container of milk

We’ve all done it: Opened up the fridge to find an old jar of mayo or shrimp cocktail sauce and wondered if it’s still good. The Best Before date has passed so you throw the jar in the garbage thinking it’s not longer good. What most of us don’t know is that Best Before doesn’t necessarily mean it’s expired. Here’s how it works:

Best Before, Best By: 

best before can label

These aren’t expiration dates. It’s to let you know that the item you’re purchasing is at its most delicious stage until the stamped date, BEFORE it’s opened. Once it’s opened, it should last longer as long as you keep it refrigerated and/or sealed properly.

Use By:

The food is expected to go bad around that time.

Sell By:

These dates are for grocers. It means they’re allowed to display the food until the date posted on the packaging. It also means you should buy steaks or poultry before the date’s passed, even though you can keep it and use it a few days afterward.

When you see Expires On, that’s a different story: You should follow orders and throw your food away (unless it was in the freezer in which case, will last longer). *Note of caution: check and make sure that the meat you bought wasn’t previously frozen. Refreezing is not recommended. * This label means that the manufacturer can no longer guarantee the nutritional value or content of the product.

uncooked pork belly

So how do we  know when food is no longer good? Unfortunately there’s no clear and obvious way to know. Your best bet is to smell, look and taste it. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.

Here are a couple of charts to help you with basic guidelines to follow when storing food in your fridge (taken from USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service)

Refrigerator Home Storage (at 40 °F or below) of Fresh or Uncooked Products

If product has a “use-by” date, follow that date.If product has a “sell-by” date or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times on the following chart.

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
Refrigerator Home Storage (at 40 °F or below) of Processed Products Sealed at PlantIf 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

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