Sometimes it is hard to tell how fresh food really is, especially when it doesn’t come with an expiration date. But even when there is a sell-by date, food freshness can still be a bit confusing.
You know your foods are fresh when you get home from the grocery store, but what happens when they have been sitting in your fridge or on the countertop for three or four days – or longer?
We asked the experts at StillTasty.com to help us sort through food freshness confusion.
The number one search on StillTasty.com is eggs, and that’s even before the big recall happened last year, explains StillTasty.com co-founder Janice Revell.
Eggs are one of the many food items tied to the confusion around dates. As Revell explains, the date on an egg carton may come and go, but you can still use them. “It’s confusing for consumers. Dating on food products is not clear for people.”
Eggs can stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to five weeks.
CHICKEN, MEATS & FISH
Chicken is usually a staple item for most people.
Raw poultry will start to go off after hanging out in the fridge for about two days. Revell says the same rule applies to items such as raw fish, raw shellfish and raw ground meats.
Meats and fish will last much longer in the freezer. In fact, Revell says the freezer is the least utilized appliance in most homes. “It’s important to understand that you can use your freezer. You save a lot of money. The freezer should be used as a tool to preserve foods.”
The challenge when using your freezer is keeping things organized and knowing what’s actually in there. Revell suggests using masking tape and a marker to label and date the food. “Most everything freezes well. The big problem is that the food becomes unrecognizable when it is wrapped up.”
Everyone has canned goods in their home, and according to Revell: “Canned foods will remain safe indefinitely, but at some point in time, the quality will be so bad, you won’t want to use it.”
A can of tuna might have a sell-by date of January 1, 2011, but it will still be safe to eat after that date – even a whole year from that date… It just might not taste as nice. “Manufacturers want you to love your experience with their product, so they put a best-by date on it.”
The best-by date on canned food is an estimate of how long the food will remain at peak quality, Revell says.
As long as the can is in good shape (ie: There are no dents on the can or rust), and you follow the rules for storage, the food in the can will be fine.
Many foods can make you sick if they sit in the fridge for too long, but Revell says cooked foods are a huge concern. “Cooked food could look fine and taste fine, but it may be filled with hidden bacteria.”
Leftovers sitting in the fridge are only good for a few days. “A lot of cooked foods fall in that three-to-four day range,” according to Revell – and that includes cooked vegetables.
Proper storage of cooked foods is also important. Revell says cooked foods should be stored in the fridge, not on the counter or stovetop. “It's possible that soup (for example) that is left out overnight won’t make you sick, but do you want to take that chance? When it comes to food-borne illnesses, a lot of people say they have been doing it for years. Maybe they got sick and didn’t even know it… Food poisoning can happen three to five days after eating bad food.”