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Do Food Expiration Dates Really Matter?

Experts provide a guide to the variety of confusing 'freshness' dates on food.
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How Long Are Foods OK to Eat?

If you are not up on your Julian calendar and dating seems sort of a hodgepodge, how about memorizing some basic rules?

  • Milk. Usually fine until a week after the "Sell By" date.
  • Eggs. OK for 3-5 weeks after you bring them home (assuming you bought them before the "sell by" date). VanLandingham says double-grade As will go down a grade in a week but still be perfectly edible.
  • Poultry and seafood. Cook or freeze this within a day or two.
  • Beef and pork. Cook or freeze within three to five days.
  • Canned goods. Highly acidic foods like tomato sauce can keep 18 months or more. Low-acid foods like canned green beans are probably risk-free for up to five years. "You do not want to put cans in a hot place like a crawl space or garage," Peggy VanLaanen, EdD, RD, a professor of food and nutrition at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, tells WebMD. She suggests keeping canned and dry food at 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in a dry, dark place. Humidity can be a factor in speeded-up deterioration. The FDA notes that taste, aroma, and appearance of food can change rapidly if the air conditioning fails in a home or warehouse. Obviously, cans bulging with bacteria growth should be discarded, no matter what the expiration date!

Food Safety Tips

Since product dates don't give you a true guide to safe use of a product, here are some other tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Services:

  • Purchase the product before the date expires.
  • If perishable, take the food home immediately after purchase and refrigerate it promptly. Freeze it if you can't use it within times recommended on the chart.
  • Once a perishable product is frozen, it doesn't matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.
  • Follow handling recommendations on product.
  Storage Times After Purchase
Poultry 1 or 2 days
Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb 3 to 5 days
Ground Meat and Ground Poultry 1 or 2 days
Fresh Variety Meats (Liver, Tongue, Brain, Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings) 1 or 2 days
Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating 5 to 7 days
Sausage from Pork, Beef or Turkey, Uncooked 1 or 2 days
Eggs 3 to 5 weeks

 

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