A 2018 study published in the journal Plos One says that an average U.S. citizen tosses almost a pound of food every day. Looking at the phrases “Best By,” “Best if Sold By,” and “For Full Flavor Use By” can be disturbing at times because each line has a different implication and origin. Plus, most are referring to quality warnings, not safety warning. To be sincere, the dates indicated have very little regulation. A good number of people misinterpret these dates and throw away food that could still be consumed or frozen for later days. Which raises the question: How long can you eat food after the expiration date?

Meaning of Expiration Date and Other Phrases

Expiration date means the last date that a certain food should be eaten or used after which you proceed at your own risk. However, those dates you see on the food label are regulated by no one but the food brands themselves. This might be shocking but it is the truth. “The FDA does not require manufacturers to place expiration or use by dates on food products except for infant formulas,” says Deborah Kotz, press officer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Some states and local agencies require expiration dates on certain food labels, but most often, manufacturers voluntarily include expiration or use by dates.

As mentioned above, the below terms are commonly used in almost every food. What do they really mean?

  • “Best by”: This basically refers to quality, not safety. It’s an indication of when the flavor is at its peak. There is no relation to food safety at all.
  • “Best if sold by”: This tells the store how long to display the product for sale. Meaning the consumer should buy the product before the date expires. It doesn’t imply that the consumer shouldn’t use the product before that date, but it’s a guide to the retailer. In other words, the “best if sold by” date is the last day the item is at its highest level of quality, but it’s still edible for some time after.
  • “For full flavor use by”: It’s the last day you as a consumer should use the product while it’s at its peak. The date is determined by the manufacturer of the product. Still, you can eat the product days later

Expiration Dates for Common Foods

After knowing what the above common terms mean, then it’s time to know more about expiration dates. In fact, you should memorize some expiration date of common foods and how long you can eat them after expiring.

1. Dairy: 1-2 Weeks

Different states have different laws on milk dates. A carton of milk produced and packaged exactly the same way could have an expiration date in one state that is two weeks later than another state. Reason being the wide range of dating standards, leaving you as the consumer to make a choice if your milk has passed the date. Things like refrigerating at 34° F, rather than the standard 40° F, could give your milk an extra week. Also, keep the container sealed longer to increase the duration of the milk. Another way to determine if the dairy is expired is to use the old smell test.

2. Grains: One Year

For unopened processed foods such as cereals and chips, you can consume them months after expiration date. Nevertheless, if your cereals become stale, put them in better use through making bread crumbs of pie crust

3. Eggs: Two Weeks, But Do the Test

An egg can take a while to rot, but if it does you don’t want to be around it. In a span of two weeks eggs might be still fine but any day past that and they might be rotten. To check if your eggs are rotten, fill a glass with water and gently place the eggs inside. If they float, you’ve got rotten eggs on your hands. If not, then you can consume them. Otherwise, eggs often pass this test even two weeks after the expiration date.

4. Greens: Check Leaf by Leaf

Be keen with greens because the moisture from the produce or leaves can feed bacteria growth. That being said, whether it’s before or after the expiration date, throw away any slimy greens. Those that are intact are what you should be eating.

5. Meat: Color Change

Have a look at the USDA guidelines to help you know if your meat is spoilt. The first indicator of spoilt meat is the change in color. Also, “slimy or tacky” feel is a sure sign you’ve waited too long to cook the meat.


Taking caution when it comes to the expiration date of certain foods is what keeps you away from food poisoning. In case the food can be frozen, for example, meat, freeze it before the expiry date rather than letting it sit in the fridge only to throw it out at expiration. Moreover, don’t let the common phrases used on food label scare you into tossing away food that could be eaten another day.

All images by Pixabay


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