Do You Really Need to Stick to Food Expiration Dates?

By: Jaime McCutcheon Email
By: Jaime McCutcheon Email

We all have our methods -- the smell test, the taste test or the touch test. But when it comes to food in your fridge or pantry, how do you really know what's fresh and still good to eat? There are the expiration dates, but how accurate are they or can you go past the date? We talked to an expert about the ins and outs of food expiration dates.

In the Parks’ home, after school time means snack time for Amy Parks' three children.

"They come home from school and they're ready for, I call it the fourth meal, because they want a full meal practically before dinner," says Amy Parks.

It means this mom, like most, is a regular at the grocery store. "When I shop, I shop for two weeks at a time but inevitably I go back at least once for your perishables - your fruit, any vegetables, milk. We always run out of that kind of stuff."

It’s a good plan to keep food fresh and healthy for your family. But what about all those other items, the ones that sit in your fridge for weeks?

Food expert Cindy Brison with the Douglas/Sarpy County Extension Office says, "her egg carton says it's good until November 3rd. Eggs are actually good three weeks after the date on the carton." And Brison says if you’re going to hard-boil eggs, they’ll peel better if they’re not fresh. Wait until after the expiration date passes.

What about a dairy product like sour cream? "It says good until December 20th. Well it's open right now so it's not good until December 20th. It's only good seven days once it's been opened, and you can see the water in it, that means it's starting to go bad," says Brison.

After hearing that, mother Amy Parks responded. “I'm a big stirrer. We actually just ate that the other night and I was hearing her talk thinking, phew, no one got sick, but I stir that water back in the sour cream and cottage cheese."

What about foods that don't separate? "If you bring it home raw, one to two, no longer,” Brison says. “Fish, meat, poultry, anything like that - if it's raw, one to two days is it. Now if it's frozen, once it thaws then one to two days."

Speaking of frozen, what's in your freezer? "Once something goes in here, as long as it's zero or below, it's safe for 100 years. You can keep things in here until you die, but will the quality be any good, no," says Brison. Look for the quality on freezer items to start dropping between three and six months.

Don't forget to check your pantry. Brison says when it comes to oils, “maybe about three months. With olive oils, maybe not even that long. It depends on how you store it.”

As for shortening, Brison tells us what to look out for. "You'll notice you'll open it up and it will have cracks in it. If you have cracks in it, it's time to get rid of it."

But dry goods like flour and corm meal are good until the bugs find them.

Brison has this tip to offer. Keep a permanent marker by your fridge. Every time you open something up, write the date on it. That way you never have to question how long an item has been opened, and you'll know when it's time to toss it.

Some other advice from Cindy Brison:

- Leftovers are only good three to four days after you cook the meal. That includes your Thanksgiving turkey
- Deli meats should be used within three or four days
- If you bought condiment items during the last holiday season and they’re still in your fridge this holiday season, it is time to throw them out
- When you open up a carton of ice cream, put a piece of plastic wrap right up against the ice cream before you put the lid back on and return it to the freezer. The plastic wrap will keep those ice crystals from forming on the top of your ice cream
- Put a thermometer in the door of your refrigerator. The door is the warmest place in your fridge. If it reads 41-degrees or colder, that means the rest of your fridge is cold enough to keep your food safe and fresh
- Also put a thermometer in your freezer. It should also read zero degrees or colder
- Homemade canned items are good for one year
- Store bought canned items are good for longer, but if the can is bulging, dented, leaking, or rusted – toss it out. If the label has changed and you don't recognize it – toss it
- Whole wheat bread is going to go bad faster than white bread because it has whole wheat flour in it and will go rancid faster


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