceptible to growing mold. Something else you should know for your cooking needs: Does flour go bad?
How long they last: Depends on what the expiration date is, so it’s best to eat them ASAP
Yes, even those packaged greens that are pre-washed. Leafy greens still have the potential to carry bacteria like E. coli, so for your safety, eat them quickly, and don’t consume greens after any date posted on the bag. You wouldn’t want a soggy salad anyway. Here’s how long your fresh produce will really last, by the way.
How long it lasts: Three to five days, depending on the type of shellfish
Like other seafood, raw shellfish should be refrigerated pronto before any bacteria can grow enough to cause foodborne illnesses. Clams, mussels and oysters should be eaten within five days after they are bought, according to the FoodKeeper app, while scallops last only three days, tops. If you notice a funky odor from any seafood, throw it out immediately.
Next, learn how long canned food really lasts—and why you should care.