1. Meat and Fish
The "sell by" date that typically appears on fresh fish and meat you buy in-store is printed on each package for retailers or sellers to know when they should start pulling the product from the shelves, but when it comes to the consumer, you don't have to get rid of the expensive meat or fish once it reaches the date if you make sure to freeze or refrigerate it.
Raw fish, chicken, and meat will last for only 1-2 days after you purchased it if you keep it in the refrigerator. But if you put it in the freezer, the shelf life can be extended for months according to FoodSafety.gov, namely:
- Poultry can be kept in the freezer up to 9 months if it's cut up into pieces, and up to 12 months if whole.
- Fish can be frozen for 6-9 months if bought fresh, but it can be kept frozen up to 12 months if you purchased it frozen, sealed and it didn't thaw while being transported.
- Red meat can be stored upwards to 12 months in steaks, chops, and roasts, and up to 4 months if it's ground up.
Similarly to raw meat and fish, the shelf life of smoked, cured, and cooked products can be extended by 1-2 months if you freeze them, all because freezing significantly slows down the process of oxidation and the multiplication of harmful bacteria in foods.
Eggs are another one of those foods that are fine to eat after they have passed the expiration date printed on the carton or egg. Irrespective of this date, you are usually fine to use raw eggs for 3-5 weeks after you've purchased them. If you're doubting the freshness of an egg, simply crack it into a separate bowl before cooking or using in a recipe - an egg that has gone off will have a strong sulfur smell that's difficult to mistake for anything else.
Be mindful of the way you store eggs. If you bought eggs un-refrigerated, storing them in the fridge is optional, but refrigerated eggs should always be stored in the fridge. If you want to learn why that is the case, we discuss this in our previous article about egg myths, which can be accessed here: 12 Popular Egg Myths Busted.
3. Hard Cheeses
Unlike soft cheeses, such as cottage cheese, soft mozzarella or ricotta, which should be tossed in accordance with the expiration label, most hard cheeses are safe to eat for weeks past their expiration date. The harder the cheese, the more fermented and the more resistant to bacteria it is, which is exactly why aged cheeses, such as parmesan, can remain unspoiled for months.
When it comes to determining whether or not a chunk of cheese is still edible, your nose and eyes are your best tools. If the cheese smells different than it used to, or if it starts growing mold from the middle, it's best to part with it, but if it smells fine, and there is a little mold growing on the side, simply cutting the faulty part off will still leave you with perfectly fine cheese, since mold is naturally involved in the production of hard cheeses anyway.
If there is one food that doesn't really have an expiry date, it's dry breakfast cereals. The only catch is to keep the box sealed and unopened, and you will be able to store a bag of cereal in the pantry for 6-8 months. After that, the cereal can taste a bit off and become stale, but even then, you won't get sick if you eat it.
This is because cereals are dry and processed foods, which makes them among the easiest to store at room temperature. Needless to say, adding milk or cooking it, e.g. preparing oatmeal, will require you to eat it immediately, although oatmeal specifically can be stored for a few days in the fridge.
Don't throw away an unopened jar or plastic container of yogurt just because it reached its expiry date, these will still remain just as tasty and healthy as they used to be for another 2-3 weeks. If you'd like to extend its shelf life even further, you can also freeze it, which will give you up to 2 months to use it up.
Once thawed, though, you'll have to use it up immediately. Needless to say, any odd smell or presence of mold is a sign that you should part with the yogurt, after all.
6. Nut Butters
Nut butters are another one of those foods that can be kept for months even after you've opened them, irrespective of the expiration date. Surely, it's best to purchase the freshest option in the store, as, with time, the taste of nut butter will start to decline, but even these are still safe to eat.
Both preservative-free nut butters and those that contain preservatives have a long shelf life, but understandably, those that contain preservatives will stay fresh for longer. It's best to store nut butters in the fridge: natural nut butters can be stored up to 6 months past the expiration date printed on the jar as long as they're unopened, whereas an unopened jar of nut butter that contains preservatives will be good for up to 12 months past the date.
Spreads that contain other ingredients, such as Nutella, for example, have a shorter shelf life -these will last 1-2 months past the date on the label.
7. Frozen Fruit and Vegetables
As mentioned previously, freezing prevents foods from spoiling, and this is also true when it comes to frozen fruit and vegetables, which remain safe to eat up to 10 months after the expiration date if the package hasn't been opened. If you have opened the bag, however, try to use it up as soon as you can, as the freezing can render parts of the fruit and vegetables dry and hard, a phenomenon known as "freezer burn".
It has to be noted that foods affected by freezer burn are still safe to eat, they're just not too tasty.
Chocolate is likewise very resilient, staying in tip-top shape for months past it's printed expiration date. You should ideally keep the chocolate at steady room temperature, though, as sudden changes in temperature may cause some of the cocoa butter to liquefy and come to the surface of the chocolate - a phenomenon known as "blooming" among chocolate experts, which shouldn't be confused for mold. This type of chocolate covered in a white film is still safe for you to eat, but the bloom might sadly render the texture of the treat a bit less pleasurable.
9. Some Condiments
You'd be absolutely in the right if you're keeping that bottle of ketchup or mustard until you finish it or it starts smelling funny, as these two, as well as relish and certain salad dressings, can remain fresh and tasty for up to 6 months past their expiration date as long as you keep them refrigerated.
The most resilient of the bunch is yellow mustard, which can remain unspoiled for up to 2 years past its expiration label in the pantry if left unopened, or up to a year in the fridge after opening.
Let's be clear, we're not talking about cooked pasta, or the fresh pasta, ravioli or gnocchi that are sold in the refrigerated section of the supermarket, as all of those are intended for immediate use and wouldn't last for 5 days past their expiration date. But when it comes to dry pastas, their longevity is quite impressive, as these can be used up even if their expiration date was a year or two ago as long as the packaging seal hasn't been broken.
11. Chips and Crackers
Like pasta, unopened bags of crackers, dry biscuits, even packaged cookies, and potato chips will last for months past their expiration date, so don't be afraid to munch on a long-forgotten bag of chips you suddenly discover in the depths of your pantry.
Keep in mind that these will likely have a stale taste, which is fine as long as you can tolerate the taste and they don't smell off. If we're talking about an opened bag of treats, however, try to eat them within a few weeks, as dry foods will pull humidity from the air and lose their crunch quite fast.
Despite the popular misconception, eating bread that's past its sell-by date is absolutely fine as long as it doesn't grow any mold. This is because the date seen on the packaging relates to room-temperature storage, and it is possible to significantly extend the shelf life or bread by simply putting it into the fridge. After all, the best french toast is made precisely from second or third-day bread...
13. Canned Foods
There is a reason why all those post-apocalyptic movies feature underground shelters with tons of canned foods, and that reason is that canning foods is among the best way of preserving it, be it soup, vegetables, fruit, fish or meat. Most canned fruit and vegetables, with the exception of highly acidic tomatoes and pineapples, will stay tasty for up to a year past their expiration date.
But canned fish and meat are the true champions, as foods like spam and canned tuna can be kept for an impressive 2-5 years past the date printed on the can.
Like many other items on this list, milk comes in many varieties, and the level of pasteurization and fat content both determine the shelf life of the product. Skim milk will typically last for a week or so past its expiration date, but whole milk and half and half will spoil more quickly, in about five days past the printed date. Ultra-pasteurized milk will remain drinkable for twice as long as pasteurized milk.
Checking whether the milk has turned is quite easy - it will bunch up in small white curds and start smelling sour, so simply pour the milk into an empty glass and check if you're afraid it might have gone off. Also, make sure to keep milk refrigerated at all times, even go as far as to move it to the back of the refrigerator instead of the fridge door if you want to extend its shelf life.