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Can I Still Eat It? Your Guide to Real Expiration Dates

Rachel Tepper Paley
April 24, 2014

Photo credit: Danny Lerner/StockFood 

The expiration dates manufacturers stamp on your grocery store goods aren’t set in stone—plenty of foods are still safe to enjoy long past them. But if you can’t trust the label, how do you know how old is too old?

Here’s your definitive guide to real expiration dates—trustworthy so long as your refrigerator is kept at a cool 40 degrees or below.

Eggs. In the fridge, raw eggs stay good for up to five weeks. Hard-boiled eggs don’t last nearly as long; they’re good for just a week in their shells, and only five days when peeled.

Milk. Most common types of milk—whole, 1- and 2-percent, and skim varieties—will last for up to a week past their sell-by dates. But lactose-free milk will stay good for up to 10 days, and organic milk tends to last longer than non-organic because of a process called ultrahigh processing treatment (not pasteurization).

Cheese. Soft cheeses like brie and feta are A-OK for a week past their printed expiration dates before they start growing fuzz (and not the good kind). Curds like muenster, gorgonzola, and havarti might last a little longer: two weeks past their sell-by dates. But semi-hard cheeses like Cheddar and Swiss can last up to two months past their suggested expirations, and hard cheeses like Parmesan for up to four.

Fish. Properly cooled cooked fish won’t kill you if eaten after six days, though it might taste a little off. But don’t even think about saving sushi leftovers for more than a day or two—you want nothing to do with raw fish older than that.

Chicken and pork. It’s totally cool to hold onto cooled chicken salad for up to five days. Raw chicken cutlets, whole chickens, or cuts of pork, however, shouldn’t be in the fridge for more than two days.

Red meat. Raw roasts, steaks, and chops of beef, veal, and lamb are safe to eat for up to five days. Cooked, they’ll last another three to four.

Ground meat and seafood. Throw out any raw ground meat that’s older than a day or two—regardless if it’s chicken, beef, or shrimp.

Soups and stews. It doesn’t matter if soups or stews are made with meat, vegetables, or a combination of both, they shouldn’t spend more than four days in the fridge (though they may taste better at the tail end of that time).

Vegetables. Fresh vegetables run the gamut. Broccoli can stay fresh for up to two weeks when refrigerated, but chopped loose lettuce is only good for about three to five days before it gets slimy. Winter squash can even sit in the back of your fridge for up to a whopping three months. Generally speaking, the hardier the vegetable, the better it will hold up in the fridge. Unopened canned vegetables will last up to two years past their expiration date, and frozen veggies can hang around for up to another 10 months after theirs.

Keep these facts in mind before your next fridge raid.