Search IconSearch

Trash It or Eat It? The Truth About Expiration Dates

How long is it really safe to keep foods?

Egg with expiration date stamp

The label on the eggs in your fridge says “best by” yesterday’s date. Is it safe to make one last omelet? You hate to waste the eggs, but you also don’t want to get sick.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Registered dietitian Anna Kippen, MS, RDN, LD, offers up some food safety guidance for all your food groups.

Navigating food expiration dates

You’ll see dates on many perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. But you might be surprised to learn that they aren’t usually about food safety.

According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, manufacturers put “best by” or “best if used by” dates on their products to let retail stores and consumers know how long their products are expected to maintain their best taste and texture.

These dates aren’t required by federal law (though some states require them) and don’t necessarily indicate a product’s safety (with the exception of baby formula). In fact, perishable products are usually safe to consume beyond their “best by” date if they’ve been handled and stored properly.

But there’s no hard and fast rule here — it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether it’s a good idea to go ahead and make that omelet du jour, or to toss the eggs and opt for a bowl of oatmeal instead.

Check your food for these surefire signs of spoilage:

  • Smells “off.”
  • Is moldy.
  • Has a different texture than you would expect.
  • Has an unpleasant taste.

General guidelines for freshness

These items should be safe in the fridge or pantry for the following amount of time:

  • Milk: 7 days (Tip: Keep milk in the back of the fridge, where temperature is typically coldest.)
  • Eggs: 3-5 weeks (Tip: Also store eggs in the back of the fridge, where the temperature is coldest.)
  • Ground meat/poultry: 1-2 days.
  • Cooked meat/poultry: 3-4 days.
  • Lunch meat: 2 weeks unopened, or 3-5 days opened.
  • Dry pasta: 1-2 years.
  • Steaks: 3-5 days.
  • Fresh poultry: 1-2 days.
  • Canned fruit: 12 to 18 months, or 5 to 7 days in the fridge after opening.
  • Rice and dried pasta: 2 years, or 3 to 4 days in the fridge after cooking.

Tips for freezing

If you aren’t going to be able to eat something in your fridge before it goes bad, consider tossing it in the freezer. You can safely freeze almost any food at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, with the exception of canned food and eggs in their shell, and it will not significantly reduce the amount of nutrients in that food.

“Freezing food can be a wonderful way to extend shelf life and keep quick, easy, healthy options on hand,” Kippen says.

To preserve the food’s quality as much as possible, wrap it in heavy-duty aluminum foil or airtight freezer bags. If your food becomes freezer burned, that doesn’t mean it’s unsafe to eat. Simply cut the freezer-burned portions away before you cook the food.

For the best quality, recommended freezer shelf life is:

  • Hamburger and other ground meats: 3-4 months.
  • Chicken or turkey (whole): 1 year.
  • Soups and stews: 2-3 months.
  • Lunch meat: 1-2 months.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

person walking away from toilet holding upset stomach
January 24, 2024/Digestive
Fried Rice Syndrome: Why It Happens and How To Avoid It

Keep cooked rice and pasta in your fridge — not on your counter — to help prevent this sneaky food poisoning

a death cap mushroom
March 23, 2023/Digestive
Poisonous Mushrooms: What To Know

Mushroom poisoning is real — and it can cause liver failure

Person eating raw fish.
October 9, 2022/Wellness
Is Raw Fish Safe? What To Know Before You Eat

For most healthy people, raw fish is safe, but following safety guidelines is key

Homemade canning of assorted vegetables displayed on a natural wooden table.
October 6, 2022/Wellness
Buying Food Online Is Convenient, but Is It Safe? What Experts Say

Check reviews, check labels and double check packaging

Person sick to stomach and by bathroom toilet to vomit.
Stomach Flu or Food Poisoning? How To Tell

Time of onset and duration of symptoms tell the story

Person doubled over in pain due to food poisoning.
August 4, 2022/Digestive
How Long Food Poisoning Lasts and What To Do About It

Food poisoning typically passes within 12 to 48 hours, with symptoms including diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain and vomiting

chef cutting up chicken
March 20, 2022/Infectious Disease
How To Stay Safe From Salmonella Poisoning

Cleanliness and food preparation precautions are the best defense against infection

Girl eating cookie dough while cooking with mom
November 22, 2021/Digestive
Is It Safe To Eat Raw Cookie Dough or Cake Batter?

WARNING: Bacteria could be present due to raw flour and eggs

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims