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SAVE Money by Knowing When Food is Safe

Posted by A. K. Magoulas and CiCi Williamson, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service in Health and Safety
Aug 19, 2014

Stop! Don’t throw that food away! It might be safe to use, and that will save you money. According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, each American wastes more than 20 pounds of food every month. That’s about $115 billion worth of good food thrown away every year at the consumer level in the U.S. Top food group wasted by value is meat, poultry and fish.

While the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline would never advise you to eat unsafe food, we don’t want you to throw away safe food and lose money.

Canned Foods: Dates on cans indicate peak quality as determined by the manufacturer. So don’t automatically pitch a can with an expired date. You can safely keep commercially canned foods longer than their dates. Low-acid foods (such as canned meat, poultry, fish, stew, soups, green vegetables beans, carrots, corn, peas, potatoes, etc.) can be stored for two to five years; high-acid foods (e.g. canned juices, fruit, pickles, sauerkraut, tomatoes, tomato soup), for 12-18 months.

One date always to observe: infant formula. Unlike other foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that infant formula be dated. Do not feed a baby formula after the use-by date expires due to concern about adequate nutritive value.

Home canned foods don’t last quite as long. USDA recommends using these foods within one year of canning.

Dried Foods: Out of date commercially processed dried foods, such as jerky, are safe at room temperature due to their very low moisture content and proper heat processing. Other dry foods (for example, bouillon cubes, gravy mixes, pasta, rice and flour) are safe for a very long time. For more information, read “Shelf-Stable Food Safety.”

Frozen Foods: If it’s frozen, it’s safe to use. Dates on frozen food are not for safety. All frozen foods are safe forever because bacteria and other pathogens cannot grow in food that’s frozen at 0 °F (-17.8 °C) or below. However foods do lose some quality: flavor, color, and texture. Frozen foods tend to dry out over time, which can result in “freezer burn” especially in areas where air is trapped within the package. For storage information about maintaining quality, read “Freezing and Food Safety.”

Refrigerated Foods: Meats, poultry, fish, dairy, and cooked leftovers should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled properly and kept at 40 °F (4.4 °C) or below and used within USDA recommended times. Cook or freeze fresh steaks or chops within three to five days; and poultry, ground meats, and fish in one to two days. All cooked leftovers should be used or frozen after four days. Use fresh eggs within three to five weeks; milk within one week. See the chart in “Refrigeration and Food Safety” for more recommended times.

Category/Topic: Health and Safety