Saving grocery money: the real shelf-life of foods

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Your family throws away up to $2,275 a year in food, according to the National Resources Defense Council. That's money you could save if you knew the "real" shelf-life of your food. It's longer than most food is dated.

Junior Southard knows how long food really lasts. He runs Fresh to Frozen, a salvage grocery store.

He and the U.S. Department of Agriculture say you should know there's a difference between the type of dates on foods. "Use by" and "best by" dates are not safety dates. They're dates manufacturers use voluntarily.

Explained Southard, "That's when they're telling you that you'll get your best quality, is in that date frame. But after that, it's still good and doesn't make you sick or anything."

The USDA says unopened canned goods last for two to five years. An unopened box of cereal, a year.

"You obviously open and check and see if it's stale or whatever," said Southard.

Eggs still in their shell, refrigerated, last three to five weeks after you bought them.

Said Southard, "You can eat eggs several weeks after the date."

The USDA says unopened peanut butter will last two years, unopened mustard two years, and unopened mayonnaise, three to four months after the date on the package.

"Sell by" dates are on perishable foods to tell the store when to pull them from the shelf.  But the actual expiration date is often longer, such as for milk.

Southard told us, "If you keep it at the right temperature, if the store does and you do at home, it's good five to eight days after that date."

The USDA says some foods are good after their "use by" dates. It says unopened hot dogs are good one week after the use by date. Cheese still in a sealed bag, one week after its date.

"Cheeses like this, as long as you keep it at the right temperature, you don't see mold in it anything is changing on it, yah its fine," Southard showed us.

Some manufactures use a series of letters or numbers on their products. That's helps them track the food. But you don't even have to look at it unless there's a recall.

Remember, expiration dates on some baby food and baby formula must be strictly followed.

But knowing the real shelf life of the foods you eat, said Southard, "You can save hundreds of dollars," and make the money you spend last longer.

You can type different kinds of foods into a website called in a section called "Keep It or Toss It?"  It will tell you the real shelf-life of the food, based on information from the USDA, the FDA, and CDC.

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