Food Expiration Dates You Should & Shouldn’t Follow

By kmvq on April 14, 2020
WASHINGTON – AUGUST 20: A customer scans the expiration date on gallons of milk sitting on a cooler shelf at a Safeway grocery store August 20, 2007 in Washington, DC. The U.S. Labor Department released inflation data showing that U.S. food prices rose by 4.2 percent for the 12 months ending in July. According to the department’s consumer price index, the price of milk has increased by 13.3 percent from June 2006 to June 2007. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
If, like a lot of people, you find yourself rescuing a fair amount of food from the back of your pantry these days, you might want to know which expiration dates you should and shouldn’t follow. Thankfully, The New York Times offers the following advice:

  • Vinegars, honey, vanilla or other extracts, sugar, salt, corn syrup and molasses will last virtually forever with little change in quality.
  • Regular steel-cut or rolled oats will last for a year or so before they start to go rancid, but par-cooked oats (or instant oats) can last nearly forever. (Same with grits versus instant grits.)
  • White flour is almost certainly fine to use, no matter its age. Whole-wheat and other whole-grain flours can acquire a metallic or soapy odor within a few months.
  • This whiter-equals-longer rule of thumb is true for non-ground grains as well. Refined white rice, for example, will last for years, while brown rice will last only for months.
  • Shelf-stable supermarket breads made with oils (and preservatives) can stay soft for weeks in the fridge, but the lean, crusty sourdough from the corner bakery will be stale by the next day and probably start to mold before the week is up.
  • Dried beans and lentils will remain safe to eat for years after purchase, but they’ll become tougher and take longer to cook as time goes on.
  • Canned fruits, vegetables and meats will remain as delicious and palatable as the day you bought them for years.
  • Mustard lasts forever. Ketchup will start to turn color before the year is out, but will still remain palatable. Contrary to popular belief, mayonnaise — especially when it doesn’t contain ingredients like fresh lemon juice or garlic — has an exceptionally long shelf life.


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