Kitchen Hacks: 17 Foods That Are Safe to Eat Past Their Expiration Date
Have you ever rummaged through the fridge, looking for a snack, and realized half of the foods on the shelf were past their expiration date? Those “best if used by” dates seem pretty concrete. That means many people toss foods that are still in the kitchen past their expiration date. But you might be throwing out food that’s perfectly safe to eat. After all, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says some foods might be safe up to 18 months past their expiration date. Plus, expiration, sell by, and use by dates are more about food quality than food safety.
One of the most useful kitchen hacks is to know which foods are still safe to consume past their expiration date. It’s one of the best ways to reduce food waste and to save money on your grocery bills. Curious which foods are actually safe to eat in spite of their expiration labels? We’ve rounded up some of the most interesting examples of foods you don’t need to throw in the trash as soon as the expiration date passes.
It might sound surprising, but meat can be safely consumed after its expiration date. The trick? According to the Los Angeles Times, you can freeze fresh meat to extend the shelf life by up to 50%. If you buy a large package of chicken on sale, for instance, you can take out what you need for the next few days and then freeze the rest. (Just make sure you don’t freeze it all as a single block, or else you’ll have trouble separating individual pieces to thaw.)
2. Canned foods
NPR reports you shouldn’t fear expired food — especially if that expired food comes in a can. Unless the can is compromised, canned food can retain its safety and nutrients for decades. (The taste, on the other hand, might not last quite as long.) But if you discover a can that’s a year or two old, you can probably eat the food inside. The Food Network explains the expiration date of canned foods indicates three years “from when it’s been shelved.” But you can safely consume canned foods up to four more years past the date.
3. Hard cheeses
The Food Network reports you can eat hard cheeses after their expiration date has passed. In fact, you can eat cheeses, such as cheddar and Parmesan, even after mold has started to form. “Just make sure to cut off any moldy parts before consuming,” the publication advises. The rest of the block should be safe to consume. How long does a hard cheese remain safe to eat after its expiration date? About a month.
4. Fresh fruits and veggies
If your produce has an expiration date on it, you might assume it’s important to use or discard it by that date. But as the Los Angeles Times reports, that’s rarely the whole story. The publication advises you should “use common sense with fruits and vegetables. Check if it’s mushy, moldy or has an ‘off’ smell.” If you don’t encounter any of those red flags, it’s likely safe to use — even if the expiration date has passed.
Using eggs past their expiration date sounds a little scary. After all, nobody wants to crack a rotten egg into a skillet. But The Food Network notes eggs usually remain safe to eat their expiration. And you don’t have to crack them open to determine whether they’re safe to eat. Just place them in a bowl of water to check their buoyancy. “If it sinks, it’s still safe to eat; if it floats, throw it in the compost bin.” According to WebMD, eggs typically keep for three to five weeks after the purchase date.
Another surprising food you can use past its expiration date? Butter. The Food Network advises putting butter that’s about to expire in the freezer. It will stay fresh longer once it’s frozen. When you’re ready to use it, just thaw it thoroughly. You can freeze butter by the stick or the half-stick. The Food Network advises “it’s best to use it all once you’ve thawed it.”
Eggs aren’t the only refrigerator staples that actually stay safe to eat long after you thought. Milk can also keep longer than expected — particularly if you store it in the right location inside your refrigerator. According to the Los Angeles Times, “pasteurized milk will keep 50% longer if you store it at a lower temperature. Try storing at the back of the fridge rather than the fridge door.”
The BBC reports yogurt, surprisingly enough, makes the list of foods that remain safe to eat long after their expiration date. An open tub of yogurt, of course, will last a much shorter time than a package that’s still sealed. If you haven’t opened your yogurt yet, it can last weeks beyond the stamped expiration date. Some experts will even scoop mold off the top of yogurt and eat the rest. You might not want to go quite that far. But if a few weeks have passed since the expiration date, your yogurt is probably fine.
9. Ultra-pasteurized dairy products
Business Insider reports ultra-pasteurized dairy products, such as milk or half-and-half, can still taste good and remain safe to eat for a long time after the expiration date. While standard pasteurized milk “typically lasts five to seven days after the date on the carton,” ultra-pasteurized products “can last much longer than that.” If the product still smells fresh, that’s a good sign that it’s still safe to consume.
10. Ketchup and mustard
Business Insider also reports some products, such as ketchup and mustard, are shelf stable. That means exactly what it sounds like. These condiments will stay safe to consume for a very long time, so long as you aren’t storing them in unsafe conditions. The publication explains that the “use by” and “best before” dates on such condiments don’t say anything about safety. Instead, “they are quality dates US manufacturers voluntarily provide for shelf-stable items such as ketchup and mustard to indicate when consumers may begin to notice otherwise harmless changes in flavor, color or texture.”
Did you buy too many boxes of cereal the last time they were on sale at the grocery store? Or have your kids decided to stop eating what was once their favorite cereal? You don’t have to throw out unused boxes just because the expiration date has come and gone. The Food Network explains that “cereal is OK to eat for up to six months past the best before date — so long as you can handle the stale flavor.”
12. Cookies and chips
Packaged cookies and chips, plus similar snacks, such as crackers, will often last beyond their expiration dates. As The Food Network notes, the stale taste makes it obvious your cookies or chips have gotten old. But so long as you can tolerate the stale taste, it’s not really a problem. The Food Network explains, “as long as it doesn’t smell bad (the oils in the cookie may go off over a long period of time), and it doesn’t crumble apart in your hand, then it’s OK to eat more of those snacks.”
13. Salad mix
Bought a bag of greens for salads, and then forgot to actually make said salads? Don’t chuck the salad mix in the trash can just because the expiration date has passed. The Food Network explains that “those packages of salad mixes, spinach, and arugula are OK to eat past the due date.” If some of the leaves have wilted, you should just cut those pieces off. If you see lots of mushy and slimy leaves, on the other hand, you should throw away the salad mix.
Fresh bread doesn’t sound like an item that would have a particularly long shelf life. But you might be surprised. The Food Network explains the best-by date on a loaf of fresh bread assumes you’re storing the loaf of bread on your counter. If you are, it’s safe to eat as long as you don’t see mold growing on it. But if you want to extend the shelf life, The Food Network advises storing it in the fridge, where it will last for up to two weeks, or in the freezer.
15. Dry pasta
Dry pasta definitely makes the list of foods you can safely eat far past their expiration date. Because pasta is a dry food, it can last a long time past its expiration date if you store it in a cool, dry place. The Food Network explains “generally, dry pasta has a shelf life of two years, but you can typically push it to three.” Just make sure there’s no rancid odor.
16. Frozen foods
Things, such as frozen vegetables and frozen meat, can last for impressively long periods of time in the freezer. As The Food Network explains, ice-cold temperatures keep foods from going bad. The worst you have to worry about with packaged frozen foods? Freezer burn. The Food Network explains, “If the food gets freezer burn due to dehydration caused by oxidation it won’t be very tasty. However, if you’re feeling frugal, freezer burn food is still safe to eat.”
Perhaps you’ve thrown away expired chocolate in the past because the surface turned white. That’s mold, right? Wrong. The BBC reports that chocolate develops this white coating, known as “bloom,” when it’s exposed to the air. The white layer appears because some of the fat melts and rises to the top. But the white coating isn’t mold. That means your chocolate is safe to eat even if the expiration date has passed.
Bonus: Sturdy staples
Business Insider reports a category of foods referred to as “sturdy staples” can last “almost indefinitely under the right conditions.” Some of the foods that make that list? Honey, rice, hard liquor, maple syrup, distilled white vinegar, cornstarch, salt, sugar, and non-artificial pure vanilla extract.