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We’ve all sniffed an expired milk jug and thought, “But do I really have to throw it all out?”

It depends.

Here are 19 tips to help you figure out what expiration dates actually mean, and how to prolong your food’s shelf life.

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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 4/18”, that just means the bread will taste better and seem fresher if consumed before April 18.

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.

A person taking a bite of yogurt.

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.

A person holding a pan of pasta on a stove.

You can keep unopened boxes or bags of pasta for one to two years after the expiration date has passed.


5. Use expired bread for French toast or croutons.

A person cutting up bread into cubes.

If there isn’t a heavy amount of mold on your bread, and it doesn’t smell stinky or sour, go ahead and use expired bread to make French toast or croutons.



6. Sour cream can be eaten up to three weeks after the “sell by” date.

A person holding a container of sour cream in front of a refrigerator.

After that, freeze sour cream in the original container for one to two months.

Stir it up after thawing the container, and it’ll taste better when used for cooking as opposed to topping tacos.


7. Freeze leftovers for up to six months.

A person putting saran wrap over a dish of leftover food.

The general rule of thumb for keeping leftovers in the fridge is two to three days.

But once your leftovers make it to the freezer, most will stay good for up to six months.


8. Cook poultry, sausage, or variety meats within one to two days of the “sell by” date.

A person holding a package of chicken breasts.

Or, stick the items in your freezer for up to one year.


9. Enjoy chocolate up to six months after expiring.

A person smelling a piece of chocolate.

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.

If your chocolate has been stored in 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.

A person putting containers into freezer

The guidelines for keeping homemade freezer meals in your freezer will depend on the ingredients:

  • Cooked meat: four months
  • Fruits and veggies: 12 months
  • Casseroles: four months
  • Soups: six months
  • Fish: six months



11. Freeze nearly expired eggs out of their shells.

A person putting a zip bag of hardboiled eggs into a freezer.

Eggs can be consumed two to three weeks beyond their “sell by” date.

After that, eggs can be frozen raw or cooked for up to twelve months — as long as they’re out of their shells first.


12. Drink milk up to a week after it has expired.

A person holding a carton of milk in front of an open refrigerator.

Milk is usually fine up to a week after it’s expired.

After that, pour about half an inch out of the top of the jug, screw the lid back on, and freeze it for two to three months.

Whisk or shake the milk back up once it’s thawed.


13. Cut mold off expired cheese before eating it.

A person cutting of mold from a block of cheese.

When it comes to cheese, you can cut off the mold and keep eating the rest. Seriously.

If you’d rather freeze it, just shred, slice or cube the cheese prior to wrapping it up to freeze.

Once thawed, it’ll be more crumbly than usual, so try cooking with it as opposed to eating it plain.


14. Smell ketchup, mustard, and salad dressing after the “sell by” date before use.

A person smelling a bottle of Heinz ketchup.

You can still get a few weeks out of an expired condiment bottle. Just give it the old sniff test first to see if it smells rancid or different than what you’re used to smelling.


15. Frozen food can be eaten until you taste or see freezer burn.

A person holding a bag of frozen peas in front of an open freezer door.

Sealed packages of food like fruit, veggies, or frozen meals can technically be thawed and eaten until they lose their taste from freezer burn, which typically takes around three months.



16. Eat chips until they taste too stale.

A person eating chips.

If you forgot to throw a bag of chips in the freezer before they expired, you can still enjoy them until they are too stale for your liking.


17. Use butter up to one month after the “sell by” date.

A person holding a stick of butter.

After that, wrap the butter in plastic wrap before sealing it in a freezer bag.

Once frozen, unsalted butter will keep its flavor for up to six months, but salted butter will keep for up to nine months.


18. Eat beef, veal, pork, ham, or lamb up to five days after the “sell by” date.

A person holding a package of pork chops.

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.


19. Eat cereal for months after the expiration date.

A person holding a box of Life cereal.

While it may not taste as fresh as the day you bought it, unopened cereal stored in a cool, dry place can be eaten four to six 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.

Expired Food? 19 Times You Can Still Eat It