Have you ever been tempted to serve food that’s reached or exceeded its expiration date? When you doubt a food’s freshness or safety, it’s always best to toss it out. However, sometimes foods have a longer shelf life than you might think. Here are some handy guidelines:
Though dairy’s freshness aligns closely with posted expiration dates, it can have a bit more shelf life. Milk can be used for one week after its sell-by date as long as it’s been continuously in the fridge, up to 3 months if it has been in the freezer. Greek yogurt can last 1 -2 weeks past its printed date if kept in the refrigerator and 1 - 2 months if kept in the freezer. Parmesan cheese can last for 2-4 months after the printed date if kept in the fridge and 6-8 months in the freezer.
Some fruits have a long shelf life while others go from ripe to rotten quickly. Fresh fruit may not have an expiration date so use common sense as well as your sense of smell, touch, taste and sight. A carton of blueberries can last anywhere from 5-10 days after purchase if refrigerated, but only 2-3 days if left out at room temperature. Apples have a much longer shelf life - up to 4 weeks left out and 1-2 months if stored in the fridge or a dark cool place.
Poultry, Fish and Meat
Pay attention to sell-by dates because the window for freshness can be short. Again, your senses offer the best clue as to whether these highly perishable proteins are still edible. As a rule of thumb, fresh chicken in the fridge may be good only 1-2 days after the expiration date, while roasted chicken can last for 7 days. Fish can last in the fridge 1 or 2 days longer than the printed date, several months longer if it is frozen. The same holds for fresh cuts of beef and pork. Deli meats are generally okay for up to 6 days after the printed date, but if the color and consistency seems off, toss it out.
Breads, Crackers, Cereals
Fresh baked bread goes stale fast – just 2-3 days after its sell-by date. Packaged bread has a longer shelf life, lasting up to 7 days past its labeled date if kept in an air-tight package or in the fridge. An open box of cereal or crackers can last for up to 6 months if the inner lining is tightly shut. Air, moisture, heat and light hasten spoilage so keep these foods in a cool dry cupboard.
Like fruit, most fresh vegetables don’t come with a use-by date, so cues such as firmness, color, and smell are your best indicators for freshness. Asparagus usually lasts 5-7 days after purchase, while orange bell peppers may be fine for up to 2 extra weeks. As for canned vegetables, if stored in a cool dry place these have a remarkable shelf life that may go 1-2 years past the printed date.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with fiber and The F-Factor Diet. Follow Tanya on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and subscribe to her free weekly weight loss newsletter.