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All You Need to Know about Expiration Dates…

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How often do you notice that one of your favorite food items has just expired and then wonder how much longer it can safely hang around in the refrigerator or on the pantry shelf? I know I always hate throwing away a half-eaten block of my favorite cheese or tossing unopened canned goods that have reached their expiration dates! Apparently, I am not alone as I received the email below from reader, Ashlee…

As a semi-new couponer I’ve developed quite the stockpile for both personal care items as well as food. What I’m curious about now is expiration dates. Some things it’s easy to tell when they are bad, but others not so much. And what about sell by dates? How long are eggs, milk, bread, yogurt and things like that good after their sell by date? I know there are some deals to be found in the clearance sections for foods close to their sell by dates, but I’m cautious of them. And for personal care stuff? Face wash has an expiration date on it, does it really go “bad”? Thanks!!!

So Ashlee inspired me to do some research and here is what I found…

Have you ever noticed that different foods have different types of dating?

* “Sell-By” date:

Tells the store how long to display the product for sale. Be sure to buy the product BEFORE the date expires.

* “Best if Used By (or Before)” date:

Recommended for best flavor or quality. It is NOT a purchase or safety date.

* “Use-By” date:
Last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality as determined by the manufacturer of the product.

How long can I safely use…


* Milk:

If stored around 37 degrees Fahrenheit, pasteurized milk will remain fresh for 2-5 days after its sell-by date.

* Meat:
All meat (whether it’s ground hamburger or a steak) should be eaten or placed in the freezer within 2 days of purchase. Even if the sell-by date is five days away, the refrigerator at home usually isn’t cool enough to keep the meat fresh for more than two days. Frozen ground meat should be used within 3 months. Pork holds for 6 months. Beef, lamb, veal, and venison last 8 to 12 months in the freezer.

* Chicken:

Chicken should be cooked or frozen within 2 days of purchase. Poultry and other birds last about 12 months in the freezer. Do NOT that chicken on the kitchen counter as bacteria multiply very rapidly at room temperature. The safest way to thaw poultry or meat is to defrost it by placing the package in the refrigerator immediately after removing it from the freezer or by placing the package under cold running water.

* Canned Foods:

Be sure to store them below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. In general, high-acid canned foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple can be stored on the shelf 12 to 18 months; low-acid canned foods such as meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables will keep 2 to 5 years.

* Cake Mix, Pasta, Cookies:

Store in a cool, dry storage place and they will last up to six months from the date of purchase

* Cereal:

Edible 2-3 months after being opened in a dry room.

* Cold Cuts/Hot Dogs:

Discard them as soon as they reach their expiration dates

* Soft Cheese (i.e. Brie and Camembert):

Eat within three to four days of opening.

* Hard Cheese:

Last up to three weeks and can also be frozen up to six months.

* Eggs:

Properly refrigerated and handled, eggs are considered safe for consumption for four to five weeks beyond the sell-by date. Did you know that you should refrigerate the eggs in their original carton and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door?!

Check out this interactive tool over at


* Liquid Foundation: 3-6 months (Cream foundation can last 4-6 months)
* Concealer: 6-8 months
* Powders: 1 year
* Mascara: 3 months (I am guilty of keeping my mascara much longer than 3 months 🙁 )
* Lip gloss & Lipstick: 1 year
* Eye/Lip Pencils: 1 year (Sharpen pencils at least once a week to prevent bacteria from being transferred to your eye area)
* Facial Cleansers & Moisturizers: 6 months
* Facial Toners: 1 year
* Body lotion: Two to three years, particularly if it’s in a pump container.
* Shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel: About three years.
* Sunscreen: Check the package for an expiration date.
* Perfume: About two years if you stash it away in a cool, dark place.
* Nail polish: One year.
* Hairstyling products: Three to five years. Most are alcohol-based, which helps preserve the formula.
* Bar soap: Up to three years.
* Shaving cream: About two years.
* Deodorant: Up to two years.

Obviously, I could have created an endless list of items, so I tried to pick out items that many of us have in our refrigerator and/or on our shelves. Please add your comments, suggestions, tips etc. below!

(Thanks to Business Week’s A Guide To Shelf Life, the USDA’s Food Product Dating, CBS News’ When Your Cosmetics Expire, and Real Simple for the information above!)

Join The Discussion

Comments 94

  1. PotatoLord

    What about candies? Because I accidentally ate a bunch of sour patch kids that are five months over the “use by” date but they taste fine

  2. Joyce Putnam

    I have a jar of mincemeat code dated November 2014—Never opened. I want to make mincemeat cookies this morning. Can I use it???

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