It’s the age-old question: How do we know if we can drink “x” (like milk) past the expiration date or not? My boyfriend and I debate this topic all the time—do we risk a potential stomachache if we fulfill our chocolate milk craving (and the “expiration date” is from a couple days ago)?
With all the different labels on food (“Use By,” “Best If Used By,” “Sell By,” and so on), it’s no wonder we get confused about how long we can consume something after these dates. This Lifehacker piece pointed out differences for us, citing the USDA as its source.
For instance, the USDA suggests eating food by its “Best If Used By” or “Use By” dates. Regarding “Sell By” dates, the time you can consume something varies, from a week (for milk) to 3-5 weeks (for eggs). Of course, smelling something is a good way to test out its freshness, also.
Now, however, there is a handy newish site, which, you guessed it, tells us exactly how long we have to consume something. It goes into specifics about determining if something is no longer safe to eat or drink. The site has various categories, including dairy, drinks, vegetables, and so on. It also provides ideas for storing foods and various tidbits.
(Warning: This site is addictive, so use at your own risk. Ever since I found out about it, I find myself playing guessing games with my friends to see how long we can eat or drink something past its date. It’s a fun game, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
For instance, if we analyze the milk debate my boyfriend and I have, you’ll discover that milk’s shelf life varies from 5-10 days past the date printed on the carton. (We had no idea!) Eat By Date says: “The shelf life of milk is influenced by a variety of factors, such as processing method and carton date, exposure to light and heat, and how it is stored. When properly stored at or below 40°F, containers of milk last for the time periods past the date printed on the carton.”
You can see the specific chart here (the drinkable days vary depending on if the milk is skim, whole, etc.). Time and time again, I was impressed how long food products can last past what I’d thought.
Let’s choose another product, like bread. How long do you think you can consume it past the advertised date? (Stop reading for a second and write down your guess)… Okay, ready? Here we go.
I must confess, this was a trick question! The number of days you can consume bread past the printed date depends on where you store it—the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer. Of course, the freezer increases the bread’s longevity, and by several weeks—even up to eight months (for bread crumbs) and six months (for bakery bread or bagels)—while the pantry does not (the average bakery bread loaf only lasts 2-3 days in there).
Okay, I could play this game all day, so I’ll let you go explore the Eat By Date site for yourself. (Another warning: The site will make you hungry!) Soon, you’ll become a pro at knowing how long food products will last past their printed dates and start challenging your friends to guess, too.