Expiration Dates You Should Never Ignore

Here's how long you can expect these groceries to last before running the risk of food-borne illness.

Jarred condiments

Spreads and sauces may seem to last forever, but they are often exposed to bacteria, putting you at risk of food poisoning. Bacteria can start multiplying as soon as you open a jarred condiment, especially if there happens to be cross-contamination. “When we make sandwiches, for example, we dip the knife into the spread container, wipe it onto the sandwich and then dip it back into the container,” says Jessica Crandall, a Denver-based registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “By doing this, you’re putting some bacteria back into the container.” Also, if there’s water floating on top or discoloration, get rid of the whole jar.

Eggs and egg substitutes

Whole raw eggs can stay in the fridge for three to five weeks. An egg substitute will last approximately 10 days after you buy it or three to five days after you open the carton, depending on the expiration date. Keep it any longer and you run the risk of making yourself sick. (Find out 20 foods you’re spoiling by storing in the fridge.)

Cheese

Semi-hard cheeses, such as cheddar and Gouda, have less moisture for bacteria to thrive in, so they can last two to four months in the fridge if they’re properly stored. (Wrap the cheese in a layer of wax paper first, then add a layer of aluminum foil on top. This will allow it to breathe without exposing it to air and drying it out. If you can’t possibly finish the brick before its expiration date, follow these guidelines for freezing cheese.) Softer cheeses, such as ricotta, cream cheese, feta, brie and goat cheese, spoil faster. They’ll last one to two weeks in the fridge after opening, but toss them sooner if you see signs of spoilage, such as blue-green mould, which can grow along with illness-causing bacteria such as listeria, brucella, salmonella and E. coli.

Deli Meat

Those ham and turkey slices will last three to five days after you buy them at the deli counter or crack the seal of an airtight package, so buy only what you’ll realistically consume during that period. Deli meat is susceptible to listeria, which thrive in cold environments, so even your fridge won’t offer total protection. A little sliminess or a funky smell are clear signs that deli products need to go. (Here are more tips on how to prevent food poisoning.)

Sprouts

Unlike other veggies, sprouts are grown in warm, moist conditions that make a cozy home for E. coli and salmonella. Even a few bacteria in a seed could multiply by the time it starts to bud. Sprouts won’t last as long as leafy greens and should be tossed by their expiration date. (Use these tricks to keep fruits and vegetables fresh longer.)

Cold-Pressed Juice

Typical processed juices undergo pasteurization to kill harmful bacteria and increase shelf life, but many cold-pressed varieties are unpasteurized and could be contaminated. To avoid getting sick, buy from your local juice bar only what you plan to drink within the next two to three days, and be sure to always keep the bottle refrigerated.

Now that you know these expiration dates, find out why you should never wash chicken before cooking it.

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Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada