We waste a lot of food out of fear: experts estimate that $US165 billion worth gets tossed each year.
But most expiration dates are largely made-up. According to The National Resource Defence Council, the “sell by” dates do indicate not whether or not foods are safe to eat — they simply tell you when food will reach its limits for “optimal quality.”
Handy website StillTasty compiles data from sources like the USDA, the FDA, and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as food manufacturers themselves. The site provides helpful tips on when to dispose of hundreds of household goods.
The USDA advises you to purchase the product before the 'sell-by date,' and the 'best if used by (or before)' date indicates when the product will have optimal taste and quality. 'Use-by' date simply indicates the last day the food will be at its top quality.
The USDA notes that it's ok to eat these foods past the dates on the packaging -- however, this does not mean we are invincible from getting sick 'If foods are mishandled,' the USDA writes on its website, 'food borne bacteria can grow, and if pathogens are present, cause foodborne illness -- before or after the date on the package.' The only exception is infant formula, as the USDA advises parents to not buy or even use baby formula once the 'use-by' date rolls around.
Generally, a rule of thumb to go by is to pay attention to when you purchased or opened the food, rather than what the packaging says.
Everyone loves bacon, but how long should bacon be kept in the fridge before you toss it? While the USDA advises you to adhere to 'use by' dates, the 'sell-by' dates, once again, doesn't matter much. If left open, you can keep bacon in the fridge (4o degrees Fahrenheit) for 2 weeks. Once you open it, you have 7 days to eat the bacon.
If your lunch meat has a 'sell-by' date rather than a 'use-by' date, if you don't open it, the USDA says you can keep it for 2 weeks. But once you open the package, you only have 3 to 5 days left. StillTasty adds you can keep commercially packaged lunch meat (ham) in the freezer for 1-2 months!
Once you open a jar of peanut butter, you can get 3-4 months out of it. StillTasty says you will get 3 months out of the peanut butter if you leave it in the pantry. However, you can (slightly) maximise the lifetime of your opened peanut butter if you refrigerate it -- shelf life will be 3-4 months.
Boxed chocolates can last longer than you might expect, if stored properly. StillTasty advises you to store chocolate at room temperature to ge 6 to 9 months out of them (even if they have been opened).
Additionally, StillTasty writes that you can extend chocolate's life by cranking up the temperature. 'As a general rule, refrigerating chocolate can extend its shelf life by at least 25%, while freezing can prolong it by 50% or more. Place the original box in a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag, seal it tightly and then refrigerate for up to one year, or freeze for up to 18 months for best quality. Thaw frozen chocolates in the refrigerator,' the website advises.
However, StillTasty mentions that this is not the case for luxury, artisanal, handmade chocolates -- at room temp, they will stay fresh for 2-3 weeks.
Romaine lettuce will last about a week in the fridge. However, StillTasty writes, it doesn't do well if it's frozen. For optimal freshness, the site advises to not wash lettuce until you're about to eat it.
If you purchase commercially packaged, already refrigerated yogurt, you can keep it for about 7-10 days after the 'sell by' date. If you freeze the yogurt, you can get 1-2 months out of it. Opened yogurt, StillTasty notes, will taste optimally for 5-7 days after it's opened.
How to tell if it's gone bad? Just check and use common sense. StillTasty says red-flags include ' a highly runny watery consistency, a clumpy texture, and a sour smell.' If you see mould, throw out the whole package. ('Do not taste the yogurt first,' Still Tasty wisely advises.)
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