Expired Food. When Should You Throw It Out?

My boyfriend and I cleaned out his refrigerator last night. I know, it’s not exactly an exciting date night but it makes for good blog fodder.

I actually started this process last week and he promptly stopped me. The shock of seeing half the contents of his refrigerator headed toward the trash was a little overwhelming.

For the record, my boyfriend keeps a very neat and tidy house, but his refrigerator was over-run with half used salad dressing, jelly, mayonnaise and pickle jars. When I looked at expiration dates most products expired in 2010 and one even expired in 2008.

My boyfriend’s rationale was, if there is still something in the bottle there is no reason to throw it away…

He came around.

A couple days later he not only gave me the green light to clean out his refrigerator, he helped me. We actually had fun as we announced expiration dates to each other and lined up bottles on the counter. This is a try-it-home-project-with-your significant-other, you might be surprised at the fun that will ensue 🙂

I found this article in the NY Times and it made me laugh, it sounds like us.

Infant formula is the only food product that has an FDA regulated expiration date; meaning it should not be bought or consumed once the “use by” date has expired. For all other food products there is no official regulated food dating system.

Types of Expiration Dating:

1. Sell-By date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.

2. Best If Used By (or Before) date is recommended for the best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

3. Use-By date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.


As I investigated the salad dressing issue further I read everything from:

“Sell by dates are a mass marketing conspiracy to scare the public into discarding perfectly good food products and replacing them with newer ones.”

“Just do a sniff test, if it smells good, it is good.”

“Don’t eat anything past the expiration date, especially dressings and sauces.”

“The food industry wants you to throw it out so you’ll buy more.”

“If in doubt, throw it out.”

“Why take a chance? I don’t want anything in my body that has been sitting in the refrigerator longer than 12 months.”

“If it is past the date. Pass on the dressing. Oils get old and has a funny taste.”

“I’ve never had it go bad on me before, maybe if you leave it out for weeks without the top on it in direct sunlight you’d have a problem.”

“As soon as the expiration has come and gone, I toss the product.”


And on and on the contradictions go.


According to the SuperMarketGuru:

  • Condiments kept in the fridge will last up to a year, except mayonnaise and that should be kept only for two months. The most dangerous part of condiments is cross contamination. Be sure to always use a clean utensil that has not touched other foods before putting the knife or fork into the jar.
  • Cooking oils should always be stored in a cool dry place. Unopened oil lasts about six months, once opened up to three months.
  • Salad dressings will last unopened up to a year and after opening should be kept in the fridge up to three months.
He also recommends:
  • Milk should always be put on a shelf and never on the door. It is good up to a week after the “sell by” date.
  • Eggs should be stored in the container they came in. Never use the plastic egg container that comes with some refrigerators. Eggs need to breathe and the plastic container keeps them from doing so and will cause them to spoil faster. Fresh eggs will last up to three weeks if stored properly.
  • Pastas will last about a year unopened or stored in an airtight container.
  • Rice will last about a year, but be sure to keep moisture out.
  • Herbs and spices can be breeding grounds for bugs, so handle and store these properly. Whole spices last about two years, ground spices between six to 12 months. Always store in glass jars. Spices in plastic jars or plastic bags don’t last as long as the plastic itself allows air to get in. Never buy spices in wooden bins. They are a haven for insects.
  • Canned foods will last up to two years from date of manufacture — not the date you purchased them.


Here is a chart from the USDA regarding meats and poultry.

Refrigerator Storage of Fresh or Uncooked Products
Product Storage Times After Purchase
Poultry 1 or 2 days
Beef, Veal, Pork and Lamb 3 to 5 days
Ground Meat and Ground Poultry 1 or 2 days
Fresh Variety Meats (Liver, Tongue, Brain, Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings) 1 or 2 days
Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating 5 to 7 days
Sausage from Pork, Beef or Turkey, Uncooked 1 or 2 days
Eggs 3 to 5 weeks
If product has a “use-by” date, follow that date.
If product has a “sell-by” or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times on the following chart.
Refrigerator Storage of Processed Products Sealed at Plant
Processed Product Unopened, After Purchase After Opening
Cooked Poultry 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Cooked Sausage 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Sausage, Hard/Dry, shelf-stable 6 weeks/pantry 3 weeks
Corned Beef, uncooked, in pouch with pickling juices 5 to 7 days 3 to 4 days
Vacuum-packed Dinners, Commercial Brand with USDA seal 2 weeks 3 to 4 days
Bacon 2 weeks 7 days
Hot dogs 2 weeks 1 week
Luncheon meat 2 weeks 3 to 5 days
Ham, fully cooked 7 days slices, 3 days; whole, 7 days
Ham, canned, labeled “keep refrigerated” 9 months 3 to 4 days
Ham, canned, shelf stable 2 years/pantry 3 to 5 days
Canned Meat and Poultry, shelf stable 2 to 5 years/pantry 3 to 4 days


Finally here are the freezer guidelines for meats that are properly packaged in airtight containers:

  • Frozen entrees and dinners: three to four months
  • Ground beef or turkey: three months
  • Lunchmeats (unopened): one month
  • Bacon (unopened): one month
  • Whole chicken or turkey: one year
So what about you? When was the last time you read the expiration dates and cleaned out your refrigerator, freezer or pantry?


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  1. Hey but what if these condiment bottles become collectors items? At least they will be well preserved in refrigation. But seriously I probably do have an expired collection as well.

  2. Thank you for sharing this information. It was very informative that I printed a copy and will post it in the Kitchen for future use.!!!

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