Health Team

Food's shelf-life might be shorter, or longer, than you think

Posted October 29, 2010 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2010 6:51 p.m. EDT

— Before cooking dinner tonight, you might want to check the food expiration dates. Depending on several factors, you might be surprised to hear what may not be safe to eat.

Meats and dairy products go bad quicker than some might think, so it’s important to look for a "sell by" label.

“That's typically designated so that the grocery store can know exactly how long something is guaranteed freshness,” said Rex Healthcare registered dietitian Natalie Newell.

Once you put poultry in your refrigerator, which should be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the clock is ticking.

“Within one to two days, it's recommended to use that product,” Newell said.

The same goes for any ground meat product. Beef, lamb or pork products have a few more days for safe use, up to three or four days. Or, freeze it and it will last several months.

Most deli meats have sell-by dates months into the future, but once you open the cold cuts, a few months of safe use shrinks down to just a few days.

“Consume it within three to five days. Do not go by this sell-by date,” Newell said.

Once opened, hot dogs last seven days in the refrigerator before they should be tossed. Normally, organic milk is pasteurized at a higher temperature than regular milk, so it lasts slightly longer.

“For freshest tasting (milk, drink it) within seven days of opening,” Newell said.

Newell says eggs actually stay safe four to five weeks after the sell-by date, but you'll notice less freshness after two weeks.

As for cheese, “I typically say use your hard cheese within about three weeks of opening that package,” she said.

Many labels, like on bread, read "best if used by," but it's not a safety warning.

“And that's the biggest thing you're going to see is the quality difference,” Newell said.

Of all canned foods, canned meats can last the longest. Unopened, they will keep for two to five years or even longer.

Low-acid canned goods such as soups without tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, pumpkin and peas also last several years. High acidic canned food such as tomatoes, fruit and foods with a lot of vinegar in them are best used within one year or so.

As with any perishable food, when in doubt, throw it out.