Here's How Long Your Food Actually Lasts

August 14th 2015

Laura Donovan

Last week, ATTN: reported that expiration dates often cause many Americans to needlessly throw away food and contribute to the $165 billion worth of food that goes to waste every year. It turns out many expiration dates are meaningless and merely scare us into squandering perfectly edible food.

Business Insider recently used the site StillTasty to create the perfect image that shows just how long certain foods can stay in your fridge and pantry before they go bad. StillTasty gathers information from the USDA, the FDA, the CDC, and food manufacturers to determine when foods go bad. As we pointed out in our previous piece, many foods are okay to eat well after their "sell-by" or expiration dates. The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) says that expiration dates are merely "suggestions by the manufacturer for when the food is at its peak quality, not when it is unsafe to eat."

In other words, the downside is they might not be as fresh or tasty after a certain point.

How long your food lasts in the fridge

The NRDC reports that 40 percent of the food produced every single year is never eaten. The organization, which is committed to protecting the earth, would like to see a labeling system that better explains to consumers how long their food will last beyond the "sell-by" date. also has a helpful detailed chart on storing and preserving ham and other products:

Storing ham

How to eat safely

"Use by" dates on food or medicine indicate that the listed date is the final day the item will be at its best quality. As ATTN: previously noted:

"[t]his doesn't necessarily mean it will rot (or in the case of medicine, no longer work) after the 'use by' date. If it's medicine, it will be less effective, and if it's food, it might not be as fresh."

The USDA says that "sell-by" or "expiration" (EXP) dates are not federal requirements on packaging, but states may have different requirements. The USDA reports that some state egg laws forbid "sell-by" dates from appearing on cartons:

Expiration dates on food

That said, this doesn't mean your food will be safe to eat forever. Check for mold and bad smells before consuming something that is well beyond its expiration date.

Food can also be harmful if it is undercooked, or if there has been a recall due to foodborne illness like Salmonella or Listeria. Consumers should also make sure to cook their food (especially meat and poultry) to the appropriate temperature to avoid certain foodborne illnesses, and they should also check recent food recalls to make sure that they're not consuming potentially tainted food.

"If foods are mishandled, foodborne bacteria can grow, and if pathogens are present, cause foodborne illness—before or after the date on the package," the USDA writes on its site.

What about if the power goes out? has another chart for how to preserve your food in the event of a power outage:

Power outages

Food waste

HBO's "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver broached the subject of food waste in a recent episode of his show. The comedian said he understands why many food manufacturers might feel incentivized to trick people with expiration dates, as it could earn them more money and business.

“If I were a food manufacturer, I would make those dates as tight as possible to convince people to buy a new one of my products," he said.