General rule of thumb: if something is green, foaming, fuzzy, or slimy, you probably don't want to eat it. When you read labels at the grocery store (which you should be doing, FYI), you probably pay close attention to the sell-by date. Basically, the sell-by date lets customers know when the food product is at peak quality and freshness. But eating food before the sell-by date is not exactly a hard-and-fast rule.
Wondering whether you should toss that cereal or jar of salsa? Here are 4 foods that are usually OK to eat past their sell-by dates:
1. Canned Foods
As a general rule of thumb, the more refined and processed a food is, the longer you can keep it past the expiration date. That applies to canned foods as well, provided they've been stored in a cool, dark area to minimize decay.
That said, you should watch out for signs of spoilage, which you’ll notice either on the exterior of the can or upon opening it. A bulging top or bottom, a leaky seal, dents, or rust on the can itself are usually a sign that you need to throw it out.
Per the USDA, dairy products like yogurt, milk, and cheese are usually "safe until signs of spoilage are evident.” In the case of milk, this can be up to five days past the sell-by date, while cheese (especially hard cheese) can last for a little bit longer.
Nonetheless, you should always check for signs of spoilage, such as bad odor or clumpy or chunky consistency.
3. Cereal and Other Grains
Per the USDA, it's usually OK to eat cereal, pasta, or cookies past the sell-by date (though they might taste slightly more stale). If it emanates a strong odor, however, or there are bites or tears in the package, that could indicate rodent contamination, and you should toss the package immediately.
4. Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
For the most part, it's totally OK to eat frozen fruits and veggies past their expiration date, even if they have freezer burn (that might affect the taste of the item, but it'll likely still be safe to eat.) That said, don't forget you should never defrost an item and refreeze it.
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