Food Expiration Dates – How Long Food Really Lasts?

Food Expiration Dates - How Long Food Really Lasts

The juice has been open for a week, the opened ketchup bottle has long since expired. We explain which foods you can still enjoy even though the best-before date has passed.

Have you noticed the leftover packets of gingerbread and raclette cheese, jars of quark, or packaged slices of goose breast in the shops? Leftover food from the festive season with an approaching or exceeded best-before date (MHD) is actually out of the regular range but is often still offered at reduced prices in refrigerated corners or on bargain tables. Bargain prices make some customers grab them. But others are put off by the fact that the best-before date is approaching or has already passed.

What is the shelf life of food?

What is the shelf life of food

There are no generally applicable deadlines for how long opened or expired foods are still edible. Too many factors influence the shelf life. However, you can orient yourself

  • The use-by date,
  • On the smell,
  • On the taste,
  • On the consistency and The appearance of the products.

What is the best before date?

What is the best before date

The best before date is not an expiration date. It guarantees that an unopened food product will
retain its quality, color, aroma, and consistency at least until the date printed on it if stored correctly.

However, the stamp is only a quality guarantee of the manufacturer and says nothing about the

In addition, manufacturers usually play it safe with the best-before date and specify an early date so that many foods can still be eaten without hesitation even after the best-before date has expired.

Tip: Often an expired best-before date leads to uncertainty and food waste because still edible goods are thrown away. But you can easily avoid this: Simply trust your senses when it comes to expired food. You should only dispose of food if it looks unusual, smells funny or tastes spoiled.

Important: Pay attention to the use-by date

Pay attention to the use-by date

The situation is different, however, with the use-by date, which must not be confused with the best-before date. This is because the use-by date must be strictly observed. It is found on the packaging of quickly perishable foods such as:

  1. Fresh poultry meat
  2. Meat and minced meat
  3. Smoked fish
  4. Preferential milk
  5. Delicatessen salads
  6. Already cut salads

Instead of “best before”, the use-by date reads “to be used by”, combined with the respective cut-off date or the indication where it can be found. In addition, there is a description of how the food should be stored. It is essential to adhere to the recommended refrigeration temperature.
Food with a use-by date should actually only be consumed by the date printed on it. You should
absolutely adhere to this – even if, for example, the meat still looks good. Because it is not always possible to tell whether pathogenic bacteria have already spread on it.

May food be sold after the expiry date?

Since food is not automatically spoiled when the best-before date is exceeded, it may still be sold in stores. However, in this case, the manufacturer is no longer liable, but the retailer. He must ensure that the goods are still in perfect condition. However, customers who buy goods with an expired best-before date should also note the following:

  • Many retailers give a discount at the time of the sale or offer the goods separately. However, they are not obliged to do so. Customers should pay attention to the price labeling for reduced food with an expired best-before date and to the deduction of the discount at the checkout. Prices must be clearly identifiable and assigned to the product, only a discount indication in percent is not sufficient.
  • Complaints about discarded goods: If consumers deliberately buy a product with a BBD that is about to be reached or has been exceeded, they can insist on the return of a faultless product or the return of the money if the product turns out not to be faultless.
  • Spoiled food should be claimed immediately with the receipt at the supermarket checkout. If customers only discover when packing or at home that they have purchased an almost or already expired food product, this alone is not cause for complaint if the product is otherwise free of defects.
  • Consumers should take a close look at food oldies at home after opening the packaging, sniff them with their nose and possibly also taste them carefully to test whether they are still edible.
  • If the products are not consumed immediately, it depends on the storage: So that they are not forgotten, they belong in the first row of the storage place or refrigerator. In addition, specified storage and use conditions should be observed – such as “protect from heat and moisture” or “store at max. 8 degrees”.

Of course, the situation is different when the consumption date expires: These foods may no longer be sold.

How long is food edible after the expiration date?

Many foods can be kept for several days, weeks, or even months after the expiration date. From our overview, you can see which products are edible for how long and when you should dispose of them.

Food How long after MHD edible? When to dispose of?
Eggs about two weeks; for meals with raw eggs, the MHD must be adhered to in case of rotten smell
Beer several months in the case of mould
Tiefkühlgerichte several months with rancid taste
Yogurt several weeks for mould, bad taste
Meat, Fish Keep to the consumption date if the consumption date is exceeded
Honey several months during fermentation
Chocolate several months with bad taste
Butter several weeks to months with rancid taste
Vinegar and oil several months in case of turbidity
Canned unopened several years in case of mould, acidor or metallic taste and damage to the can (dented, leaky, rusty)
Fruit juice several weeks to months in case of mould or fermentation
Flour, baking powder several weeks to months in case of pest infestation, musty smell
Rice, Noodles a few years in case of pest infestation, sour smell after cooking

How long is the shelf life of opened food?

The be-all and end-all for the shelf life of opened food is careful hygiene and proper storage at home. The quality of the processed food also influences how long it will keep after opening. However, consumers have no control over whether the cold chain of perishable foods was interrupted between production, transport, and sale. Therefore: See, smell and taste whether the food has changed.

Pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system should not take any risks, however, and in case of doubt should rather throw away opened products instead of consuming them.

Caution with UHT milk

Caution with H-milk

Fresh milk can be consumed unopened for several days after the best-before date. In addition, it is unmistakable when it has gone bad: it comes out of the package thick, smells, and tastes sour.

UHT milk, on the other hand, is deceptive. Unopened, it can be consumed for several weeks after the expiration date. However, many believe that it can be stored for a long time even when opened – a mistake. Like fresh milk, it must be used within three to four days, otherwise, germs can proliferate. When UHT milk is spoiled, it does not become thick or sour because the lactic acid bacteria are killed when the UHT milk is produced. At most, you will notice a slightly bitter taste or flocculation in the coffee.

Juice shelf life

Juice will keep for several weeks to months after the expiration date. After opening, you should
immediately reseal fruit juice. In addition, you should not drink directly from the bottle or the
package, because bacteria often get into the drink through contact with the mouth, which causes the product to ferment.

Stored at room temperature, the liquid is then edible for up to seven days. If the juice is always
returned to the refrigerator immediately after pouring, it could even be up to 14 days. Smell and
eyes are enough to notice whether the juice is spoiled. For this purpose, it is best stored in a glass bottle.

Mold settles on the surface of the liquid. If bubbles form in the beverage, the beverage is fermenting. A cloudy sediment in the clear juice or, conversely, a clear sediment in the cloudy juice are also bad signs. Also, if the juice smells different than usual, it is most likely spoiled. In principle, vegetable juices spoil more quickly than fruit juices because of their lower acid content.

Shelf life of sausage and cheese

Unopened sausage and ham are edible for several days after the best-before date. The shelf life of opened sausage depends, among other things, on the method of preparation. Liver sausage and cold cuts should be consumed within four days. Smoked or cured products, on the other hand, can be consumed for up to two months. However, the sausage may become dry at the cut end. Inedible sausage becomes gray-greenish and greasy, smells foul, or tastes bitter.

The following applies to cheese: The higher the water content, the faster it spoils. Unopened soft cheese is edible for several days to weeks after the best-before date – hard cheese even for several months. Fresh cheese, however, hardly stays fresh for more than three days when opened. In contrast, opened hard cheese such as Parmesan can be kept for up to three weeks. If soft cheese becomes moldy, you should discard it. Also, pay attention to the smell of cheese: If it smells musty or fermented, it is inedible.

Shelf life of jam and sour preserves

Sweet or sour preserves, i.e. jam, jelly, pickles, and other preserved foods in jars, will keep for up to two months after opening. The prerequisite is that you use clean cutlery to remove the jam – i.e. do not put the licked jam spoon into the jar a second time. Unopened jam can be consumed even several months to years after the best-before date.

If mold appears on the jam or streaks or bubbles form in the pickle jar, the contents are bad. If you have leftovers from canning jars, transfer them to a tightly sealed jar or plastic container. This will keep them in the refrigerator for one to two days. Alternatively, you can also freeze leftover canned food.

Pesto, ketchup and mayonnaise shelf life

A jar of pesto is rarely empty in one go. According to the label, the rest should be consumed within three to four days. Usually, foods preserved in copious amounts of oil have an even longer shelf life. But with pesto, it’s all in the composition. If it contains cheese, it will spoil faster. It’s best to check if it smells or tastes unpleasantly sour before eating it.

Ketchup, mayonnaise, curry paste, or tomato paste have a longer shelf life – if they contain
preservatives. Then they last up to three months in the refrigerator, without preservatives only a few days. Mustard and horseradish naturally contain substances that inhibit bacterial growth and can be kept well sealed and refrigerated for up to half a year.


You May Also Like