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Is my food still good after the use by date?

Americans waste about 40million tons of food a year.

food waste

Here are some foods you can eat past the use-by date, and some you shouldn’t.


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Understanding food dates

There are lots of factors that contribute to food waste. A study found that more than 80% of consumers have thrown away edible food because they thought it was spoiled. Find additional information here.

Freshness and expiration labels on packaging can be confusing. But, there are plenty of foods you can eat after the use by date. Plus, knowing which products have a longer self life can save you at the store.

There is not a standardized way to mark food for freshness and safety on the package. This has resulted in a few different but similar sounding terms indicating its freshness.

Here is what each of the terms mean, according to the USDA:

  • Best if used by/before: tells how long a product will have the best flavor/ quality.
  • Sell by: indicates to the store staff how long a product should be on display.
  • Use by: last recommended day to consume the product at peak quality.

The use-by date date is most relevant for consumers worried about spoilage. However, none of the dates indicate safety.

According to the USDA, properly stored products can be consumed after their labeled date as long as it isn’t noticeably spoiled.

What foods can I eat past the use by date?

Use-by dates aren’t the end all, be all of freshness. However, they are a helpful indicator of when to start checking for spoilage or mold.

If something looks, smells, feels, or tastes off after the use-by date, it is best to toss it. However, there are plenty of foods that outlive their labels:

  • Bread: You’re in the clear to eat your bread as long as there isn’t any mold. Putting it in the fridge or freezer could preserve it for longer.
  • Canned food: If the cans are not damaged, most canned goods are safe years after the printed date.
  • Chocolate: As long as it doesn’t smell weird, it is probably good a few months past the expiration.
  • Cereal: Dry cereal doesn’t really expire. It will get stale about 6-8 weeks after opening, but won’t pose a health risk to eat.
  • Dry pasta: Uncooked pasta stored in a dry place will stay good for about two years after its use by date.
  • Eggs: Refrigerated eggs can stay fresh for three weeks after the use by date. Rotten eggs are recognizable by smell.
  • Hard cheese: Hard cheeses are good for awhile. Mold on something like cheddar will still be fine after you cut off the affected area.
  • Honey: If properly sealed and stored, honey never goes bad. As long as you keep a tight lid on the jar it won’t spoil.
  • Liquor: Unopened liquor will never go bad. Once opened, it will lose flavor after about a year but won’t get you sick.
  • Milk: You’ll know if your milk is spoiled by look and smell. As long it smells and tastes fresh, you can drink it after the use-by date.
  • Peanut butter: Unopened store-bought peanut butter can last for years. After opening, you still have about a year before it goes bad.
  • Pickles: Stored in an airtight container in the fridge, they should last for two years.
  • Vinegar: This is just about spoil-proof and is often used as a preservative.
  • White rice: If stored in a cool, dry, area, it has an indefinite self life.
  • Yogurt: As long as it is refrigerated and sealed, it is good two weeks after the use by date.

What foods should I avoid after the use by date?

Some foods allow us to stretch the self life, but others are not so forgiving. Consider throwing away these products if the use by date has passed:

  • Fish/ Meat: Fish and meat should be eaten within a few days of buying them . The longer it sits in your fridge, you are increasing the risk of getting food poising. If you won’t be eating it before the use by date, put it in the freezer to extend its life.
  • Fresh berries: Fresh berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries can carry a parasite called Cyclospora. It can cause flu-like symptoms. Wash your berries before eating them, and freeze the ones you won’t finish by the use by date.
  • Fresh juice: Most juice is unpasteurized. This means that they are prone to bacterial contaminations.
  • Soft cheese: Soft cheese ca be a breeding ground for bacteria like E. Coli and Listeria.

Be sure to keep these lists in mind when shopping to save money and reduce waste.


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