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Should You Pay Attention to Food Expiration Dates?

How many times have you opened the refrigerator to find that the expiration date on the food that you reach for has just passed? Is it still safe to eat? You might be surprised that certain foods can still be safely consumed after their so-called “expiration” date has passed. Here are some guidelines:

1. Dairy Foods

Most dairy products will generally spoil sometime around their expiration date, but, if you are careful about keeping the products refrigerated, you might get a little bit longer to enjoy them. Milk will generally be fresh for about a week after its “sell by” date, if it hasn’t been left out. Freeze it and it will stay fresh for about 3 months. Greek yoghurt can be safely eaten for up to a couple of weeks after the date printed on the carton, if it has been stored properly. Hard cheeses, like Parmesan cheese, will last several months after the expiration date if refrigerated, more than six months if frozen.

2. Poultry, Fish and Meats

Fresh, raw fish, chicken and meat will usually only be good for 1-2 days after the expiration date—and your nose will often help you determine this. If cooked, meats can last for up to 7 days in the refrigerator. But, to be on the safe side, check the colour and smell, and if something seems off, err on the side of caution and don’t eat it.

3. Fruits

Most fresh fruit will not have an expiration date, but it is often quite obvious when it has passed its freshness. Use your own senses to figure out if you should still eat it. Certain hard fruits, such as apples, may have a much longer shelf life than softer fruits like peaches and pears. Strawberries or blueberries will last up to 10 days when refrigerated, but only about 2-3 days if you leave them out.

4. Vegetables

Again, use your judgment, and if it doesn’t look or smell right, then don’t eat it. Certain veggies last longer than others, like bell peppers, which can last a couple of weeks, while asparagus may only make it 5 days in the fridge. Canned veggies can often be safely consumed for a long time after the date printed on the can, so these are often fine for another 1-2 years.

5. Breads, Crackers, Cereals

Fresh bread does not last long once you bring it home, and usually gets pretty stale after only a couple of days. Packaged versions can last up to a week after the date printed, if sealed up tightly. Crackers and cereals can last up to 6 months after the date on the carton, if they are wrapped up airtight. Store these foods in a cool, dry cupboard for best results.

The expiration date on many foods may not tell the whole story. Sometimes you can enjoy foods much longer than the date printed on the package. It is best to use your common sense—as well as your other senses—to determine whether something looks or smells funny and you should not eat it.