We’ve all sniffed an expired milk jug and thought, “But do I really have to throw it all out?” It depends. While it’s important to be cautious with the food we eat (i.e., don’t eat mold), many items are still safe and delicious to consume even after they’ve technically “expired.”
From canned goods to dairy products and more, we’ll show you how to save money and reduce waste by knowing which foods are safe to consume past their sell-by date. With the high cost of groceries, throwing food away just because it’s five days past its expiration date can save you from restocking.
According to the USDA, food expiration dates aren’t federally regulated. Food manufacturers establish the quality dates based on production, packaging, distribution, and best quality window. Actually, only eggs are legally required to have a product date! Other than reading our article, I found a great resource so you’ll never have to guess again. The USDA created the Foodkeeper app so you can search for answers to questions about food storage, product dating, temperatures, and expiration dates. How cool is that?!
Here are 19 tips to help prolong your food’s shelf life. In fact, there are lots of foods that never go “bad,” like tea and vinegar. Be sure to download The Krazy Coupon Lady app or text HACKS to 57299 for more savings deals, coupons, and smart shopping tips.
1. The “best if used by” label refers to the freshness of a food, not safety.
If your bread packaging says “best if used by April 18,” that just means the bread will taste better and seem fresher if consumed before April 18. This date isn’t a safety or “purchase by” date. You can technically keep eating those foods until they taste funky or mold appears.
2. The “sell by” date refers to how long a store may sell an item.
Manufacturers provide sellers with a “sell by” date for most food items. You’ll notice grocery stores will start reducing prices on items nearing their “sell by” date. But you can still consume food products after the “sell by” date. Which brings us to …
3. Sealed yogurt is edible for one to two weeks after its expiration date.
Eat yogurt within one to two weeks of the purchase date. But if the yogurt has been opened and is past the expiration date, toss it. Or you can freeze yogurt in its original container for one to two months.
4. Sealed, dry pasta can be eaten one to two years after expiring.
You can keep unopened boxes or bags of pasta for one to two years after the expiration date has passed. But honestly, if you use pasta coupons and catch them on sale, just replace the old ones.
5. Use expired bread for French toast or croutons.
If there isn’t any mold on your bread and it doesn’t smell stinky or sour, go ahead and use expired bread to make French toast or croutons. What I like to do is buy multiple loaves of bread and freeze what I’m not currently using. The good news is that mold doesn’t grow in the freezer; only when it thaws.
6. Sour cream can be eaten up to three weeks after the “sell by” date.
The USDA notes that opened or unopened sour cream is safe to eat three weeks after the “sell by” date. After that, freeze it in the original container for one to two months. Stir it up (it will be watery) after thawing the container, and it’ll taste better when used for cooking as opposed to topping tacos. Look for discoloration or mold while thawing. When in doubt, throw it out.
7. Freeze leftovers for up to six months.
The general rule of thumb for keeping leftovers in the fridge is two to three days. But you’ll want to freeze them within three to four days. Don’t refreeze any foods left outside the refrigerator longer than two hours because bacteria likely already started to grow.
Once your leftovers make it to the freezer, most will stay good for up to six months. Opt for foods that thaw well like casseroles and non-creamy soups.
8. Cook poultry, sausage, or variety meats within one to two days of the “sell by” date.
Food safety for meat can be complicated depending on whether it’s cooked or raw. Since they’re highly perishable, follow the “sell by” date. Here’s what to know:
- Cook it by the “sell by” date to be safe. I’ve seen stores discount meat approaching that date, and I just freeze it immediately.
- For raw meat, the USDA recommends cooking or freezing it within one to two days of purchase.
9. Enjoy chocolate up to six months after expiring.
If you’ve resisted any chocolate in your house long enough, you may notice a lighter sheen covering part or all of the chocolate. That doesn’t mean it’s rancid! It’s actually called “chocolate bloom,” and it’s still perfectly edible.
Just so you know, chocolate doesn’t need to be refrigerated. If your chocolate has been stored at 70 degrees or less, you can enjoy it for up to six months past the expiration date.
10. Homemade freezer meals can be kept for up to 12 months.
The guidelines for keeping homemade freezer meals in your freezer will depend on the ingredients:
- Cooked meat or poultry: 2 – 6 months
- Cooked pizza: 1 – 2 months
- Bakes casseroles with eggs: 2 – 3 months
- Soups and stews: 2 – 3 months
- Fresh crab or lobster: 2 – 4 months
- Lean fin fish (cod, perch, trout, pollock): 6 – 8 months
The Food Safety Council created a handy cold food storage chart.
RELATED: 20 Make-Ahead Freezer Meals for Busy Parents
16. Eat chips until they taste too stale.
If you forgot to throw a bag of chips in the freezer before they expired, you can still enjoy them until they’re too stale for your liking. Head to the KCL chips coupons page to save on your next purchase.
17. Use butter up to one month after the “sell by” date.
After one month past the “sell by” date, wrap the unopened butter tightly in its original wrapping, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil before sealing it in an airtight container. Once frozen, butter can generally last up to 12 months. Freeze it in slices, sticks, or blocks. After you’ve taken it out of the freezer, let it thaw completely and use it within 30 days.
18. Eat beef, veal, pork, ham, or lamb up to five days after the “sell by” date.
Once your beef, veal, pork, ham, or lamb hits the “sell by” date, you should eat it or freeze it within three to five days. Once sealed and frozen, you can eat it up to one year later. We have an assortment of meat coupons to save next time you head to the grocery store.
19. Eat cereal for months after the expiration date.
While it may not taste as fresh as the day you bought it, unopened cereal stored in a cool, dry place can be eaten six to eight months after the expiration date has passed. To be certain your cereal stays fresh, it’s better to just stick it in the freezer for up to a year. Place it in a freezer bag and be sure to let out all of the air.