How to Understand Expiration Dates

There’s a debate in many households regarding expiration dates. Is that tub of sour cream still okay two days after the expiry date indicated on its lid? You may have realized the mustard you love had a best before date of last month. What about the can of chickpeas that has been sitting in the back of the pantry since you moved — 5 years ago? Food label dates can be confusing and often result in a lot of waste. Here are a few tips on how to understand them.


A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic found that 90% of people throw food out prematurely. There are no regulations on food label dates so they are left up to the manufacturer to make an educated guess at Best By, Sell By, Use By and Expiry dates. Generally speaking those dates have a lot to do with shelf life and turnover and may not be an accurate representation of whether the food will spoil. But, most groceries are required to indicate dates on their labels.

We’ve compiled a few expiration guidelines to help you understand how long you can keep grocery items and when you need to restock at the store:

Eggs: Fresh for three to five weeks after you buy them if refrigerated.

Apples: This tasty fruit will stay crisp for three weeks in your refrigerator. A good guideline for other fruit such as oranges and pears.

Milk: Will be safe to drink up to five days past the sell by date. But use your judgement.

Cereal: Six to 12 months is a good guideline for boxed breakfast cereal.

Mustard: This can keep for two years, even after it’s opened.

Olives: Once you’ve opened a jar, they can last for three months if they’re refrigerated.

Canned Food: This can last indefinitely in your cupboard, but many say the freshness and taste is affected after one year.

Wine: Corked and refrigerated, red and white wines will last up to one week.

For more guidelines, we love this comprehensive list from Real Simple.

It’s a no brainer to toss food when it has obviously spoiled, but the good news is we may have a few more days left in Sunday’s groceries after all.