- Meat and Poultry
- Fish and Shellfish
- Cream and Cream Products
- Eggs and Egg Whites
- Ice Cream
- Dairy Spreads
- Fruit, Fruit Products
- Sauces, Dressing, and Dips
- Condiments, Herbs & Spices, Spreads
- Ingredients for Cooking
- Prepared Foods
- Bakery Goods and Sweets
- Grains, Pasta, and Cereal
- FAQs on Bacteria
- What are bacteria?
- How can I avoid getting sick from a bacterial illness?
- How dangerous is a staph infection?
- Can I assume that if food smells bad its unsafe to eat and if it smells ok that it is safe to eat?
- How dangerous is botulism?
- How dangerous is listeria?
- How many types of bacteria are there?
- What foods are likely to be contaminated by listeria?
- What foods can give a person a staph infection?
- What foods can give a person botulism?
- Why do some bacteria make people sick?
- Why does refrigeration keep bacteria from multiplying?
- Can I avoid all contact with bacteria if I’m careful?
- How Many Bacteria Does It Take to Cause Illness?
- FAQs on Cookware
- Are Ceramic and Enamel Cookware Safe and Practical?
- Are Nonstick Coatings on Cookware a Health Risk?
- Do Cast Iron, Glass, Copper, and Titanium Cookware Have Any Disadvantages?
- Does Using Aluminum Cookware Increase the Chances of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease?
- Is Stainless Steel Cookware a Good Choice?
- Is the New Silicone Rubberized Cookware Safe?
- Nonstick Cookware: Is it Dangerous?
- What Brands of Cookware are Recommended by Experts?
- What Features Should I Look for When Selecting Cookware?
- What Should I Know about Selecting and Using Aluminum Cookware?
- FAQs about Definitions
- Exactly what is meant by the phrase perishable food?
- Defining Some Current Language about Food
- What Does the Word “Foodie” Mean? It Depends Who(m) You Ask
- What do “sell by,” “best by/before,” “use by” and “expiration” mean?
- What does the term shelf life mean?
- What's in Our Food? Maybe Processing Aids, Maybe not
- “Fresh,” “Natural,” “Processed”—What Do These Words Mean?
- FAQs on Dropped Food
- FAQs on Farmers' Markets
- Exactly what defines a farmers’ market?
- Farmers' Markets: Why They're So Popular; How to Find One Near Your Home
- How should I handle produce at home?
- What foods are sold with restrictions at a farmers’ market?
- What should I bring to the farmers’ market?
- What shouldn’t I do or eat at a farmers’ market?
- What signs indicate a sanitary farmers’ market?
- What time of day is it best to go to a farmers’ market?
- FAQs on Food-borne Illness and Mishandling of Food
- About how many cases of food-borne illness occur in the U.S. each year?
- Answer Key to “How Much Do You Know about Safe Handling of Food?”
- How Much Do You Know about Safe Handling of Food?
- I Left It Out Too Long! Can I Still Eat It?
- Should Your Grocery Card Track Food-Borne Illnesses?
- Sudden, Awful Intestinal Distress--Is it the Flu or a Foodborne Illness--or Both?
- What YOU Can Do to Avoid Food-borne Illness
- What does the phrase food-borne illness refer to?
- FAQs on Food Product Dating
- Are stores required, by law, to remove outdated items from their shelves?
- Do most consumers actually pay attention to the dating on foods?
- Does the “use by” date matter once the product is frozen?
- Is information on food longevity and safety available by phone?
- What are expiration dates?
- What do the terms closed dating and open dating mean?
- What if there is no date on a product, and I don’t remember if I bought it a month ago or ten years ago?
- What should consumers know about food product dating?
- When Did You Buy It? When Did You Open It?
- When to Throw Food Out? Not on the Use-By Date
- Who establishes these product dates?
- Who requires and regulates dating on foods?
- Why do “best by” and “use by” dates sometimes seem conservative?
- FAQs on Food Safety
- "Is It Safe To….?" FAQs Answered by our Advisory Board
- FAQs about Ground Beef, Seasonings, Olive Oil, Lemon Wedges, and Fish
- FAQs about Mushrooms: Are they Very Dirty or Very Clean?
- FAQs about Soft Cheeses--What's Safe, What Isn't
- FAQs on Food Safety and Nutrition
- FAQs on Raw Fruits and Veggies—the Answers Can Protect Your Wallet and Your Health
- Food Bars/Buffets in Supermarkets--Is the food safe? How can you tell?
- Food/Meat Thermometers—What You Need to Know
- How Long Should Cheese Be Aged? Will the Rules Be Changed?
- How Long Will They REALLY Last? Part I: Non-perishables
- How Long Will They REALLY last? Part II: Perishables
- Imported Foods—What’s Safe, What’s Risky?
- Is It Safe? Is It Nutritious? More Survey Answers from Scientists
- Is It Time to Switch to Pasteurized Eggs?
- Is the Food Safety Modernization Act Making Our Food Supply Safer?
- More FAQs about Minimum Safe Cooking Temperatures: Pork and Other Perishables
- Sushi: Why Such a Short Shelf Life?
- Winter Food Storage—Can I leave It in the Car or in the Garage?
- Would You—Should You—Do You--Eat Irradiated Food?
- FAQs on Food Wrapping
- Are any plastic wraps or containers really “microwave safe”?
- Are some plastic wraps more effective than others?
- Can I refrigerate meat and poultry in its store wrapping?
- Can I use plastic freezer bags to store produce in the fridge?
- Can chemicals leach unto food from plastic wrap or containers?
- Do coated plastic bags really help produce last longer?
- Does aluminum foil give foods a metallic taste?
- Does exposure to aluminum cause Alzheimer’s disease?
- Everything You Need to Know about Wrapping Food Right
- How should fruits be wrapped before refrigeration?
- Is it safe to use aluminum foil in a microwave oven?
- Should I wrap raw vegetables loosely or tightly before refrigerating?
- What are some advantages and disadvantages of aluminum foil?
- What produce needs to be wrapped before refrigerating?
- What’s better for wrapping food—plastic or aluminum foil?
- Why does foil sometimes darken, discolor, and leave black specks on food?
- Will a foil cover help keep foods on the table hot or cold?
- FAQs on Freezing Food
- FAQs on Leftovers
- FAQs on Mold
- What is mold?
- Does mold ever grow on nonperishable food?
- Can I remove a moldy part from food and eat the rest?
- About how many different kinds of molds are there?
- How can I avoid getting mold on my refrigerated food?
- Is mold always visible?
- Are any molds harmless?
- What food groups are most susceptible to mold?
- What kinds of illnesses can result from eating moldy food?
- What kind of packaging protects foods from mold?
- What other safety tips will help prevent mold from growing?
- Why are some molds dangerous?
- FAQs on Organic Food
- What Is Organic Food?
- Are Organic Methods More Humane to Animals?
- Does Conventional Food Have a Longer Shelf Life Than Organic?
- Does Organic Food Taste Better than Conventional Food?
- Is Organic Food More Nutritious Than Conventional Food?
- Is Organically Grown Food Better for the Environment?
- What Do the Various Organic Labels Mean?
- What Important Contributions Has the Organic Movement Made?
- Which Are Safer: Organic or Conventional Food Products?
- Will Organic Baby Food Make Baby Healthier?
- FAQs on Oxidation: How It Affects Foods
- FAQs about Plastic Products Used with Food
- Pyrex® Glassware: Is it safe to use?
- Are plastic bags safe to use in the microwave?
- Are some plastic wraps safer and/or more effective than others?
- Are there any health risks from reusing plastic water bottles by refilling them with tap water?
- Are we eating chemicals from plastics along with our food?
- Can I microwave food in my plastic containers?
- Does the plastic used in water bottles pose a health risk?
- If I heat food in an open can, will that cause the plastic lining to leach chemicals into the food?
- Is it safe to heat frozen entrées in their plastic containers and with their plastic wrap?
- Is it safe to use plastic wrap as a covering when microwaving food?
- Is it safe to wash and dry plastic plates, cups, containers, and utensils in the dishwasher?
- Is there good evidence that BPA is harmful to human health?
- Of the plastic products used to store, heat, or eat with (wraps, bags, containers, silverware, plates, etc.), which contain BPA?
- What is BPA?
- Why is so much of today’s food packaged in plastic?
- FAQs on Preservatives
- What are Preservatives?
- All things considered, is our food supply safer or less safe because of preservatives?
- Are the preservatives in hot dogs and similar products health risks?
- What preservatives are known to cause allergic reactions?
- What are some common preservatives used in food?
- What food groups commonly have preservatives in them?
- Why are preservatives added to food?
- Will the label on the product tell me if it contains a preservative?
- FAQs on Washing Produce: Why and How
- Other FAQs
- Can chicken soup really cure a cold?
- Is Chocolate Good For You?
- Can Science and Technology Help You Save Food Dollars?
- FAQs Answered By Our Board Scientists: on Chickens, Bananas, Old Salad Dressing, and More
- FAQs about Food Price Increases
- FAQs about Products We Use with Food
- FAQs about Shelf Life: Tortillas, Pancakes, Wine, and More
- Food Fraud: Are you paying for scallops and getting shark meat?
- Is Cheese Addictive? Only If You Eat It
- Missing Chickens: Where Have All the Small Ones Gone?
- Nine FAQs about Food Labels
- Quiz Yourself! Check Your Knowledge about Food Temperatures
- Scientists Answer Two FAQs about Egg Safety
- Should Sour Cream and Cottage Cheese Be Stored Upside Down?
- Some Shelf Life Info, General and Specific (Spirits, Defrosted Veggies, Green Tea, and More)
- Syrup from a Tree or from a Lab--Which Should You Pour on Your Pancakes?
- Ten FAQs about the Prickly Pineapple
- What's New in Food? IFT Expo Offers Tasty Innovations
- What's on the Menu in Cuba?
- What’s in My Water? Answers to FAQs
- FAQs on Bacteria
- Books: Food for Thought
- Food Safety
- It Says "Use By Tomorrow," But You Don't Have To
- Ten Tips for Consumer Food Safety
- Food Allergies: Recognizing and Controlling Them
- “Is It Spoiled?” When in Doubt, Check It Out
- How To Keep Your Cooler Cool
- Recent Recalls: Salmonella Threatens 100s of Products
- STOP! Don’t Rinse That Raw Chicken!
- Sous Vide—A Better Way to Cook?
- Why You Need a Safe Cooking Temperature Chart and How to Get One Right Now
- “Myth-information” about Food Safety: You’d Better Not Believe It
- After The Storm: What You Can Save and What You Must Throw Out
- How to Protect Your Food During a Power Outage
- Meet Your Beef--Via Bar Code Info
- Organic Food, GMOs, the Safety of American Food, the Value of Use-By Dates, and More--Scientists Tell Us What They Think
- Raw chicken, Leftovers, Deli Meats, and More-- What Surveyed Scientists Said
- Tips About 4 Popular Beverages: Wine, Coffee, Water, and Soda
- Tips on Reheating for Safe, Yummy Leftovers
- Tips on Water Safety During and After a Storm
- Introducing our Advisory Board Scientists
- Produce: Handling Tips
- Seasonal Tips
- A Novel Method for Cooking a Turkey
- Crock Pot Cooking Tips for that Ideal Winter Dinner
- Cucumbers: for Cool--and "Cool"--Summer Treats
- Going Away for All or Part of the Winter? Prepare Your Kitchen for your Absence
- How To Grill Safely During the Summer
- How do summer squash and winter squash differ?
- New Year’s Resolutions For a Safer Kitchen
- Preserve the Taste of Summer by Canning—But Do It Safely
- Summer Food Fests Offer Much More than Calories
- Summer Party Tips: Baby Carrots (Using for Dips) Hot Dogs (Ditching the Guilt), and Watermelon (Finding a Ripe One)
- Tailgating: How to Do It Right
- Tips on Keeping Your Summer Fruits Flavorful and Healthy
- Shelf Life Tips
- Battling the Ripening of Bananas
- Food Preservation--Low-tech Past, High-Tech Present and Future
- From Purchase to Storage, Tips on Extending Shelf Life
- Pesto: Ingredients, Uses, Shelf Life, Contamination, and More
- Shelf Life of Foods: What You Need to Know
- Shellfish and Shelf Life Aid from the Canadian Maritime Provinces
- Tips for Carry-along Lunches for Work and School
- Tips for Freezing Food and Freezer Care
- Cooking Frozen Foods
- Freezers And Food Safety
- Freezers And Freezer Burn
- Freezers And Nutrient Retention
- How Often Should You Defrost And Clean Your Freezer?
- How To Defrost And Clean Your Freezer
- How To Defrost Frozen Foods
- How To Freeze Foods: The Quicker The Better
- How To Wrap Foods For The Freezer
- Refreezing Frozen Foods
- What You Can Freeze And What You Can't--Or Shouldn't
- Tips About Genetically Engineered Foods
- Tips for Grocery Shopping
- Tips for Holidays
- Answers to Questions about Thanksgiving Dinner
- Chocolate Is Even More Healthful Than You Thought
- Enjoy St. Patrick’s Day Without Cabbage Stink
- Everything You Need to Know about Cranberry Sauce
- Food-Related Gifts Recommended by Experts (2014)
- Halloween Treats Even Parents Will Love
- Kitchen Gifts that Really Please
- Kitchen Gifts that Really Work
- Spring Celebrations: What’s on Your Menu?
- Suggestions for Handling Your Child’s “Trick or Treat” Treasures
- Tips for Winter Holiday Meals
- What NOT to Do With Thanksgiving Dinner
- Yikes! The Turkey Is Done, But the Guests Are Delayed! How Do I Keep My Thanksgiving Dinner Warm?
- Tips on Kitchen Equipment
- Tips for Refrigerating Food and Refrigerator Care
- Food Safety Facts
- How To Clean The Refrigerator
- How To Wrap Foods For Refrigeration
- How long can a pie be left unrefrigerated?
- Power Outage? Here’s What to Do with All That Food in the Fridge
- Proper Handling Of Produce In The Crisper(s)
- Proper Refrigeration Placement Of Raw Meat, Chicken, And Fish
- Six Tips for Extending the Shelf Life of Foods
- What Can and Can't Go In The Fridge Door
- Other Tips
- Microwave Cooking
- The 10 Most Dangerous Foods To Consume While Driving
- Are Your Kids Home Alone after School? Educate Them about Snacking
- Clever Inventions That Can Change Eating Habits
- Coffee, Juice, and Food in Central America
- Eggies™ to the Rescue?
- Ever Eaten “Glued” Food?
- Food Definitions: Umami, Locavore, Fruit, Heirloom, and Artisan
- Hot Dogs: What You Should Know about Them
- If You Don't Know Beans about Beans...
- In Defense of Processed Food
- Kids and Cooking: A Good Combo
- New Uses for Old Food: Try 'Em Out!
- Organic Farming and Organic Food: What Are the Benefits?
- Our Board Scientists Talk about 2015 Food Trends
- Portabella Mushrooms and Their Relatives: How to Handle Them
- Ten Exotic Fruits: Novel Treats to Drink and Eat
- Tips on Fishing and on Selecting Healthful Fish
- Tofu: Water Regularly, Consume Promptly
- What This Site Is All About and How to Navigate It
- What We're Eating This Year: Ancient Grains, Coconut Oil, Kale, and More
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- In the News
Some Shelf Life Info, General and Specific (Spirits, Defrosted Veggies, Green Tea, and More)
Because the name of our website is Shelf Life Advice, we get a lot of questions asking for--you guessed it—shelf life advice. Below is some general information about shelf life and expiration dates, followed by answers to questions about the shelf life of specific products visitors to our site have asked about.
Some General Shelf Life Tips
1) The use-by dates on food are a guide to quality. They give you the last date that the product is at its best. They are NOT about safety. If a properly refrigerated edible item smells and looks fine, it’s probably safe to eat. (For more info on food safety, click here.)
2) The use-by dates on products refer to the unopened product. So how do you know how long it will last once it’s opened? On the package, write the date you opened it. Then, look up the item up on our site by using the search box. You should find the answer to your question.
3) Many shelf-stable or semi-perishable foods will last longer if they’re refrigerated (for example, apples).
4) For extending shelf life, your freezer is probably your best friend-- if the product is well-wrapped in plastic (not aluminum foil, which can develop small holes) to prevent freezer burn. Note: freezer burn is also accelerated by too much temperature fluctuation, caused by frequent opening and closing the freezer door. Who needs a breadbox? Bread will last longer if kept frozen (double-wrapped and/or wrapped in a freezer plastic bag. (Once taken out of the freezer, a slice will defrost in minutes; rolls or a loaf can be quickly defrosted in the microwave.)
5) Many shelf life problems can be avoided by good organization. An overcrowded refrigerator results in some foods getting pushed to the back, not to be seen again until they’re stale or covered with mold. If you put the latest canned goods you bought in the front of the shelf, you may not get to the ones in the back until they’re long past their expiration date.
FAQs on Liquor, Defrosted Veggies, and More
Does hard liquor really remain good forever—unopened or opened?
Forever is a really long time; experts on alcohol seem to prefer the word “indefinitely.” If you’ve inherited your parents’ liquor collection, and you know most of those open bottles had been sitting on their shelves for years, take them home to drink or serve anyway. Here’s reassurance from food scientist Denise Gardner: “Alcoholic beverages like bourbon, tequila, or rum can pretty much remain opened for years. I’ve drunk gin that had been left open for several years. There was nothing growing in it, and it tasted the same as if it came from an unopened bottle.” Some open liquor may lose a little flavor over a long period of time, but the change will probably be undetectable to most drinkers.
Final proof (excuse the pun) of the longevity of spirits: When Frank Sinatra, at age 50, married a 20-year-old, his pal Dean Martin said, “I’ve got scotch older than Mia Farrow.”
Now you know why there’s no expiration date on most bottles of liquor.
Gardner recommends storing spirits in a dark, dry place. “Some people like storing them in the freezer before or after they are opened, but I believe this is more for enjoyment of something cold.”
By the way, distilled liquor doesn’t age in the bottle. It won’t taste any better if you keep it on your shelf for 5 years before pouring it.
For more information about spirits, click here.
How long can I keep liqueurs, those with or without dairy (cream or egg) in them?
Let’s begin with the nondairy ones: About.com says that, because liqueurs contain sugar and other ingredients that can spoil, they are more “temperamental” than spirits such as brandy, tequila, gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey. Still, most open (but tightly-closed) bottles will last for months and perhaps for years, depending on the alcohol and preservative content. Open bottles may lose some sensory characteristics due to exposure to air, but small changes may be undetectable to most drinkers. You may want to discard a bottle of liqueur or taste a drop or two to check quality if you see discoloration or curdling.
Here’s what About.com has to say about liqueurs containing dairy: “Cream liqueurs, those that contain dairy, cream or egg, are a different story and should be discarded after 18 months or so. [Some may have expiration dates on them.] Liqueurs like Bailey's Irish Cream, Advocaat and Amarula should be consumed within a year of opening, although some of their cheaper creamy cousins will most likely deteriorate faster. Even in unopened bottles, these liqueurs will spoil and be undrinkable after a year and a half or more. It is unnecessary to refrigerate cream liqueurs, but it can't hurt either.” As they get old, the likely outcome is lower quality; they’re extremely unlikely to become unsafe, says food scientist Dr. Joe Regenstein.
We also consulted Derek Kasselbaum, co-owner and distiller at North Shore Distillery in Lake Bluff, Illinois who agreed that open but tightly-closed bottles of liqueurs with dairy don’t require refrigeration, but, he said, “It’s better to refrigerate them after opening. The flavor will last longer.” He added, even without refrigeration, “they’ll hold up for a year.” If they’re not closed tightly, the alcohol will start to evaporate, and oxygen will enter the bottle and alter the flavor.
By mistake, I stored a package of frozen veggies in the refrigerator instead of the freezer. How long will it remain safe and tasty to eat?
Here’s a brief answer from Dr. Regenstein: “It will certainly last a few days. The quality will go down slowly. From a quality standpoint, the deterioration is likely to be a little faster than fresh product; from a safety point of view, they are probably about the same. If there are any off flavors/off odors either with a raw or cooked product, discard it.” Off-odors may develop in the fridge when leaked materials come into contact with dirty surfaces.”
Here is a lengthier response from another food scientist on our Advisory Board, Dr. Tim Bowser:
“A lot depends on the type of packaging and how long it takes the package to thaw. The contents of paper cartons might thaw and leak in the refrigerator, and that could cause problems for the consumer. Leaky produce packages are more likely to be discarded no matter how edible the contents might be –otherwise, there will be a mess to clean up! Plastic packages will probably hold up very well in the refrigerator (with respect to leakage).
“In either case (paper or plastic), it might take several days for the contents to thaw, depending on several factors that include the following: the size and shape of the package, physical properties of the particular produce, where it is placed in the refrigerator, and, its initial temperature. Once the food has thawed, it should last about as long as the fresh product would, depending on its condition when frozen and how it was frozen (faster freezing = higher quality).
“Thawed produce will be soft and limp compared to fresh produce, but, if that has no consequence for the intended use, then the thawed produce should be just fine to use as is. Ultimately, the consumers can rely on his/her eyes and nose to help determine when the thawed produce is no longer of high enough quality to eat.”
Does green tea lose its health benefits after a long storage period?
The Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter asked Selena Ahmed, a Tufts research fellow studying the chemical ecology of tea, to answer this question. She explains that the chemical compounds in green tea that may have health benefits (“health protective effects in humans”) are called phytochemicals. The primary phytochemicals responsible for the health claims of green tea are called “catechins.” These are in the highest concentration in fresh tea leaves and decrease over time after harvest. However processing these leaves (heating, rolling, and drying them) helps to stabilize and even increase the shelf life of catechins. Nevertheless, catechin levels decline significantly within 6 months. In other words, if you’re drinking green tea for its possible health benefits, in general, fresh is best.
To extend the shelf life of tea, store it in sealed packaging in a cool, dark place.
For more information about tea, click here.
What’s the shelf life of olive oil?
The “Good Eating” section of the Chicago Tribune recently got the answer from Patricia Darragh, executive director of the California Olive Oil Council. She says that the Council does not endorse the use-by dates printed on some products because they can be arbitrary. Instead, she says, consumers should check the harvest or mill date, which are on bottles certified by her association but may be difficult to determine for imported oils. “Two years max” from this date is the length of time she recommends keeping olive oil.
“Olive oil will benefit from storage in a cool, dark place,” Dr. Regenstein advises. “If a cloud develops, it will disappear with heating.”
Denise Gardner adds the following: “Oxidation of olive oil will start almost immediately after opening it. The oxidation doesn’t really ruin the olive oil, food safety wise, but the taste changes.”
For more about olive oil, click here.
How long can I keep open jars of condiments?
A USA Today article, based upon information from the USDA and food scientists, offers the following advice: Condiments such as catsup, mustard, and vinegar-based dressing are “remarkably safe.” You can keep them even after a power outage of longer than 4 hours.
Open jars of pickles and olives should be tossed after being open for 2 weeks, says the USDA. Dr. Regenstein adds the following: “The important point is that the items be below the liquid line. If the product is in the air, it will spoil more quickly. Also, black olives are not in a brine (or one that is not as strong as pickle brine), so they’re not going to hold up as long as pickles will.”
How can I keep lettuce from quickly going limp?
USA Today offers this tip: Putting a paper towel in with the lettuce will keep it crisp longer.
To reach more general shelf life advice on this site: click here.
Denise Gardner, M.S., Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science
Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering
Joe Regenstein, Ph.D., Cornell University, Dept. of Food Science
About.com Cocktails “What is the Shelf Life of Distilled Spirits?”
usatoday.com “Tips help you save your food and your dough”
usatoday.com “Your Health: When does not wasting food sacrifice safety?”
Chicago Tribune “Good Eating” section “Watch for harvest dates on olive oils”
August 31, 2011
Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter “Ask Tufts Experts: Does tea lose its health benefits if it’s been stored a long time?” Sept. 2011
Otrcat.com “Frank Sinatra Collection”