Sunday, August 29, 2010

Secrets to keeping food past its expiration date

They’re the lonely refugees of supermarket impulses… and they live in all our homes.

From the sad little jar of hot pepper jelly at the back of the fridge to the old can of tomato sauce rusting away at the bottom of the cupboard, a kitchen just isn’t a kitchen without a few food relics.

So when should you throw them out?

You might think it’s the expiration date. But in many cases, that’s not quite true–even when it comes to the fresh food and dairy that you probably do use frequently.

Don’t worry–you’re not alone if you’ve been tossing your food the moment it reaches the date stamped on the package. A new survey asked 2,000 Americans about 10 common products, and most people thought one or more of the items on the list should be disposed of by the expiration date.

In fact, 61 percent of the respondents in the survey said milk is not good past its sell-by date, while 57 percent said the same about cottage cheese. In addition, 54 percent said mayo needs to go, 50 percent said yogurt turns bad and 45 percent said eggs are no longer egg-cellent once that date passes.

But that’s not always true, because you can often keep your groceries well past their expiration dates as long as you store them properly.

Here are a few pointers from ShelfLifeAdvice:

* Eggs can last for up to five weeks past the expiration date.
* Milk can last for up to a week beyond its sell-by date.
* Yogurt can keep for up to 10 days past the date, or up to two months in the freezer.
* Mayonnaise can last for a month past the expiration date if it’s unopened.

What’s more, other packaged foods can last far beyond their expiration dates. One expert told MSNBC that cereal can keep for an extra year if you store it in a cool, dry place… and that toothpaste never seems to go bad, despite the date you’ll usually find on the tube.

Some dates are required by law… but in many cases, the manufacturers say they just want to set a date by which they can guarantee freshness. Truth is, more than a few of them probably just want to make sure you restock regularly… whether you need to or not.

And that means you might be able to hold onto those sad food refugees for just a little bit longer.

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