8 Foods That Last Way Longer Than the Expiration Date

With these foods, think of the dates on the box as loose guidelines to follow. Here's how to know which foods are safe to eat when they're technically expired.

Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

I try to cut down on food waste wherever I can, which means trying to be organized with a shopping list and menu plan so that I only buy what I need and will use. It helps save me money. But I'm human, too. There seems to always be something that gets left in the depths of the fridge, to be forgotten until after it "expires." But what does that mean really? Can food be good one day and bad the next? Well, as it turns out, it is not that simple. Here are several foods where you can basically ignore the "Use-By" date on the package and still eat safely.

Who sets expiration dates?

Though they are relatively universal on packed foods, "Best if Used By" dates are not required by federal regulations (except for on infant formula). They are a voluntary label that is decided by the manufacturer, packer or distributor. Though it is typically based on an analysis of the product over its shelf life, the dates are to inform customers of when the food is at peak quality, not an indicator of food safety. The Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA states that "if the date passes during home storage, a product should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly until spoilage is evident." There is no regulation or standardization of these dates, so they are not an end-all-be-all for when you should throw something away.

opened can of corn
Getty Images/canacol

8 foods that tend to last way longer than the expiration date

Don't stress if any of these foods are past the date on the label. Use your senses to get a better feel of when these are no longer good to eat, as many last way longer than their "Use-By" dates. If something smells or tastes off, it's safest to kick it to the curb. Most foods with mold also need to get thrown away, but there are some rare exceptions (like salami and hard cheeses).

1. Heavy Cream

A fan favorite for coffee, thickening soups or an impromptu creamy pasta sauce, I always have some heavy cream on hand. The tough part is I usually use only a few tablespoons at a time. Not to worry, heavy cream can last anywhere from one to three weeks beyond its expiration date. It is important to note that opened heavy cream has a much shorter shelf life than unopened cream, so have a plan to use it up once it's opened. So don't automatically toss it based on the date, make some Creamy Chicken & Mushrooms instead.

2. Cheese

I am a cheese lover and a repeat offender of eating it well beyond the "Use-By" date. Beyond my anecdotal evidence of being totally fine, cheese can be refrigerated for up to several weeks for soft cheese and up to four months for hard cheeses. If your hard cheese has some mold on the outside, cut it off—the other parts of the cheese are safe to eat. If soft, shredded or grated cheese becomes moldy, you'll want to toss the whole thing. After cheeses are opened, their shelf life decreases significantly. Be sure to keep opened cheeses in tightly sealed containers.

3. Eggs

Eggs are something I always have on hand, but rarely keep track of how long they have been in the fridge. Living alone means I only use one or two eggs at a time unless I'm cooking for someone else too, so they can sit in the fridge for a while. Luckily, eggs can last nearly 70 days if properly refrigerated. That's typically three to four weeks beyond the expiration date.

4. Yogurt

I usually buy a large container of plain Greek-style yogurt to use for anything from a parfait to a sour cream replacement. It can last anywhere from one to three weeks past its "Use-By" date. Check for mold growth, an off putting smell or unusual taste to tip you off that it's time to toss. You may also want to buy smaller containers, although they're not as good for the environment, it may help you reduce waste.

5. Canned Vegetables

It's probably not surprising that canned things last a long time (and it may seem a little silly that they have a "Best By" date at all). The next time you are cleaning out your pantry, remember that canned veg can usually last one to two years beyond the date stamped on the can. Plus, Vegetables & Pasta Soup is way better for you and the planet than throwing away those white beans.

How can you tell if a can has gone bad? Check for rust, dents or swelling to let you know that it's time to toss it.

6. Packaged Bagels & Breads

Trying to extend the shelf life is not recommended for freshly baked bread, but the preservatives in packaged bagels and bread allow it to last one to two weeks beyond the "Use Buy" date, if refrigerated. Just keep an eye out for mold or a crunchy, stale texture. Baked goods can last up to 6 months in the freezer—my preferred method for storing them.

7. Dry Rice & Pasta

If you are like me and get dry grains from the bulk section, you may not even have the slightest clue of when your rice or pasta "expires." Fortunately, it's not something you should start worrying about now. Dried pasta can last for one to two years whereas dry rice is good for four to five years. The best thing you can do with your grains is practice first in, first out storage. Meaning, reach for your older box of pasta or rice before digging into the new ones. That will help you avoid having five-year old rice in the back of your pantry.

8. Condiments

My refrigerator door is just littered with condiments. Some are new, most are not. I have good news to share for fellow condiment lovers: So long as they are stored properly, many condiments can last six months to one year, which is typically much longer than the expiration date. Specific examples include butter, ketchup, barbecue sauce, mayonnaise and vinegar.

Bottom Line

Expiration dates are simply a measure of the last day a manufacturer will vouch for a food's quality, not a measure of its safety. Now that you're informed, you can stop throwing away foods to help you cut down on waste and save money. Always use your senses and best judgement when determining if a food is good to eat, they will tell you more than the "Use-By" date on the package.

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