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Food Expiration Dates – Guidelines Charts

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Food Expiration Dates - Guidelines Charts

Looking for a cheat sheet to know when your food will go bad? Take a look at these handy food expiration dates charts.

We could all use a little guidance when our refrigerators and freezers go from organized chaos to mass food gravesite. We’ve all been there — you open your fridge to reveal questionable leftovers and unidentifiable produce. How long has that lasagna lingered, and is it safe to eat? The freezer offers questions of its own — is it safe to freeze parmesan cheese? Can I thaw and eat those burgers from three months ago? Keep these food expiration dates guidelines charts handy to know when to toss and when to keep those leftovers.

You’ll master the basics for temperature-controlled and shelf-stable foods to ensure that you minimize food waste while keeping your family healthy and happy. Our chart on food product dating terminology will also get you up to speed on the “use by” and “sell by” dates.

Temperature-Controlled Foods Chart

FoodHow Long to Keep in the Fridge(from date of purchase)How Long to Keep in the Freezer(from date of purchase)
Ready-to-eat food/leftovers3-4 days3-4 months, don’t store in the Styrofoam take-home containers
Dairy & Eggs
Eggs3-5 weeks from the date you purchased them (in the shell). The sell-by date will likely have passed within this time frame. If it smells bad raw or cooked, don’t eat it. Hardboiled: 1 week. Cooked in a dish like a frittata or a quiche, toss after 3-4 days.(not recommended)
Butter1-2 months6-9 months
MilkFollow package “use-by” date3 months
Cottage Cheese (and other soft cheeses)2 weeks (1 week after opening)(not recommended)
Parmesan (and other hard cheeses)12 months(not recommended)
Yogurt1-2 weeks1-2 months
Meats & Vegetarian Proteins
Deli MeatsUp to 2 weeks if unopened, or within 3-5 days if opened. Deli meats without preservatives will only last 2-3 days from opening.Up to two months
Chicken Breasts2-3 days after “sell by” date; if thawed from the fridge, up to 2 days after thawedUp to 9 months
Ground Meat2 days after the “sell by” dateUp to 4 months
Fresh Fish1-2 after “sell by” date3-8 months
Fresh Shellfish1-2 days after “sell by” date3-12 months
TofuOnce opened, 3-4 days. Use expiration on the package.5 months

Table Sources: (1-3, 6, 7)

As a general rule, if something has visible mold or if it smells “off,” throw it away! None of us want to waste food, but our health is extremely important and precious. If you aren’t sure about something in the freezer, use four months as a cut-off. Although freezing inactivates microbes in food, the quality of food tends to suffer after four months. (4)

Shelf-Stable Foods Chart

Many shelf-stable foods have a longer life when they remain sealed in the manufacturers packaging. Once you open them, their shelf life diminishes. Here are food expiration dates for popular shelf-stable foods.

FoodUnopened Shelf Stable(from date of purchase)How Long to Keep Temp-Controlled(from date of purchase or after opening)
Condiments
Mayonnaise3-6 months2 months in the fridge after opening
Salsa1 year1 month in the fridge after opening
Honey2 years (kept in a storage place that undergoes changes in temperature, then the honey may only last two years). Otherwise, a sealed jar of honey can last for decades.(not recommended)
Hot sauce6 months>6 months in the fridge
Jam/jelly6-18 months6-12 months in the fridge after opening (check for mold, refer to best by date)
Ketchup1 year6 months in the fridge after opening
Mustard1-2 years1 year in the fridge after opening
Pickles1 year3 months in the fridge after opening (if sealed tightly after opening and properly stored -until best by date, smell test)
Soy sauce3 yearsafter opening, several months at room temperature or 6-8 months in the refrigerator (check smell and taste)
Pasta sauce(package “use-by” date)3-5 days in the fridge after opening
Grains
Lentils (dry)1 year(not recommended)
Oats (dry)4 months8 months frozen
Quinoa (dry)2-3 years4 to 6 months in pantry or 8 -10 months in the freezer
Brown rice (dry)1 year6 months in the fridge after opening or in a cool pantry
White rice (dry)2 years (1 year after opening)6 months in the fridge after opening in a cool pantry
Tortillas (corn)25-45 days (store in fridge)60-90 days in the fridge (check for mold)
Tortillas (flour)3 months (store in fridge)3 months in the fridge after opening; 6 months in the freezer (check for mold)
Nuts & Seeds
Almond Butter1 year(not necessary)
Almonds4 months8 months in the fridge after purchase; 10 months in the freezer
Cashews2-4 weeks6 months in the fridge after purchase; 12 months in the freezer
Flaxseeds2 years (whole)12 months in the fridge or freezer (ground)
Peanuts4 weeks12 months in the fridge or 24 months frozen
Baking Ingredients
Flour, white6-12 months (6-8 months after opening)1 year in the fridge after opening
Flour, whole wheat3-6 months6-8 months in the fridge after opening (better stored in the freezer)
Sugar, white2 years(not necessary)
Sugar, brown2 years (unopened), 18-24 months after opening(not necessary)
Sugar, confectioners2 years (unopened), 18-24 months after opening(not necessary)
Other
Canned goods, high acid (e.g., fruit, tomato soup, etc.)12-18 months (without opening)5-7 days in the fridge after opening (transfer to a glass or plastic container)
Canned goods, low acid (e.g., meat, corn, beans, peas) 2-5 years (without opening) – store under 85°F3-4 days in the fridge after opening (transfer to a glass or plastic container)

Table Source: (2)

Terminology for Food Quality Labels and Dates

Despite what you may believe or have heard, product dating is not required by the federal government. Because of this, there are no universal definitions for the phrases used on packaging. The Food Safety and Inspection Service at the USDA has recommended definitions:

Phrase for DateMeaning
“Best If Used By/Before”“…indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.”
“Sell-By”“…tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.”
“Use-By”“…the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.”
“Freeze-By”“…indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.”

Table Source: (5)

As you can see, none of these phrases are an indication of safety, only quality. In these cases, our noses and eyes become the best detectors of food spoilage.

Are you interested in learning more? Check out our article When to Toss it? Food Expiration Guidelines. For a helpful tool on your phone, we recommend downloading the USDA’s FoodKeeper app.

References

  1. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/leftovers-and-food-safety/ct_index Accessed 3/23/2020
  2. FoodKeeper App from FSIS at USDA: https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/foodkeeper-app
  3. https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-long-can-you-keep-dairy-products-like-yogurt-milk-and-cheese-in-the-refrigerator Accessed 3/23/2020
  4. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/freezing-and-food-safety/ct_index/!ut/p/a1/jVLBbsIwDP2aHtOYlSHYrao0QTfKENoovaDQpE2kklSJoRtfv8AubION5BDH7z3ZfgktaE4LzfaqZqiMZs3xXgzWMIdBb5RAOhv1HmGSvc1nT0kCw8W9J6z-IGTRjforK4b_9OkNBe7sNJnWtGgZSqJ0ZWheCyRMu05YR_PKGE4cqwR-kIqVSJwUAj1wzJETKpnmjdK1J1shDj7yck7OlDQvca00F-90SYvvXUHP70kWLfrjNItg1v9JuGDbF-G6L37wujGb0xutYr2Jhn5CKyphhQ131qclYvsQQABd14WVUy7cOc7C2ux9qnUBtMYiawI4YgGgaVXpz3M3BN-Vp6_gYcFKSQxKb1kA3HS6MYyTLUNhFWvcpTakcUjzX- Vpu33ND8_xGNTLdjl08SeTEkFi/#19 Accessed 3/23/2020
  5. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating
  6. https://food.unl.edu/cracking-date-code-egg-cartons Accessed 3/23/2020
  7. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/food/safety-storage/should-we-eat-expired-tofu Accessed 3/23/2020
  8. https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/grain-month-calendar/quinoa-%E2%80%93-march-grain-month Accessed 3/24/2020

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About the Author

Melissa Halas, MA, RD, CDE

Melissa Halas, MA, RD, CDE

Melissa is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with a master's in nutrition education. She is the founder of SuperKids Nutrition Inc. Read more about her Super Crew children’s books and her experience as a registered dietitian on the About Melissa and Shop page. Discover how nutrition can help you live your best health potential through her plant-based books and newsletter on Melissa’s Healthy Living.
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