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When to Toss Food

Safe to Eat? When to Toss These 25 Foods

Stay savvy when cleaning your cupboards by taking into consideration when it's actually time to toss food. Along with understanding the shelf life of several pantry basics, knowing how to properly store fresh produce and meats keeps them at their best longer. Even the US Department of Agriculture suggests taking a closer look before pitching. Instead of letting things go to waste (and costing you money), you'll want to have a few helpful and surprising guidelines for determining if that butter in the back of your fridge is still safe to eat.

  • Fresh apples: Place fresh, ripe apples in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for up to six months. They stay wonderfully crisp in a 30˚F to 40˚F humid spot in your fridge.
  • Avocados: Once ripe, store in a plastic bag in the fridge for three to five days. Or peel and mash, adding a teaspoon of lemon juice for each avocado, and place in a zip-top bag. Pop it in the freezer, and the avocado stays tasty for up to six months — perfect for making guacamole any time of year.
  • Milk: Opened milk is still safe to drink one week after the sell-by date. Store it in the center of the fridge where it's nice and cold, not in the door, which is warmer.
  • Broccoli: Fresh broccoli stays crisp in the fridge for five days. Or blanch chopped broccoli, pat dry, store in a zip-top bag, and freeze, which keeps it fresh for up to 18 months. When freezing produce or meats, write the eat-by date on the plastic bag to remind you when it should be consumed.
  • White flour: When stored in an airtight cool spot, white flour stays fresh for up to eight months. Or toss in the fridge, and it's good for two years.
  • Butter: Unopened sticks of butter stay good in the fridge for up to one month after the sell-by date. But don't store it in the butter holder located in the door of the fridge — tuck it in the back, which keeps it fresh longer.

Read on for more.

  • Cheese: Opened cheese that's wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge is good for three to four weeks. Unopened blocks are still fresh after six months. And although gross, a little mold on the edge of the block doesn't mean it's time to toss. Simply cut one inch around the mold, and that cheese is still good for shredding on your pizza.
  • Cottage cheese: That unopened container of cottage cheese that you forgot about is still good for one month after the sell-by date.
  • Eggs: Everyone seems to get squeamish about potentially cracking a bad egg, but store-bought eggs are good for three to five weeks after purchase. Instead of storing them in the egg trays found in the door of the fridge, tuck the egg carton into the center of the fridge.
  • Spices: Most dried herbs and spices keep their zing for up to six months.
  • Ground beef: Once purchased, raw ground beef should be cooked within two days of purchase but can be frozen for up to four months. Cooked beef should be stored in the fridge no more than two hours after cooking and stays tasty for up to four days.
  • Chicken: Use fresh chicken within a couple of days of purchase, but frozen chicken stays fresh in the freezer for nine months. Cooked chicken should be consumed within four days after refrigerating.
  • Pork chops: Chops are good for up to four days fresh in the fridge or up to six months in the freezer.
  • Salmon: Fresh salmon stays delicious for up to two days in the fridge or four months in the freezer. Canned salmon is safe to eat for up to five years, which makes it a healthy way to stock up on fish.
  • Shrimp: Frozen shrimp stay fresh for up to 18 months in the freezer, while fresh shrimp should be eaten within two days of purchasing. Cooked shrimp are safe for up to four days, refrigerated.
  • Tuna: Canned is good for three to five years.
  • Dried pasta: Store your angel-hair in a dry, cool spot, and it's good for up to three years. Have a few linguine noodles left over after dinner? Pasta sans sauce is still fresh after five days in the fridge. Or toss in a zip-top plastic bag and keep in the freezer for up to two months.
  • Vinegar: Most vinegars are good for years. If yours is over a few years old, it's a good idea to give it a quick smell before dousing your salad to make sure it hasn't turned. If it smells bitter, it's time to pick up new balsamic.
  • Oatmeal: Stored in an airtight container in a cool spot, oatmeal stays safe to eat for up to six months. You can extend its shelf life for an additional year by keeping it in the fridge.
  • Salsa: An unopened jar is safe to eat for up to 18 months, thanks to all that acidity. So grab the tortilla chips and get munching.
  • Almonds: Out-of-the-shell almonds stay crunchy in the pantry for up to four weeks, happy in the fridge for nine months, and crisp in the freezer for up to a year. Store in a sealable container or bag for best results. And this goes for pretty much any other kind of nut, too.
  • Canned beans: Find a can of baked beans lurking in your pantry? Canned beans are safe to eat for two to five years even after the best-by date. Ditch if there's any leakage or rust on the can. Or have a bit of beans left over after opening a can? Store in a sealable container in the fridge for four days or pop in a zip-top bag and freeze for up to two months.
  • Ketchup: That mega-size container of ketchup is safe to use for topping your hot dogs six months after opening.
  • Olive oil: Opened bottles are still delicious for drizzling over salads for up to two years. If the item in question looks or smells off, then trust your gut and toss — it's never smart to taste food to see if it's still good.

Curious about the shelf life of something not included on this list? Check out this handy page from StillTasty.

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