Read This Before You Throw Out That “Expired” Food


Ready to toss out that jar of spaghetti sauce because it’s past the “use by” date? Not so fast: Those “use by,” “sell by” and “best before” dates on food products actually have nothing to do with food safety, and do not mean that you should discard the food once the date has passed.

These labels merely indicate the manufacturer’s suggestion for when the food is at its peak quality. In fact, there are no federal standards regulating food dating labels except in the case of infant formula. So, unless you see visible signs of spoilage, that canned corn or box of cereal is safe to eat days, months or even years after their use-by date — though the food products may not taste or look as good as they would have before that date.

Because many consumers throw out food they think is expired, use-by labels contribute to the country’s growing food waste problem, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Americans trash up to 40 percent of our food supply — worth about $165 billion — each year, the NRDC found.

But there are simple ways consumers can keep usable food — and all that money we spend on groceries — out of the trash can.

  • Find out how long food products last using the Food Marketing Institute’s FoodKeeper, through their online directory or mobile app. For example, canned beans can last 2-5 years unopened in the pantry. Eggs, if kept refrigerated, are still fresh 3-5 weeks after you buy them. You’ll need to be more careful about following dates on refrigerated meat products: Use them within a few days of purchase, or freeze meats to keep them fresh for months.
  • Storage temperature is the main factor affecting food safety, not the amount of time passed since the food was made. Keep your fridge’s temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to best preserve food.

To find out more about how you can cut down on food waste — including best practices for storing food in the fridge — visit our food waste page here.