Trash it or not … how long is it safe to eat expired foods
There has been a time in all of our lives when we grabbed something from the refrigerator and noticed the expiration date had passed. Whether it’s one day or a week, we all wonder what this date really means—can we still eat the food, and does the expiration date really matter?
About Expiration Dates
Contrary to most beliefs, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, expiration dates on food are not a requirement by the federal government, except for on baby formula. However, some states do require expiration dates by law.
The words found on the food expiration dates are not a hard “throw this away” date. These words are meant to be quality callouts to retailers and manufacturers.
- “Sell-by” date indicates to the retailer to move a food product off the shelf.
- “Best if used by” date notifies the differences in food quality after the date.
- “Use-by” date is the last date manufacturers suggest using the food item based on the quality.
None of these phrases indicate a product is not safe.
Is Food Safe After It Expires?
Is the expiration date on food really a matter of concern? No, the expiration dates on food are directly related to quality and not safety. However, food does spoil or “go bad.” It is recommended to use a food product by the listed date and to use your best judgment on throwing food out for health and safety.
What to look for to know if food is bad:
- The smell is off.
- There is mold present on the food.
- The food’s texture has changed.
- The food has an unpleasant or “different” taste.
The General Guidelines for Common Food Items
After bringing food home, the following items should be safe in the refrigerator or pantry for the following amount of time. Also, putting items in the freezer can preserve the food quality longer without reducing the nutritional value.
- Milk: 7 days in the refrigerator
- Eggs: 3 to 5 weeks in the refrigerator
- Ground Meat: 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator and 3 to 4 months in the freezer
- Lunch meat: 2 weeks in the refrigerator and 1 to 2 months in the freezer
- Dry Pasta: 1 to 2 years in the pantry
- Steaks: 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator
- Fresh Poultry: 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator or 1 year in the freezer
- Canned Fruit: 12 to 18 months in the pantry or 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator
- Rice: 2 years in the pantry
If you or a loved one are suffering from food poisoning or other symptoms of eating spoiled food, SE Texas ER & Hospital’s team of expert physicians are here to initiate treatment to help you heal quickly. For efficient, compassionate, and accurate care, come to our facility 24/7/365.
Disclaimer: As a service to our readers, SE Texas ER & Hospital and Nutex Health state no content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.