Food Expiration

Many people are now trying to plan for emergencies by having extra food on hand. While freeze dried items last the longest in storage, they are expensive.

Canned goods can be stored and when kept in order by expiration dates, the oldest can be used first. But what do those dates really mean?

A “Sell-By” date will be seen on perishables like meat and cheese. You should buy these before the date expires. This is a government mandated date, and only used on perishables like meat.

A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is a voluntary date the manufacturer offers to recommend the best flavor or quality of their product.

A “Use-By” date is the last date the manufacturer feels the product has peak quality and is also offered voluntarily. These will be found on shelf items like ketchup, mustard and peanut butter.

Perishables like produce, meats and dairy should be taken home and refrigerated after you buy them. The dates on these products should be respected and if you can’t use the item before that date, some foods like meat can be frozen to extend their freshness.

Once frozen, they can be used past the date on them if frozen continuously at  0° F or below. A good rule is to use the frozen meat items within about 6 months of purchase.

While careful freezing will keep food safe for an indefinite period of time, the quality, especially the taste and texture, may decline over time.

Meat, poultry and fish should be defrosted in your refrigerator rather the on the kitchen counter. If any food appears to have freezer burn or has an odd color, smell or appearance, it could be spoiled and should be discarded.

Your canned goods also have dates (best if used by”) and there are several sites online, like where you will find detailed lists with many foods and dates and how long they are safe to use past the date stamped on the package.

When you put these items on your pantry shelf, simply use a black marker and label each one’s date in large numbers. Then organize your items so you will use the oldest, first.

Here are some estimates on how much longer stored items can be used when buying and storing food.

  • Fruits and vegetables are good for one to two years after the “best if used by” date.
  • Cereals and crackers will be fine for at least 6 to 8 months after the date.
  • White rice will last for 4 to 5 years.
  • Coffee and tea bags for 3 to 5 months
  • Freeze dried coffee for 2 to 20 years
  • Canned beans for 1 year
  • Canned Tuna for 2 to 5 years
  • Dried beans and lentils are good indefinitely!

Being careful with storage of your food, will insure that you will always have the best food available for your family and if the power goes out, you don’t need to panic.

Turn to your back up supplies on your pantry shelf, and get creative with a can of tuna, some vegetables and rice!