Not every date you see on your food is an expiration date. Here are four common dates you may see in the grocery store and what they really mean, according to Business Insider:
Sell-by date: How long the store has to display the product Use-by date: When manufacturer thinks the product will be at its peak quality Best if used by date: The best date for flavor and quality Closed by date or coded dates: The packing number that the manufacturer uses
Foods you should NEVER eat past expiration dates
Foods you should NEVER eat past expiration dates
A full carton of eggs has a little more leeway than their boxed substitutes, but both should be consumed in a timely manner. If you’re debating whether to finish off that two-week old carton of whites—don’t. “It’s very safe to keep eggs in the refrigerator for three to five weeks if they’re raw and in the shell. For egg substitute products, you have about three to five days on average once they’re open. If they’re unopened you have about 10 days,” says Jessica Crandall, a Denver-based registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Harder cheeses like cheddar or gouda have a longer shelf life because it’s more difficult for bacteria and mold to permeate them. Once opened, hard cheeses may last up to six months in the refrigerator, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However, softer cheeses like ricotta, cream cheese, or goat cheese, are more susceptible to mold and bacteria and should be tossed at the first sign of spoiling or once the expiration date has passed, whichever comes first. As a general rule of thumb, softer cheeses last about one week in the refrigerator after opening.
It may seem like spreads and sauces last forever, but just because they’re in a glass jar tucked away in the cool refrigerator doesn’t mean they’re untouchable by bacteria. “Once you’ve opened the lid, that safety seal is broken, and you should be using that condiment in a timely fashion,” says Crandall. “In addition, as we make sandwiches for example, we dip our knife into the spread container and wipe it onto the sandwich and then dip it back into the container. By doing this you’re putting some of that bacteria back into the container.” Jarred condiments tend to have more exposure to bacteria and therefore could lead to foodborne illness if not trashed at the appropriate time. If you notice any water floating on top, discoloration, or weird smells—just toss it.
Similar to jarred spreads like mayo and mustard, potato or egg salads are more susceptible to bacteria growth because they have more instances of exposure. Taking a few scoops at a time from the container introduces more bacteria and increases risk of contamination leading to foodborne illness. Salads like these are often pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about, giving time for that bacteria to grow and for that food to spoil. “Our food system is very safe, but sometimes when things fall out of temperature or if there is bacteria introduced, we have to be extra cautious with those things,” says Crandall. Check out these other summertime food safety tips you might be ignoring.
Cold pressed juices
Green juices may be filling up your Instagram feeds daily, but they should not find a permanent home in your refrigerator. Cold-pressed or raw juices are incredibly popular among the health-conscious because they’re nutrient-dense, but it’s important to consume them very soon after buying. Unlike typical processed juices which undergo pasteurization to kill off harmful bacteria and increase shelf life, these raw juices are not pasteurized, making them much more prone to bacteria contamination. Only buy from your local juice bar what you plan to drink in the next 48-72 hours if you want to avoid getting sick.
With fresh meat you’re usually dealing with a “sell by” date, which tells the store the last day it can keep that product out for sale. What does this mean for you? You either need to eat it or freeze it when you get home. “The ‘sell by’ is telling the store when it should be the last day to have it on their shelf. They may even be discounting the food to try to get rid of it if it’s the last day they can have it on their shelves,” says Crandall. A lot of fresh raw meat is also contaminated with Salmonella, E. coli, or other bacteria. With that in mind, it’s very important to cook the meat at the proper temperatures as a greater defense against bacteria.
The FDA says that ground meat should be eaten or frozen within two days of purchase. This applies to beef, pork, turkey, lamb, and any other type of ground meat. Because it’s ground, the bacteria that were originally present on the surface can be mixed throughout the meat, increasing your risk of contracting food poisoning or another illness. Don't miss these surprising foods that food experts will never eat.
Take your ticket, but don’t load up too much at the deli counter. Those ham and turkey slices will only last about three to five days, so it’s important to only buy what you’ll realistically eat during that period. Prepackaged deli meats sold in air-tight packaging will last a little longer than the fresh-sliced varieties if they’re unopened, but as soon as you crack the seal you’re working with the same three- to five-day consumption window for safe eating. Deli meat in particular is susceptible to a certain kind of bacteria called Listeria, which can multiply in cold environments like your refrigerator, so just because it’s cold doesn’t mean it’s completely protected. If the deli meat is a little slimy or giving off a funky smell, then that’s a good sign it needs to go.
Whether you get them from the store or a farmer’s market, berries have a short lifespan. Raspberries and strawberries are only good for about three days after purchase, while blueberries can last a few days longer in the fridge. Pro tip: Freeze any berries you know you won’t eat in that time frame.After that, they turn mushy and become susceptible to a bacteria called cyclospora cayetanensis, which can cause diarrhea, bloating, vomiting, and other food poisoning symptoms.
Yes, even those packaged ones that are pre-washed. Prevention.com reports that these leafy greens still have the potential to carry bacteria like E. coli because they’re touched by so many hands. For your safety, wash all types of greens before eating and never consume them after any date posted on the bag. Why would you want a soggy salad anyway?
Sprouts are grown in warm climates, which makes them ideal breeding ground for bacteria right off the bat. Eat them past their ideal date (about two days after purchase) and your risk of getting sick increases. If you’re pregnant or already sick, avoid them altogether.
Like other seafood, raw shellfish can only last a day or two in the fridge before their bacteria can cause foodborne illnesses. Clams and scallops should be eaten no more than 24 hours after they are bought. Oysters eaten past their expiration date may contain vibrio vulnificus, bacteria that can cause blood poisoning. If you notice a funky odor from any seafood, throw it out immediately. On the other hand, some foods are so dangerous that eating them is actually against the law. These are the foods you never knew were banned in the U.S.
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None of these are expiration dates nor do they indicate whether food is safe to eat or not. In fact, the FDA allows manufacturers to sell almost any food past these dates, with baby formula being the exception. What’s more, manufacturers aren’t required to put any of these dates on their food; the decision is totally up to them.
Whether it’s a Thanksgiving turkey or a weeknight piece of pork, rinsing poultry, meat or eggs before cooking them is likely to do more harm than good. Besides the fact that any bacteria you think you’re washing away should be killed off when cooked, “you’re increasing your chances for cross-contamination,” since the meat’s juices can land in your sink or on your countertop and mingle with other foods, Steinberg says.
Should you wash pre-washed produce?
Giving your spinach or snap peas another scrub-down isn’t being safe, it’s being sorry for potentially exposing the greens to harmful bacteria in the sink or on your countertop – and for wasting your time. "If bacteria managed to survive the chlorinated wash in the processing plant, it will likely survive the additional rinsing at home," says Steinberg, who recommends buying non-bagged produce if you’re going to wash it anyway. Just be sure to rinse it under running water – not soap, detergent, bleach or commercial washes, suggests Foodsafety.gov, which is run by the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Can you wash potatoes in the dishwasher?
Speaking of detergent, Steinberg has been surprised by how many people think washing potatoes in the dishwasher is a cute hack rather than a bad idea. “The dishwasher wasn’t designed to wash food; it was designed to wash dishes,” she says. “And whether or not there’s soap in there that cycle, you have residual chemicals that have gone through that machine.” And don’t even try arguing that eating dishwasher-cleaned potatoes is the same as eating off a dishwasher-cleaned plate: Your potatoes, unlike your dishes, are sponges for risky agents, Steinberg says.
Do you need to wash watermelon?
Among the foods you actually do need to wash – but may assume get a pass – are fruits with rinds like watermelon, cantaloupe and oranges. “Wash all produce because whatever’s on the outside will be transferred to the inside” when you slice into it, Steinberg says. Even food with peels like bananas should ideally be washed since your hands can transfer bacteria on the peel to your mouth. To wash sturdy fruits and vegetables thoroughly (cucumbers count, too!), use a clean produce brush, Foodsafety.gov suggests.
How often do you need to wash your hands when cooking?
In the case of hand-washing while cooking, more is better. Foodsafety.gov recommends doing so for 20 seconds with plain soap and warm water before, during and after preparing food, and especially after handling uncooked eggs, raw meat, seafood or poultry. And don’t forget to remove your jewelry before cooking, adds Monica Amsterdam, director of nutrition at the Medical and Wellness Center of New Jersey. “Jewelry can hold and harbor microorganisms contaminating the food that we’re eating,” she says, as can touch-screen devices. “If you have to use your electronic device while cooking, make sure to disinfect it first,” Amsterdam says.
What's a recipe's 'rest time'?
Recipes that have rest times – or how long the dish should rest off the heat before digging in – have them for a reason: “to allow the product to cook thoroughly,” says Janell Goodwin, a technical information specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Take that goal a step further, she suggests, by using a food thermometer to see if your meal has reached what the USDA considers safe. “The most underutilized utensil that is really the secret of cooking is the food thermometer,” Steinberg says, since you're also likely to overcook foods if you rely solely on, say, the juices' color.
Is the 5-second rule legit?
If you drop that steamy, buttery croissant on the ground, resist the temptation to grab it and pretend like nothing happened, Goodwin says. New research supports her: In a recent study, researchers found that all kinds of foods can become contaminated with harmful bacteria after less than one second on the floor, although the longer they’re grounded and the wetter the food, the riskier it seems. If your dog or cat licks your food, consider it untouchable, too, Goodwin adds. “Our pets, although we love them dearly, can carry harmful bacteria in their mouths that aren't necessarily harmful to them, but can be harmful to us,” she says.
Can you cool food in the refrigerator?
Your guests are hungry and you’ve got a hot pot of chili to appease them – key word being “hot.” How can you serve it quickly without burning their tongues? While you can put hot food in the fridge, Steinberg says, it’s important to do it in smaller portions so that the food cools uniformly and as quickly as possible. “Improper cooling,” she adds, “is a big way that people get foodborne illness.” If you want to store, not serve, hot food, follow the same protocol or put it in shallow containers or an ice bath, while stirring every 10 minutes or so, Steinberg suggests.
How long is food safe on the counter?
Good food, drink and conversation can make it easy to forget just how long ago you abandoned that casserole on the counter. But if it’s been close to or over two hours, don’t try to salvage it, experts say. “Throw it out; it should never be reheated” at that point, Steinberg says, since a couple of hours at room temperature is plenty of time to accumulate bacteria that won’t be killed off. Hot or cold foods shouldn’t be transported at room temperature for more than two hours either, she adds. “Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.”
How long can I keep leftovers?
Nothing beats a thick sandwich stuffed with leftovers from yesterday’s Thanksgiving feast. A lot beats a thick sandwich stuffed with leftovers from last week’s Thanksgiving feast. “Never [eat leftovers] beyond seven days,” says Steinberg, who recommends an even more conservative three or four day limit for meats and poultry. Remaining food, however, doesn’t have to go to waste: Almost all food can be frozen indefinitely, Goodwin says. “Freezing … prevents the growth of microorganisms that cause both food spoilage and foodborne illness,” she says. Check out the USDA’s app to look up the recommended storage times for thousands of foods.
How many times can you reheat something?
Every time you reheat, say, mashed potatoes, you’re sending them into what Steinberg calls “the temperature danger zone” – that range between 40 and 140 degrees F that’s prime for harmful bacteria growth. While one zap through the microwave is safe so long as your food's cooked to 165 degrees F, thoroughly stirred and reheated in an explicitly “microwave-safe” container, reheating and re-refrigerating the same batch day in and out just multiplies the food’s visits through the danger zone, Steinberg says. Instead, only reheat what you know you can eat. “You get one try,” she says.