Food Expiration Dates That Can And Cannot Be Ignored

October 30, 2017  |  
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Having to throw away food is frustrating on several fronts: 1) You were looking forward to eating that and now you don’t get to 2) You wasted money and 3) You can’t believe you miscalculated how much food you needed for the week—again. Throwing expired food out can be so frustrating that some people just…don’t. Instead, they gamble and eat the smoked salmon that smells a little fishy or the Alfredo sauce that has turned slightly blue. You can’t blame them—but their stomachs will blame them later. There are some foods on which you can push the expiration date, but others should be observed militantly. Here are foods you can ignore the expiration date on, and foods you should never ignore the expiration date on.

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Okay to push: Canned food

There’s a reason you should put canned food in your emergency preparedness kit: it can last a very long time. The truth is that you can eat most canned foods for three or four years past the expiration date so long as the canned hasn’t formed any rust.

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Never okay: Egg substitutes

If you like to buy your egg or egg substitutes in bulk and use them over long periods of time for your various baking and breakfast needs, go with real eggs. Egg substitutes typically need to be consumed within three to five days of being opened. Don’t push the date on these.

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Okay to push: Breakfast cereal

Cereal is another item you probably stockpile, especially because you never know, on any given morning, which cereal you’ll be in the mood for. Fortunately, it’s typically okay to eat cereal for up to half a year past its expiration date.

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Never okay: Jams, spreads, and other jarred goods

Jars might look like pioneer items meant to last ages and ages, but their contents should not be consumed past the expiration date. The nature of jarred condiments—such as jam or relish—makes them very susceptible to growing bacteria because you open these over and over again, dunking knives with other food into them.

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Okay to push: Hard cheese

Hard cheese is okay to eat, even after it’s developed a little bit of mold, but just make sure to cut off the mold. Hard cheese is, in a sense, like a mold, and can withstand sitting around a bit longer. Throw these out a month after expiration.

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Never push: Soft cheese

Hard cheese’s sister food—soft cheese—should always be eaten in a timely manner. The moisture in soft cheese like goat cheese, ricotta, or cream, makes these quite vulnerable to bacteria growth.

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Okay to push: Eggs

Egg substitutes need to be eaten quickly but the real thing can usually hang out in the fridge for a couple of weeks past the expiration date, so long as they’re still in the shells. To check if an egg is still good, put it in a bowl of water. If it sinks to the bottom, it’s safe to eat. If it floats, toss it.

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Never okay: Cold pressed juice

The same thing that makes cold-pressed juice appealing is the same thing that can give you a major stomach ache if you wait too long to drink them: they’re raw. That means they have not gone through the pasteurization process that destroys harmful bacteria.

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Okay to push: Package snacks

Things like packaged cookies, pretzels, and chips can typically be consumed for long after the expiration date so long as you keep their bag shut. They contain enough preservatives to keep them edible for a while.

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Never okay: Deli meat

Though deli meat may contain more salt than fresh meat, it doesn’t last much longer than the fresh stuff. You need to eat deli meat within a few days of bringing it home. This sandwich ingredient can grow the very dangerous bacteria known as Listeria if kept too long.

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Okay to push: Bread

You can keep bread for quite a long time so long as you toss it in the freezer when it hits the best by date. After that, it should be good for months at a time. Just defrost it on the counter or in the microwave when you’re ready to use it.

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Never okay: Fresh meat

You should typically eat fresh meat within two days of purchasing it. It’s important to understand that the sell by and the best by date are nearly the same with fresh meat. If you find a piece of meat and the sell by date is that day, it’s likely been on the shelf of that store for a couple of days already.

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Okay to push: Frozen goods

The whole point of frozen food is that you can store it away and keep it for a rainy day when you don’t feel like going to the store—and you can. You can eat frozen food long after the expiration ate, even if it develops freezer burn.

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Never okay: Baby formula

Baby formula should be used within 24 hours of opening it. You should also make sure you store it properly. This is one food that can develop bacteria fast, and your baby’s little tummy isn’t strong enough yet to fight that bacteria the way yours would be.

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Okay to push: Standard fruit juice

Fruit juice from concentrate that comes in a carton is typically okay to drink up to several weeks past the expiration date. It’s high in acidity, which kills off bacteria.

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Never okay: Fresh pasta

If you opt for boxed pasta, that stuff can stay good on the shelf for a while. But fresh pasta must go in the fridge and be eaten within three to five days of storage. It’s made with eggs, which are essentially raw until you cook this pasta.

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