The vast majority of expiration dates are completely bogus -- here's how long your food is still good

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Food Expiration Date Labels Are Confusing, Uninformative: NRDC Study

We waste a lot of food out of fear: experts estimate that $165 billion worth gets tossed each year.

But most expiration dates are largely made-up. According to The National Resource Defense Council, the "sell by" dates do indicate not whether or not foods are safe to eat — they simply tell you when food will reach its limits for "optimal quality."

Handy website StillTasty compiles data from sources like the USDA, the FDA, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as food manufacturers themselves. The site provides helpful tips on when to dispose of hundreds of household goods.

Tips about the "sell by, best buy, and used by" terms.

The USDA advises you to purchase the product before the "sell-by date," and the "best if used by (or before)" date indicates when the product will have optimal taste and quality. "Use-by" date simply indicates the last day the food will be at its top quality.

The USDA notes that it's okay to eat these foods past the dates on the packaging — however, this does not mean we are invincible from getting sick "If foods are mishandled," the USDA writes on its website, "food borne bacteria can grow, and if pathogens are present, cause foodborne illness — before or after the date on the package." The only exception is infant formula, as the USDA advises parents to not buy or even use baby formula once the "use-by" date rolls around.

What about mold?

Generally, a rule of thumb to go by is to pay attention to when you purchased or opened the food, rather than what the packaging says.

Uncooked poultry

According to the USDA, poultry can be stored in a refrigerator for 1 to 2 days after purchase. If cooked and the packaging is unopened, it will last roughly 3 to 4 days. Once opened, the chicken will last 3 to 4 days, as well.

Still Tasty notes you can keep chicken in the freezer for 9 months.

Uncooked beef, veal, pork, and lamb

Although the USDA advises to pay heed to the "use-by" date, you don't need to pay any mind to the "sell-by" date. The product will stay good for 3 to 5 days after purchase. StillTasty mentions that you can keep beef in the freezer for 6-12 months, and it will remain top quality.

Eggs

Eggs in egg carton  19643795Nordic PhotosCaption:EGGS IN CARTONPhotographer:Frank ChmuraDimensions:5042px x 3361px

Eggs are pretty controversial. But if eggs simply have a "sell-by" date, feel comfort in the fact that you can store them for 3 to 5 weeks after purchase. You can keep them frozen for up to a year.

Bacon

Everyone loves bacon, but how long should bacon be kept in the fridge before you toss it? While the USDA advises you to adhere to "use by" dates, the "sell-by" dates, once again, doesn't matter much. If left open, you can keep bacon in the fridge (4o degrees Fahrenheit) for 2 weeks. Once you open it, you have 7 days to eat the bacon.

Lunch meat

If your lunch meat has a "sell-by" date rather than a "use-by" date, if you don't open it, the USDA says you can keep it for 2 weeks. But once you open the package, you only have 3 to 5 days left. StillTasty adds you can keep commercially packaged lunch meat (ham) in the freezer for 1-2 months!

Nuts

Commercially packaged nuts will stay for 10-12 months in the pantry, StillTasty says.

An opened jar of peanut butter

Once you open a jar of peanut butter, you can get 3-4 months out of it. StillTasty says you will get 3 months out of the peanut butter if you leave it in the pantry. However, you can (slightly) maximize the lifetime of your opened peanut butter if you refrigerate it — shelf life will be 3-4 months.

Lasagna noodles

No need to regularly purge your cabinets of noodles. Opened or unopened, you can get 3 years out of lasagna noodles, notes Still Tasty.

Chocolate

Chocolate bar and wrapper

Boxed chocolates can last longer than you might expect, if stored properly. StillTasty advises you to store chocolate at room temperature to ge 6 to 9 months out of them (even if they've been opened).

Additionally, StillTasty writes that you can extend chocolate's life by cranking up the temperature. "As a general rule, refrigerating chocolate can extend its shelf life by at least 25%, while freezing can prolong it by 50% or more. Place the original box in a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag, seal it tightly and then refrigerate for up to one year, or freeze for up to 18 months for best quality. Thaw frozen chocolates in the refrigerator," the website advises.

However, StillTasty mentions that this is not the case for luxury, artisanal, handmade chocolates — at room temp, they'll stay fresh for 2-3 weeks.

Milk

If refrigerated, StillTasty writes that "Milk will generally remain drinkable for about one week after the "sell-by" date on the package." You can extend milk's life to about 3 months by freezing it. (The texture might be grainy, StillTasty notes, but thawed milk works for baking.)

A general rule of thumb for milk is this: "sour smell, an off-white or yellowish tinge to the color, and a thick or clumpy texture" means it's time to toss the milk.

Lettuce

Romaine lettuce will last about a week in the fridge. However, StillTasty writes, it doesn't do well if it's frozen. For optimal freshness, the site advises to not wash lettuce until you're about to eat it.

Yogurt

If you purchase commercially packaged, already refrigerated yogurt, you can keep it for about 7-10 days after the "sell by" date. If you freeze the yogurt, you can get 1-2 months out of it. Opened yogurt, StillTasty notes, will taste optimally for 5-7 days after it's opened.

How to tell if it's gone bad? Just check and use common sense. StillTasty says red-flags include " a highly runny watery consistency, a clumpy texture, and a sour smell." If you see mold, throw out the whole package. ("Do not taste the yogurt first," Still Tasty wisely advises.)

Fresh, raw salmon

Unopened salmon will last 1-2 from the date of purchase, notes StillTasty. However, if you freeze it (before the 1-2 days mentioned previously, that is), you can squeeze out an additional 2-3 months for optimal taste.

Ketchup

bowl of ketchup

Left in the pantry, unopened ketchup will last around a year. Once opened, it will last around a month in the pantry and six months in the fridge.

Wine

The rules change for wine based on a few factors. While it's generally frowned upon to serve cold red wine, sticking opened red wine in the fridge will help it maintain freshness (it'll last an additional 3-5 days after you pop the cork). Stick opened red wine in the freezer, and it will stay for another 4-6 months! Opened white wine lasts just as long.

If you're a light drinker, it's wise to purchase a full-bodied wine (think Merlot or syrah vs. pinot noir), StillTasty says. Those variations of wine last longer.

Unopened red and white wine will last 3 years and beyond, depending on how fine it is. Nice wines can last up to 100 years!

Honey

Good news: honey left in the pantry will last forever!

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