Tag Archives: label

What Are Expiration Dates On Packaging

Expiration dates come in many forms. There is the “best by”, “sell by” or “use by” dates and my favorite, the ambiguous random numbers stamped on the can.  In reality these dates are determined by the manufacturer and are part of a voluntary process.  These dates indicate to the store when the  foods are at their peak freshness and should be removed from shelves.  Basically, it’s another part of marketing, if you buy a food and it’s stale or not fresh you won’t buy it again.

When you look through the Food Safety Inspection Services (a branch of the USDA) web page you see the term “peak freshness or quality” appear over and over again when they describe what these dates mean. So when do the foods really expire?  Well for food service operations its different than for the home cook.  In the food service environment its simple, when the date on the label has passed it is expired, unless the food was prepared in house, then you have 7 days.  If the health inspector finds foods with expired dates they will mark it as a violation.

However, in the home it is different.  We can assess the foods by feeling their texture, smelling them or looking for discoloration. If any of these things seem off then throw them away, which means they can sometimes be used after the date on the label. The FSIS has also provided a chart outlining some guide lines for the safety of certain foods which you will see below.

Refrigerator Storage of Processed Products Sealed at Plant
Processed Product Unopened, After Purchase After Opening
Cooked Poultry 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Cooked Sausage 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Sausage, Hard/Dry, shelf-stable 6 weeks/pantry 3 weeks
Corned Beef, uncooked, in pouch with pickling juices 5 to 7 days 3 to 4 days
Vacuum-packed Dinners, Commercial Brand with USDA seal 2 weeks 3 to 4 days
Bacon 2 weeks 7 days
Hot dogs 2 weeks 1 week
Luncheon meat 2 weeks 3 to 5 days
Ham, fully cooked 7 days slices, 3 days; whole, 7 days
Ham, canned, labeled “keep refrigerated” 9 months 3 to 4 days
Ham, canned, shelf stable 2 years/pantry 3 to 5 days
Canned Meat and Poultry, shelf stable 2 to 5 years/pantry 3 to 4 days
Refrigerator Storage of Fresh or Uncooked Products
Product Storage Times After Purchase
Poultry 1 or 2 days
Beef, Veal, Pork and Lamb 3 to 5 days
Ground Meat and Ground Poultry 1 or 2 days
Fresh Variety Meats (Liver, Tongue, Brain, Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings) 1 or 2 days
Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating 5 to 7 days
Sausage from Pork, Beef or Turkey, Uncooked 1 or 2 days
Eggs 3 to 5 weeks