Don’t Throw These Away: Foods That Last Beyond Their Expiration Date

Although some people throw products away after the “best by” date, they may not need to. The federal government does not regulate these printed dates, such as “best by,” “sell by,” and “expiration.” That’s why some foods remain fresh after these dates.

But which foods are still safe to eat? You may be surprised. Some animal products can last for weeks beyond the printed date, while other foods remain edible forever. If you want to save money and food, read which foods survive beyond the expiration date, and how you can tell when they go bad.

Salad Mixes

Bags of salad mix containing fresh spinach are seen on the shelf at a market.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Those plastic bags of salad mixes usually last beyond their expiration date. While unopened, these bags can remain fresh for up to ten days in the fridge. After opening the bag, use it within five days. Some greens, such as cabbage, remain edible for two months if they aren’t chopped.

To maximize the shelf life, line your salad mix bag with a paper towel. That will soak up moisture and prevent molding. Replace the towel every few days. When the leaves wilt or smell rotten, toss them.

Milk

A shopper reaches for a carton of milk from a supermarket shelf.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

If you throw out a carton on the “best by” date, you may be wasting fresh milk. Milk lasts for up to a week after its printed date. If left unopened, skim milk and lactose-free milk may remain fresh for up to ten days past their expiration dates.

To lengthen your milk’s shelf life, store it in the back of the fridge. If you place it on the refrigerator door, the fluctuating temperatures will make it rot faster. When the milk smells sour or feels chunky, throw it away.

Pickled Vegetables

A fork removes some pickled rhubarb from a jar.
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Pickled vegetables are naturally preserved through salt and vinegar. Because of this, pickles can stay fresh for up to two years beyond their “best by” date. As long as they’re properly sealed in the refrigerator, they should be safe to eat.

The vinegar in pickle juice promotes healthy lactic acid bacteria, which fend off many bad bacteria. Kimchi has a different pickling process, so it only survives for up to six months in the fridge. When pickles go bad, they may smell foul or become fizzy.

Eggs

A chef whisks eggs for an omelette.
Jose R. Aguirre/Cover/Getty Images
Jose R. Aguirre/Cover/Getty Images

Eggs lose freshness when they approach the “best by” date. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve gone bad, says food safety and sanitation expert Kevin Murphy. Usually, eggs remain safe for three to five weeks after you purchase them, regardless of the date on the container.

To see if an egg has gone bad, perform the water test. Place your egg in a bowl or cup of water. If it sinks, it’s fresh. If it floats, it has gone bad. If it hovers in the middle, it’s close to spoiling.

Cheese

Cheese sticks are packaged in plastic wrap.
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Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

In many cases, you can eat cheese beyond its expiration date, but how long it lasts depends on the type. Hard cheeses, such as cheddar and parmesan, will remain fresh for four months in the fridge. Soft cheeses, such as gouda, only last for two weeks after being opened.

With hard cheeses, you can cut off any mold to make it last longer. But mold spreads quickly through soft cheese, so you may want to toss it after the expiration date. Shredded cheeses usually last for around two months after opening.

Lunch Meat

Close-up shows a pastrami sandwich on rye bread
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Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Whether lunch meats are pre-packaged or bought from the deli, they may survive beyond the “sell by” date. Generally speaking, meat can last up to ten days beyond the expiration date. After you open the package, it’ll stay fresh for three to five days, according to the USDA.

To extend the shelf life, always seal your lunch meats. If the package doesn’t reseal, transfer the meat to a ziplock bag. Meats with little moisture, such as pepperoni, last longer than moist meats. When the meat develops slime or film, it’s unsafe to eat.

Bread

Loaves of bread are packaged for a grocery store.
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Although bread may become stale after a week, it is still edible. Some bakery and grocery store breads contain preservatives that lengthen their shelf life. Gluten-free bread, which is susceptible to moisture, has the shortest lifespan of any bread load.

As long as you don’t see mold, you can eat your bread (although it may not taste great). Store your bread in the pantry, where moisture won’t infect it. However, frozen bread can remain fresh for up to six months, while room temperature loaves can last for a couple of weeks max.

Honey

A vendor pours honey into a jar.
Mohammed Dahman/Xinhua via Getty Images
Mohammed Dahman/Xinhua via Getty Images

Although honey clouds and crystallizes over time, that doesn’t mean it has gone bad. Honey has a nearly indefinite shelf life as long as it’s stored correctly. The main detriment to honey is becoming moist.

According to Amina Harris, the executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the University of California, Davis, honey does not retain moisture. Viruses and bacteria get “smothered” by the lack of water, but if honey is exposed to water, then it may go bad. Keep your honey in the pantry.

Butter And Margarine

A person holds up bread with butter.
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You can eat butter for at least one month after its “best by” date, if not more. Generally, butter remains fresh for six to nine months in the fridge. If butter sits on the counter, it can stay fresh for a couple of days to a week. You’ll know that butter has rotted if it has a funky taste or smell.

Because margarine contains vegetable oils, it stays fresh for up to five months beyond its expiration date. After you open the container, though, it’ll last for up to two months. Like butter, margarine is best kept in the fridge.

Sugar

Granulated sugar pours onto a tower of sugar cubes.
JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images
JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

Like honey, sugar has an impressive shelf life. Granulated, raw, and cubed sugars can last indefinitely. However, many sugars are best eaten within two years, especially brown and powdered sugars. Because there is no water in sugar, bacteria cannot survive inside of it.

For the best quality, keep sugar away from moisture, light, and heat. Because sugar can absorb other strong odors (like onions and garlic), you may want to seal it in an airtight container. If you find any bugs, mold, or foul smells in your sugar, replace it.

Dry Pasta

Various dried pasta noodles are arranged on a white background.
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DeAgostini/Getty Images

Dry pasta can be eaten far beyond its “best by” date. According to Eat by Date, it can last for up to two years in the pantry. Cooked pasta, however, only remains fresh for about a week in the fridge.

To lengthen your pasta’s shelf life, seal it inside of an airtight container. Some people transfer their noodles to a glass or plastic container to retain its freshness. Rotten pasta will develop mold, discoloration, or an odd smell, even if the noodles are dry.

Yogurt

Different yogurt containers are stacked in towers.
Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Because yogurt is fermented, it lasts far longer than milk. Even after opening, it will stay fresh for up to two weeks beyond its “sell by” date. Yogurt can remain edible for up to two months in the freezer, and fruit yogurt does not survive as long as Greek yogurt.

To tell if yogurt has gone bad, check the amount of liquid. Greek yogurt regularly has liquid on the top, but in other yogurts, this could be a bad sign. Other signals include a curdled bottom, mold, or a bad smell.

Crackers And Chips

A chips and crackers aisle is on display at a convenience store.
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Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Crackers and chips are usually edible past their expiration date. If you don’t open the bag, potato chips will last for up to three months beyond the “sell by” date. A box of crackers can remain fresh for up to nine months after the date.

How can you tell if chips and crackers go bad? Check the smell and appearance. If they look discolored or moldy, toss them. If they smell funky, throw them away. Lock them in an airtight container in the pantry.

Chocolate

A person wearing a glove takes a chocolate bar from a glass container.
Annette Riedl/picture alliance via Getty Images
Annette Riedl/picture alliance via Getty Images

Chocolate can go bad, but that may not be during its printed date. Usually, chocolate bars will last for two to four months in the pantry and four to six months in the fridge. Chocolate chips survive for even longer in the fridge, up to six or eight months.

You’ll know that chocolate has gone stale if you see dots or cracks on the surface. If you notice mold, throw it out immediately. Keep a close eye on Belgian chocolate and truffles, which only stay fresh for a few weeks.

Applesauce

Containers of Mott's applesauce sit on a supermarket shelf.
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Getty Images

If stored properly, applesauce can remain fresh for 12 to 18 months after the expiration date. To extend its shelf life, don’t store it in the fridge. Keep applesauce at room temperature in a dark, dry place away from heat and light.

After you open an applesauce container, it’ll remain fresh for a couple of weeks in the fridge. Frozen applesauce can last for up to two months. If the sauce develops a bad odor or texture, or if it has mold, it’s gone bad.

Cake Mix

Boxes of Betty Crocker cake mix stand on a shelf.
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Getty Images

If you forgot about your box of cake mix, don’t fret. The mix can last for four to five months beyond its “best by” date, as long as you keep it dry. If your cake mix is a bit old, you won’t face any health consequences by eating it. But it may not taste as good.

Keep your box of cake mix in the cupboard or pantry, and it should remain fresh for a while. If you mix the cake and then have to wait, cover the bowl with aluminum or plastic wrap and refrigerator it.

Peanut Butter

Jars of peanut butter sit on a shelf.
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Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images

If you store peanut butter correctly, you can use it for months–even years. According to the National Peanut Butter Board, nut butters last far longer in the refrigerator after opening. After you open the jar, it’ll stay fresh for up to three months in the pantry and up to six months in the fridge.

If left unopened, the jar can remain edible for up to nine months in the pantry. Expired peanut butter is unlikely to make you sick; however, its rancid taste will signal that it has gone bad.

Breakfast Cereal

Boxes of Kellogg's Special K breakfast cereal are stacked in a grocery store.
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Getty Images

Since many cereals contain preservatives, they last far beyond their expiration date. If you don’t open the box, you can keep it for six to eight after the date. Opened boxes stay fresh for up to six months.

“Cereals don’t really go bad,” says Emily Broad Leib, the director of Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic. “If you leave your cereal box open, it can get stale, but you are still not going to get sick from it.” Watch out for mold, and you should be safe.

Canned Food

Parcels of canned food are stacked on the floor.
OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images
OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

According to the Canned Food Alliance, canned foods will last for an average of two years after being canned. This time can vary based on the food inside of the can. Acidic foods, such as tomatoes, keep for around 18 months. Low-acid foods, such as beans, may stay fresh for up to five years.

All of this depends on how you store them, too. Keep them away from warm areas, says Peggy VanLaanen, a professor of food and nutrition. Store them in a cool, dark place and check for damage on the can before eating.

Frozen Fruits And Vegetables

Ice cubes contain fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
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Hermes Images/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Many frozen fruits and vegetables survive beyond the printed date. If you don’t open the package, frozen fruits last for up to ten months past the date. Opened packages keep for eight months, max. When the food turns slimy, rancid, or dull, it has gone bad.

Frozen vegetables may be similar, depending on what they are. Carrots, broccoli, celery, and cauliflower may stay frozen for up to a year. Leafy greens should only remain frozen for eight months, and tomatoes and bell peppers last for five months.