So most of us have just no real idea how long stuff keeps for in the fridge, so I found some interesting (and scarry) numbers that talk about that.
Milk usually carries a sell-by date. That’s because it is affected by many things in the environment—it can lose vitamins when exposed to light, which is why it usually comes in opaque plastic or paperboard. Light also can cause unpleasant flavors in milk within 36 hours, though it isn’t necessarily dangerous. If stored around 37 degrees Fahrenheit, pasteurized milk will remain fresh for two to five days after its sell-by date.
The latest fad is drinking “raw milk,” which people claim is tastier and healthier because pasteurization destroys nutrients and the enzymes necessary to absorb calcium. However, the USDA claims that there is no significant difference in the nutritional value of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk. Pasteurized milk is a lot safer, however. Pretty much all milk sold in supermarkets is pasteurized.
Whether it’s ground hamburger or a pound of steak, either eat it or freeze it within two days of purchase. Even if the sell-by date is five days away, the refrigerator at home usually isn’t cool enough to keep the meat fresh for more than two days.
Even frozen, meats can’t be kept in the freezer forever. Frozen ground meat should be used within three months. Pork holds for six months. Beef, lamb, veal, and venison last 8 to 12 months, according to the Ohio State University guidelines for food management.
Chicken should be cooked or frozen within two days of purchase. Poultry and other birds last about 12 months in the freezer. One common mistake is thawing chicken on the kitchen counter. Bacteria multiply very rapidly at room temperature. The safest way to thaw poultry or meat is to defrost it by placing the package in the refrigerator immediately after removing it from the freezer. Or for faster thawing, place the package under cold running water.
Some manufacturers like to claim that canned foods don’t spoil for at least two years, but guidelines from the University of Minnesota say to store them below 75 degrees Fahrenheit and not to keep them for more than 12 months. Many cans of food don’t have any dates on them. If they do, discard them after the dates provided on the cans.
After a year, though the food will not have spoiled, there is a steady loss of vitamins in canned vegetables and fruits. Also, watch metal lids for rust that can spoil foods.
Cake Mix, Pasta, Etc.
In a cool, dry storage place, cake mix, pasta, cereal, and cookies will last up to six months from the date of purchase. Cereal will be edible two to three months after being opened in a dry room.
Bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria are common in raw food, but cooking kills them. Yet listeria, which can be fatal for young children, fetuses, and the elderly, has been turning up in hot dogs, cold cuts, luncheon meats, and other fully cooked meat and poultry products. Why? Longer shelf life could be one reason.
Processors of ready-to-eat foods extended the sell-by or use-by dates on cold cuts after the incidence of bacteria dropped in the late 1980s. But listeria has been difficult to find and get rid of because it grows at refrigerator temperatures. It’s a good idea to cook hot dogs well before eating and to discard cold cuts as soon as they reach their use- or sell-by dates.
Soft cheeses like brie and camembert should be eaten within three to four days of opening due to the possibility that they have listeria. Hard cheeses last up to three weeks and can also be frozen up to six months.
Salmonella is one of the top concerns that most people have about eggs. But surprisingly, eggs have a long shelf life. Often they can stay on the store shelf for 30 days. And research from the USDA found that, even after that, the shelf life of eggs extends beyond the recommended sell-by date. Properly refrigerated and handled, eggs are considered safe for consumption for four to five weeks beyond the sell-by date. But you might have a difficult time folding older eggs into soufflés or making creamy mayonnaise with them.