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How Old is Too Old? Guide to Food Safety

Updated: Apr 3

How to figure out what's still edible and what needs to be thrown out.
Check the expiration dates on food in your frig and pantry.

Well it's time for spring cleaning (GROAN... I know but we have to do it at lease once a year)! As you start to pull off everything from your kitchens and pantries you’re sure to discover some really old items, all stuck in the back.

So now what do you do - how old is too old? No one wants to get rid of foodstuffs that are still usable, but it’s hard to figure out when things are too old to consume safely.

It's surprising what lurks in the back of your pantry.  Toss items that have expired.
Check the expiration dates on your foods at least once a year.

Here are some guidelines as you forge through your kitchen spring cleaning –

Official Date Definitions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says –

"Best if Used By/Before" indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

"Sell-By" tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.

Use-By" is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.

Freeze-By” says when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

"If you do eat a food past the expiration date [and the food] is spoiled, you could develop symptoms of food poisoning," said registered dietitian nutritionist Summer Yule, MS. The symptoms of foodborne illness can include fever, chills, stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

What foods should you never eat after the expiration date?

Some food will make you sick if eaten after the expiration date.
Don't eat these food after their expiration date.

  • Jarred condiments start to collect bacteria after the safety seal is broken. .

  • Ketchup: more than 6 months .

  • Mayonnaise: over two 2 months.

  • Mustard: older than 1 year.

  • Mayonnaise: over 2 months old.

  • Pickles: more than 3 months.

  • Relish: up to 9 months.

  • Salad dressing: between 1 -3 months.

  • Salsa, Soy Sauce or Teriyaki sauce: after one month of opening.

  • Cold pressed juices.

  • Brie, cream cheese, ricotta and other soft cheeses only last a few days after they’ve been opened,

  • Fresh Berries. Fresh berries from the store or farmers market must be eaten and refrigerated within a week.

What is ok to eat after expiration date?

Check the expiration dates on your canned foods.
Canned foods are best consumed within 2-5 years.

  • Canned foods are at their best within 2-5 years. If you store them as a safe temperature (under 75 degrees) they should be OK indefinitely. But if a can is bulging, rusted, dented or has a tear, throw it out.

  • Frozen food is safe indefinitely but its quality will start to deteriorate within a few months to a year.

  • Hard Cheeses last about a month after opening, and at least 6 months unopened in the fridge. You can scrape off a little mold with a clean knife and it’s still ok to eat the rest.

  • Eggs are usually safe about 3-5 weeks from the date of purchase, even if the printed date passes.

  • Bread generally goes stale past its expiration date, but it's still safe to eat. If you freeze it, bread will last a lot longer. However, if it's moldy, toss it out.

If your pasta is over 2 years old, you should toss it.
Dried pasta lasts unopened for about 2 years.
  • Dried pasta lasts unopened for about 2 years (and about a year if you open the box).

  • Sugar never spoils. But use it within two years for the freshest quality. for best quality, you'll want to use it within 2 years.

  • Milk can be refrigerated for 7 days and can be frozen for about 3 months. Their dates tend to be a "sell-by" versus a "use-by" date. Opened milk should be discarded after 2-3 days.

  • Yogurt will last for a week or so past its expiration date once you open it.

  • Dark chocolate is safe to eat for up to 1 year, and about 2 years if left unopened. Milk and white chocolate are safe for a year after buying.

  • Peanut butter in an unopened jar in the pantry is good keep peanut butter for 6-9 months (unopened) and 2-3 months (opened). If you keep it in the fridge it can maintain it‘s quality for three-four months.

  • Honey can be stored for up to 12 months for best quality, but may remain stable for long after that. If it becomes crystallized it’s not dangerous to consume, and you can nuke it for several seconds to clarify it.

  • Flour (all-purpose flour) lasts 6–8 months on the shelf but up to 1 year if refrigerated and 2 years if frozen. If you put your flour in the fridge, seal it in an airtight container and keep away from moisture and water to prevent mold.

  • Extra- virgin olive oil lasts between 18 and 24 months because of the higher acid content. But since olive oil starts degrading as soon as you open the bottle, it’s best to use it within 6months of opening.


Fine wines  can be sonsumed for decades. Others should be drunk withing 3 years.
Unopened wines should be stored in a cool, dark place.

Wines. When stored properly in a cool, dark place and kept unopened, white wines can often outlive their recommended drinking window by 1-2 years, red wines by 2-3 years, and cooking wines by 3-5 years.

Fine wine can typically be consumed for decades.

For opened wine -

  • Ports will last between 1-3 weeks

  • Dessert wines are good for 3-7 days

  • Red and rich white wines last roughly 3-6 days

  • Lighter white wines last 4 or 5 days

  • Sparkling wines go quickly, within only 1-2 days

Beer. Sealed beer is stable for 6-8 months without refrigeration. If stored and refrigerated properly, sealed beer can last 2-3 years. If there’s no hissing sound when you open the beer it means the beer has gone flat.

Liquor has an indefinite shelf life if unopened. Opened, it should be consumed within 6–8 months for peak taste.

Generally, if in doubt and you see that a container looks like it’s lost its seal or has an unusual smell, it’s best to toss it. Be safe!

Happy Spring Cleaning!

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3 commentaires

Julie Bestry
Julie Bestry
25 mars 2023

This is definitely detailed and robust; I'm impressed. I'm shocked about soy sauce, because I've always kept it much longer! But how could a person possibly finish milk in within 2-3 days? I buy a half gallon once a week; granted, for the past decade, I've used ultra-filtered Fairlife milk (the dates for which are often 6 weeks out), but 2-3 days for milk after opening is shocking.


Thanks for sharing the guide and the definitions. In my own house I follow the guidelines you have stated. When I work with clients I tend to use the best before date and let them decide if they would rather keep it. I have occasionally seen bulging jar or tin can lids. A sure sign to remove them from the kitchen.


Linda Samuels
Linda Samuels
20 mars 2023

Wow! What an excellent guide. I'm going to refer back to this one when in doubt. Thank you.

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