How Long Can You Store Fresh Food

This is part of a series on How To Save Money On Your Grocery Bill

Revised July 30, 2020 – Originally published June 4, 2020 Deborah Esplin

Food Dates? What do they mean?

Most foods that you buy in the grocery store will have a packed date, a manufacture date, an expiry date or a best before date. What are these different kinds of dates and what do they mean?

Food platter
Platter of food. 

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Expiry Dates

Expiry dates are dates where food safety is no longer guaranteed or where there is a risk of severe quality deterioration after the date.

Expiry dates are usually short and are for refrigerated foods that can not be safely stored at room temperature or they may become dangerous. For foods that have an expiry date, it is important not to go past that date.

This date will be marked on the package if you buy the food in a grocery store. If you buy the food at a food service location or from a caterer, there may not be a date and you can use the dates below to guide you.

Best Before Dates

Best Before Dates are used to provide time frames after which the quality or the nutritional content of the food decreases. Best before dates are usually longer and can be on refrigerated or shelf-stable foods. Usually, there is not a food safety risk if you go a day or two past this date.

Manufacture / Packed on Date

Some foods have a manufacturing or packed on date. Fresh meat, fish and seafood should have both pack and expiry dates. As these foods have a very short shelf life in the refrigerator, both dates are required to give the consumer a good idea of how long the food is safe for.

However, foods like deli meats, bacon, and frozen smoked salmon are not required to have pack date, as their shelf life is longer.

Date rules

In Canada, all foods that are sold in retail packaging, and that have a date less than 90 days must have the date on the food. Foods that have dates longer than 90 days do not have to have the date on the package, however, most manufacturers now put dates on their packages. If your food has a date on from the manufacturer, you can use this date as a guide for how long to keep the food and use it.

Both expiry and best before dates are valid only for food that has not been opened. Once the food has been opened, the dates are generally shorter and are also dependent on good storage practices. The table below lists storage dates for common foods once they are open.

Long storage dates 

Some foods have very long best before dates. For example, nuts, crackers, and canned goods can have dates of one year or more.

For some foods, like canned goods, it is important to respect the date. These foods can be dangerous and cause food poisoning.

But for dry goods like nuts, crackers, grains, seeds, and cereals, as examples, there will not usually be a food safety risk if you use these foods after the date. The date is more an indicator of the quality of the food. These foods may go rancid, or the texture and taste may change so that they are no longer palatable. Use your senses and your judgment in deciding whether to use these kinds of foods after their date.

The date of any food applies only as long as the food is not open or is properly wrapped and stored.

Medium storage dates

Some foods, like dairy products and eggs, have medium storage dates. Because dairy products are made from pasteurized milk, there is usually not a food safety risk to consuming milk, yogurt, or cheese for a short time after their date has passed. It is more a question of quality.

With milk, it will go sour and you will notice the bad smell or the lumps. With yogurt and cheese, they may be an unpleasant odour and/or mold growth.

Definitely do not use dairy products after the date if there are visible signs that they are no longer good. However, if it is only a day to a few days after the date and there are no signs of spoilage, it is generally okay to use these foods. Use your sense to make sure there are no signs of spoilage.

What temperature should your fridge be at?

The government of Canada recommends that your fridge be kept between 0 and 4 C. In the US, the temperature range is 32 to 40 F. Do you know your fridge temperature?

You can get a thermometer and keep it in your fridge to make sure. This way you can have your fridge as warm as it safe so that your produce doesn’t freeze, and you can find out the warmest part of your fridge so that you organize yours with the most temperature-sensitive items in the coldest areas. This Rubbermaid thermometer from Amazon is sturdy, reliable and not expensive. I highly recommend this model.

Recommended Storage Times For Fresh Food in the Refrigerator

Days    Food

1           Shellfish

2           Ground meat, Raw sausage

3           Egg substitute-open, Milk-open, Yogurt-open, Soups, Chicken-whole & pieces

4           Beef, veal, pork, lamb, Fish-lean & fatty, Ham, Deli meat, Cooked meals, Cooked poultry & fish

5           Lunch meat-open, Beans, Hummus-open

7           Soft cheese, lettuce, Bacon, Hot dogs-open, Sausage-cooked, Harc-boiled eggs

10        Egg substitute-not open

14         Vegetables, Lunch meat-not open, Hot Dogs-not open

21         Butter-open, Semi-soft cheese, Eggs, Spinach

56         Butter-closed salted/unsalted

152      Cheese-firm & processed

303      Hard cheese

Recommendations from the Government of Canada.

Fresh foods that need to be refrigerated to maintain their safety and quality are foods where you should generally respect the dates above or the date on the unopened package.

For any kind of meat, fish, or shellfish food, absolutely respect the dates. These foods can become unsafe very fast, especially if they are raw. Even stored in the refrigerator they do not stay safe for long.

Check out my companion video on this topic:

Check out posts on other topics here: Blog Table of Contents.

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