Expired Food: Can I still eat that?

Has this ever happened to you? You’re busy cleaning out your fridge and discover a brand new, unopened jar of pickle relish tucked in the back. Just when you’re about to think, “Score!” you notice it expired (gulp!) three months ago. Now what?

Should you really toss something that’s never been opened? What if something’s been opened but barely used? Is it still good?

Totally obvious toss-out situations aside (green fuzzy mold comes to mind), just how old is too old?

Couponers like myself are often buying things in bulk, and once in awhile there have been times when I’ve overshot it a bit and had some items not get used by their respective used-by date. During those moments, my husband always wanted me to toss the items right away, but I wanted to keep them longer and the debate would ensue. (Those were items I had worked hard to get for free or cheap with coupons!) So by doing a little bit of research, I was able to show him that it IS perfectly okay to hold onto and use items a little past the expiration date.

Here are the tips I’ve learned…

General Safety Rules & Guidelines

{Feel free to print out this list and keep it in your kitchen/pantry to reference.}

Now, assuming your fridge’s temperature is set between 38-40 degrees, the following rules apply per the USDA:

  • Milk: Good for up to 1 week past the “Sell By” date.
  • Eggs: Good for 3-5 weeks after purchase (provided you purchased them before the “Sell By” date, of course). Keep in mind that eggs should always be kept in their original container, not the plastic holders inside the refrigerator door! The plastic doesn’t allow eggs to breathe, which will cause them to spoil a whole lot faster.
  • Condiments: These can be kept up to one full year in the fridge. The exceptions are: Mayonnaise, which should only be kept for two months—maximum—after opening and Salad dressings, which can be kept in the fridge up to three months after opening. Unopened salad dressing is good for up to one year past its expiration date.
  • Meats & Poultry{It kind of goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway), perishables such as meat and poultry should be refrigerated right away or frozen for later use.}

If kept in the fridge, then the following rules apply:

  • Poultry – 1 to 2 days
  • Beef, pork, veal and lamb –3 to 5 days
  • Ground meat or ground poultry –1 to 2 days
  • Cured “cook before eating” ham –5 to 7 days
  • Uncooked beef, pork or turkey sausage – 1 to 2 days

Frozen meats:

  • Ground beef or ground poultry –3 months
  • Whole chicken or turkey—one year
  • Unopened bacon and lunchmeat—one month

Now let’s move on to pantry items, shall we?

  • Grains purchased in boxes (think: rice, crackers, cereal) should be kept in air tight containers or plastic zipper bags for long-term storage. These babies are notorious breeding grounds for bugs and no one likes a bowl of weevils for breakfast! (Gag, shudder)
  • Pastas—unopened and opened packages stored in air tight containers—will keep up to one year.
  • Egg Noodles—1 to 2 months after opening.
  • Rice—up to one year after opening (provided the moisture is kept out)
  • Ground Spices—between 6 to 12 months.
  • Whole Herbs/Spices—up to 2 years. You should always keep spices in glass containers—never those cute wooden boxes as they create a potential “critter fiesta”!
  • Canned goods— good for up to 2 years after the manufacturing date. Rusty, bulging, dented or otherwise damaged cans should never be used.

And there you have it, folks! The official guidelines for expired food safety! Hooray!

Now, just because the food is safe to eat doesn’t necessarily mean that it will taste as fresh as it would when you first opened it. Rule of thumb—if it tastes or smells bad, toss it out!

In closing, I realize that not everyone is keen on eating food past its expiration (as a matter of fact, some of you may be cringing right now at the thought!). However, you should never feel as though you have to throw something out simply because it’s “expired” and waste your hard-earned money. **

{Word of caution: to avoid potentially serious risk or illness, it is highly advised that children, pregnant women, the elderly and sick/ill individuals who may otherwise be susceptible to food-borne illness avoid consuming expired food completely.}

So, do you typically toss out expired food or hang onto it for awhile past the use-by date?

References:
USDA Food Product Dating
Today’s Food MSNBC 86 Comments

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Comments

  1. GREAT info :) Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for sharing this info! When you buy the pasta in boxes to put in your stockpile, do you transfer it to ziplock bags or other air tight containers before storing it? I recently bought quite a few boxes of the American Beauty and Ronzoni pastas and it’s just in a cardboard box, no plastic bag lining inside.

    • I typically don’t store them in ziplocs, but if you did it might make things last even longer for you. I have also heard of people using their foodsavers to seal pasta and such as well.

  3. Good info! Thanks so much for posting this! We have that debate, too!

  4. Thanks for the info!! Great article! My husband and I have the same “discussion” regularly about the dates….I grew up in a large family so we usually hung on to stuff for a few extra days. He does not agree and thinks I am nuts…..printing this out to show him I am not the only one that doesn’t abide by the expiration law. :)

  5. In America we are obsessed with expiration dates. Often the store reduces prices a full week before the X-date at which time the item is at least 50% off ! I don not understand what people are so worried about???

  6. I agree with Ciel 110%!!!!! I have heard that for canned goods, if they are not open or dented, then they are pretty much good indefinitely. I was not raised to pay any attention to expiration dates. A little unconventional….I know. :-) So….is your hubby actually keeping things past expiration now???

    • Hi Bonnie!! Miss you girl. Yes, once I showed him this list…he will now try some things that are expired…(hesitantly still though)! You know…baby steps, baby steps.

  7. Here’s a trick for those who buy bulk flour, sugar and the like. At stores like Cash & Carrie they sell these LARGE plastic containers with the tops for around $15 each (for both pieces). It’s best to transfer flour, sugar, salt into those types of containers to keep the critters out and in case of wetness (I lost a 50 lb bag of flour once to one of my kids dumping a pitcher of water on the bag). You can then transfer smaller amounts to smaller canisters that you keep on your counter or cabinet and leave the bigger containers alone until needed.

    You can also freeze some items like dried spices but I would recommend removing the spices from the jars and transferring it to either a zip-lock bag or one of those vacuum seal bags. I just bought a lot of the McCormick spices from Albertsons (FREE!) and transferred like spices into zip bags and put those bags out in my freezer in the garage. Toss any spice that loses it scent.

  8. Just an FYI: “best if used by” and “expires” are 2 completely different phrases (it seemed to me that those terms were used interchangeably in this article). Just because something goes past its “best if used by” date doesn’t mean that it is expired. It just means that it might not taste as fresh. Sorry about being anal, it’s just that there is a HUGE difference! Sell by dates are a little different. The product should still be good a little after the sell by date (provided the employees kept the items in the proper storage conditions{I’ve had milk bought from Walmart spoil before the “sell by” date, not cool}) but not too long after the sell by date, the item will become expired or go bad or spoil (like with dairy products and meat/poultry).

  9. student says:

    last month i bought juice it was expired on dec 2010 i and my wife drank it
    It will hurt us and i still have the bottle ?
    What i can do now ?

  10. Hi Karrie..I’m curious about things like cake mixes, brownie mixes, and boxed popcorn? I use those dates as a guidlines but a friend recently told me that cake mix expiration dates should be followed. Not sure why though. Any advice?

    • I haven’t heard anything about that – I use cake mixes, brownie mixes and popcorn all the time past their date with no problems.

    • Was Shared on my facebook.

      This is a MUST READ specially the HOLIDAY’S are coming up! WHO KNEW? Cake Mix Warning (not a joke) Warning re: cake mixes – who knew? I always thought that “old” mixes that were past their expiration date would just not rise/bake correctly. This is scary! Somebody wrote: ‘Before my surgery I bought quite a few Duncan Hines cakes mixes that were on sale. A couple of months ago I decided to use one, I checked the e expiration date and found it past, all the boxes were past the expiration date. I phoned Duncan Hinds to ask if the one that was only two months passed if it was OK. She told me in no uncertain words to throw them all out, she even said to open the boxes and throw the mix in the garbage, just in case someone picked it up and used it. Cake Mixes & Toxins- **PLEASE READ** Pass this on to ALL in your address book. You never know whose life you may save by doing so. For those of you at work, PLEASE remember to check your cupboards when you get home tonight!!! A student at HBHS (high school) had pancakes this week and it almost became fatal. His Mom (registered nurse) made him pancakes, dropped him off at school and headed to play tennis. She never takes her cell phone on the court but did this time ; and her son called to say he was having trouble breathing. She told him to go to the nurse immediately and proceeded to call school and alert the nurse. The nurse called the paramedics and they were there in 3 minutes and worked on the boy all the way to the hospital. He came so close to dying. Evidently this is more common then I ever knew. Check the expiration dates on packages like pancakes and cake mixes that have yeast which over time develop spores. Apparently, the mold that forms in old mixes can be toxic! Throw away ALL OUTDATED pancake mix, brownie mixes, Bisquick, cake & cookie mixes, etc., you have in your home. P.S. Tell this to your children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and anyone else who keeps these types of mixes in the cupboard. P. P.S. This warning especially applies to any person(s) with mold allergies. **Feel free to send me a FRIEND REQUEST or FOLLOW ME. I am always finding awesome stuff!** @Mary Stone. or join my great group and share your ideas and recipes @[214316635387659:69:Discover the new you]

  11. Cake mixes can go rancid-so be careful. We once baked a cake with a bad cake mix and it tasted stale, old, and funky. You can tell just by smelling the cake mix-if it smells funky past the date than toss it. I am not sure how long they last past the date but I do know they go rancid.

  12. One other comment! My mom would always store cake mixes in the freezer. I’ve pulled ones out that are a couple of years old and seemed ok. If you’ve got a big freezer – it extends the life quite a while on many products. we make home-made applesauce and apple pie filling. We either just put it in ziploc bags or just the regular canning jars (without sealing) and they store perfectly!!

  13. Hi Karrie!
    When I get a good deal on flour or sugar, I put it in the freezer for 3 days, then I package it for long term storage. This kills all the little “critter” eggs and I dont have to worry about finding any little critters later!

    • OMG!!! that is a wonderful idea that i have NEVER herd before!!!!! and for your long term storage how do you do that? airtight seal??? plastic bags?

  14. TAWNYA-the reason people get freaked out about cake mixes and pancake mix is probably that story that everyone has heard about that 14 year old boy that ate the old pancake mix with the spores in it, has an allergic reaction, and died. Well-you can go cheack out snopes http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/pancake.asp and find that it was a mixture of true and false info: TRUE: “Pancake and cake mixes that contain mold can cause life-threatening allergic reactions.” FALSE: “Pancake and cake mixes that have passed their expiration dates are toxic.” FALSE: “The yeast in packaged baking products over time develops spores.”

  15. What about an expired cake mix or Kraft cheese (the kind you buy in the box, wrapped in foil)? I bought 2 boxes of the cheese thinking it would quickly be eaten or used in cooking, and now I find it expired last August (2011) and here were are in October. Is it still usable or just remember to use it from now on?

  16. Nicole in Yukima says:

    Hamburger can only b frozen for 3 months? That seems not as long as I had originally thought. What about hot dogs? I am going on about 4 months with those in the freezer. Also, same with lunchmeat- only 1 month. I thought that stuff would b okay for atleast a couple months frozen? Also, how much past the date 4 like chips and boxed unopened foods? Thank you for help.

    • I personally freeze meat for a long time (like 6months to a year) , and most of the time it’s fine tasting for me. I think the biggest problem is the freezer burn.

  17. NICOLE-honestly, I usually freeze hamburger for 6 months-maybe even longer if I forget about it….I do have a 7 cubic foot chest freezer, so that may make a difference between that and a fridge type freezer that gets opened and closed all the time. I freeze LOTS of meats for LONG periods of time-4 months-you are fine…this is my personal opinion, but none of my 4 kids have gotten sick from spoiled meat.
    PS I just cooked a turkey that had been burried in there for a year-we are fine and it was good:)

  18. I stored hamburger helpers in the fridge the minute I bought them. It is 3 months past their date….some 6months. Are they safe to eat?

  19. What about canned/vaccuum sealed meats (ie tuna, chicken, etc)?

  20. “When in doubt, throw it out” (:

    • Sarah,

      As long as the can isn’t dented, rusted or swelling, it should be good to eat. Use your nose and if it smells off after opening, toss.

      Canned meat will taste “tinny” after
      Awhile. Be aware. It isn’t bad per SE but may not taste right.

  21. I got a couple boxes of pasta meals (ranch and Italian flavor) they are 5 to 6 mos past the sell by date. Are they still ok to use?

  22. Christy B. says:

    I have used Knorr pasta mixes up to a year past the date and they have been fine. It all depends upon how they were stored though, if they were out in your garage getting hot in the summer time they might not be as good now.

  23. I have wondered how long foods are pasted the expiration dates of all types. My girlfriend’s pop has food going back to 09 and older. I am scared to eat that stuff, I like fresh foods. year ok…

  24. Hey, i have cake mix thats 5 months old, is it still okay to eat? :p

  25. Well I work at a grocery store, and what I’ve learned there is that manufacturer’s, as a general rule, set the “expiry dates” much before the product will actually go bad. This is because they have to guarantee freshness somehow. If they set the dates very close to when a product will actually go bad, it’s kind of a gamble on their part because some of those products will last longer and some might not last as long. So they play it safe and well I don’t know the actual numbers, but say the date is actually 2 months off from their tests. I mean they test the products to see how long they last (obviously, the point of researching and adding perservatives to products cannot go untested). also a shorter shelf life will mean stores buy more products more often because some will expire.

    many grocery stores also have a discount item area or something like that. if Products actually went rancid on/right after their expiry, there’s no way we would sell these products. anyway, I don’t worry about products being bad because I first smell the product and look at it. I think that’s the best indicator, and also I have a friend who has a mold allergy or at least is very sensitive to mold and can smell mold even when it is in extremely small quantities so if anything is going moldy and I can’t smell it yet, she can.

  26. How long will prepared Suddenly Pasta Salad last in the fridge. I made some less than two weeks ago and I was wondering if it was still okay to eat?

  27. Jennifer says:

    i wouldn’t eat it Erin, I don’t trust stuff in the fridge longer than a week.

    • True true Jennifer…I am never comfortable with leftovers in the fridge longer than 4-5 days personally. Its funny..I will eat expired labeled packaged food, but in the fridge leftovers just never taste good after a few days.

  28. Okay so my husband got done cake mix from his grandmaw it was butter pecan we prepared it baked it and got ready to eat it it expired in 2002 I’m freaking out because him and my daughter both are it. It smelled and rose done time! Eeeeek :(

  29. I have meat in the freezer, bought at a slaughter house, grass-fed cow, over 17 months old—the t-bone steak last week was dee-lish-us.
    I don’t know how this info was gained–I am 61 years old and grew up with the notion, beef and other meats, only kept 12 months.
    Wrong–they vacuum seal now and it lasts much longer.
    I will not discard any meat unless it looks bad or tastes bad.
    And I ate 15 year old canned tomatoes, tomato juice, and green beans, canned by me.
    OMG–pastas can be stored in a sealed 5 gallon bucket indefinitely!!!!

  30. I agree with JayJay. My husband deer hunts so we always have a year’s supply of meat in the freezer. Canned foods…same thing. I’ve eaten them 3-5 years past the expiration dates listed. They’re always fine too. Probably wouldn’t go more than that, though. I grew up in a time when they never put dates on foods. We used are noses and eyes to tell if food was bad. I do agree that dry goods (flour, boxed potatoes, rice,etc.,) should be kept in the fridge or freezer for long periods of time. Since I don’t use these too often, I just store them there and use them thill they’re gone.

  31. Hey ALL!

    Do you think it’s safe to use all purpose flour stored in the original bag in the pantry, if the expiration date is 2011?

  32. Julie Miller says:

    You can freeze meats longer in a zero degree freezer such as a chest freezer. Much less time in your freezer that is attached to the refrigerator or one with an automatic defrost. What keeps the ice out also reduces freshness. You can store flour and yeast in the refrigerator or freezer, that helps to kill bugs and will also extend the expiration date.

  33. robert huntzinger says:

    great advice,i love this sight,keep it coming

  34. pattyinkansas says:

    You guys are great! Glad I stumbled on this site :-) DON’T store meat in its original packages. I use freezer paper, and it elimintates that funky freezer burn. It makes meat last much longer. My old Betty Crocker Cookbook says you can freeze poultry for 12 months, and red meats for 6 months, (with freezer paper).

  35. I have some Orville Redenbacher’s microwave popcorn that has a Best By date of April 2011. Can I eat it?

  36. Wow some of these people take food safety to a whole other level. I grew up being around my grandmothers and great grandmothers, who in turn grew up in the depression. “waste not, want not” was their motto. There are stores around here that sell only expired and/or dented/damaged products. They are they place to go for good deals! Nothing wrong using expired products along with some common sense. The main expired products that I check are salad dressings (the oils can go rancid, you will smell it) carbonated beverages (loss of fizz) and other items that contain alot of preservatives. Amy- your popcorn should be fine, if anything the oil/butter might have gone rancid but I doubt it, only a year past its date. If it’s bad you’ll know by smelling it or tasting it.

  37. how long after sell by date yogurt last

    • One month after expiration date yogurt tastes just fine.
      At the same time, do not forget that peoples’ stomachs sensitivity differ; some can eat “rocks” and be ok with it.

  38. can a person get sick or die from making and eating a cake mix that has expired?

    • I do not think so. You will bake it. That process of cooking is just like grilling or frying and kills bacteria. It might taste not good because it went rancid. Also, I hope do not have bugs in it.

      I think this blog is not about making anybody eat expired food. If you do not feel right about it, do not eat it, toss it.

      For me personally, if I am “on the fence” about some food and feel bad about tossing it out, I’ll give it to my dogs. I am talking about food that is obviously NOT spoiled or moldy. 2 weeks old salad!? They will enjoy it and will ask for more ;-) Of course, they do not get “people’s food” often: maybe once in two month or longer.

  39. Deanna Paolasso says:

    I have a box of unopened Rice Krispies, are they still good? They expired on 12/11/12.

  40. Savuth San says:

    Hi, I just ate pasta with cheese package thay was expired three year ago. What will happened to me?

  41. I am sure you will be fine Savuth. I have eaten old mac n cheese before and nothing happened to me.

  42. william sances says:

    I work in the frozen section at a local supermarket. I need to know what the difference is between the sell by date and the best by date on frozen products? I specifically need to know when the products labeled with best by are considered expired/should be pulled from the floor. I think that it is only right to either mark down, or remove the products from the floor after the best by dates. Please advise soonest. Thanks!

  43. I am curious about food that you have made at home and freeze it, how long is it good for? My brother and I have a difference of opinion on this. His daughter made some homemade ‘friendship’ bread and divided it up and froze it. I seen that he retreived some of it from the freezer and it was dated 08/2006. Whoa!!! for me I wouldn’t have eaten that, but he says it’s ok. He also has eaten alot of other homemade items from his freezer, such as different other breads, pies, his vegetables he’s picked from his garden and meat that he has purchased and frozen…most of his items are 5 to 10 years old. Is this safe and will any of it cause him to get sick or give him stomach problems, etc.?

  44. Bethany Bartlett says:

    I bought oven ready falafel, but it has expired. How far past the expiration date can i go before I need to throw it out?

  45. I found a carrot cake mix that expired on sept 14th, 2010 and today is sept 16th 2012, is it still okay to bake or should I toss?

  46. There is one thing about useing expiered cake mix or bakeing mix. The leveling agent can loss it potency over time. If you have ever had a flat cake made from a mix that is what happened

  47. My niece decided to perish my kitchen stock of all past date cans. She is adament that all past due products are bad. Thank you for this website, I will share it with her.

  48. I have bottles of unopened salard dressing, good by date is: Oct 2009.
    Should I throw then out?

    • I don't shop @ Walmart says:

      Personally, I will recommend to use this dressing as marinade for meat: chicken or pork. Also, you can always add it to casseroles or meatloaf; use it as seasoning, not as finished product :-)

  49. What about unrefrigerated individual jello cups? I bought a bunch for a birthday party and my husband left them in the trunk all day. However is only been 69 degrees

  50. Hi,

    I’ve got instant soups in a sachet, just found them in the cupboard (like this one: http://dostawa24.com/images/3085.jpg ). Expiry is early 2011 (some of them late 2010), it’s two years sice the best before date…

    Ingredients: dried beetroot juice, sugar, salt, vegetable oil (rape seed oil), dried yeast extract, flavor enhancers (monosodium glutamate, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate), lactose, citric acid, seasonings, artificial flavor, silicon dioxide.

    Apart from the fact, that it’s a junk food with no nutrition, and noone should be eating it even when it’s not out of date, is it OK to eat it or should I just throw it away? I’ve got like 30 of them…

    Thanks! :)

    • Peter,
      Personally, I think you will be fine eating it. That’s the benefit to having junk food, it has enough preservatives to last forever!
      Looking over the ingredient list again, the only thing that might concern me is the oil. I’m not too familiar with grape seed oil (I’m assuming you meant grape and not rape seed oil), but I do know that oil can become rancid. If I were you, I’d make it and smell/taste it. If it doesn’t taste funky, you should be just fine.

  51. Hey all, Maybe this is a stupid question!

    for salad dressings, i had many years, expired ones between 1-3 years now in the fridge should i throw it out or use it… even if it contains oil or vingear or milk/egg contents?

    thanks!

    • Sometimes I use these as marinades for meat when they are this old. But you will have to open it, smell it and see what you think. Then go with the golden rule, any doubt and throw it out. :)

  52. If you have a church with food pantry, you can probably
    Record what you give for tax deduction and take a pic. They
    Take stuff up to 6 months expired.

    I keep stuff past due date but just depends on how
    Much I have and how fast I think it’s going to be used.
    I had like 10 boxes of spaghetti that expired a few months
    Ago so I give half or so to the good pantry.

    Flour I’ve gotten bugs and its not from storage. I’ve
    Found out you can still have bug eggs that can hatch
    Later… Hence there they are after you had your flour
    For a week lol!! I read just putting it in freezer for 24hrs
    Will kill them and no problems. Do that is the very first
    Thing I do. I keep extra bags in freezer til I need it. For
    10+ years I’ve never had a issue!! I store my open bag
    In a gallon ice cream container. They make great storage
    Containers. You can label and stack them etc!!

  53. hello, i used an open tomato puree sashet for a toastie today, it was in the fridge, but it was already open and hadnt been used for a few weeks, will i be fine?

  54. If I have an uncooked ham in the freezer exp day feb 28, 2013 how long is it good for?

  55. Hi :) ok so I tend to have bad luck and buy food past their date… Like I just bought a few cheeta danishes that are factory sealed in plastic and the sell by date was Feb.18 and it is March 20 th now ….funny thing is I ate one before noticing! It taste Fine but should I eat the rest… After a month?

    • Sorry :) spell check I meant cheese danishes …

    • Not really sure on that one..if you ate one and you aren’t sick…makes me wonder! They fill these kinds of products with so many preservatives nowadays. Some of them can last months. I would say eat at your own risk on that one… especially since there is dairy in it.

  56. my wife is a consumate coupon shopper and will buy a box of cereal just for the coupons on the box. one of the offshoots is that we have sealed bags of rice crispies and all bran in the storage room. (30) bags…. they are still in the manufacturers plastic bags.. since they have found cereal grains in the pyramids for centuries that turned out to be viable… can we still eat these cereals or should i throw them out?

  57. What about unsalted butter? How long will that last past it’s best before end date? I think you’d call it a cell by date, in UK we have two dates on food stuffs: BBE (best before end) date and use by date.

  58. Lynn Steward says:

    how long is hush puppies in a package from the store go for after the expired date.

  59. hi,i bought some canned instant potatoes, on the can it says produced on jan 16 14..does that mean its expired…thank you..

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