Food Shelf Life Guide

food shelf life

If you’re like most people, you sometimes find yourself with perishable food that you just couldn’t eat before the expiration date. It’s frustrating to throw out food, especially fresh ingredients, which tend to be more expensive than other items. But how reliable is that expiration date? Check out our guide to food shelf life to know how long you really have to eat those eggs.


  • Eggs – There are a lot of different labeling practices when it comes to eggs. You should always buy them by or before the sell by date. It is safe to keep them refrigerated for up to five weeks after purchase.
  • Milk – You can keep milk in the refrigerator for up to a week past the sell by date. For the longest shelf life keep your milk in the body of the refrigerator, not on the door.
  • Cheese – There are a lot of different cheeses, and the self-life may vary. Good old cheddar cheese you can keep refrigerated for a week past the sell by date. That’s a pretty good rule of thumb for most cheeses, but your mileage may vary.

Meat and Fish

  • Bacon – You can use bacon for up to a week past the sell by date if kept refrigerated.
  • Ground beef and most other beef that is refrigerated raw should not be kept for more than 1-2 days past the sell by date, however you can keep it in the freezer for several months as long as it’s frozen by the sell by date.
  • Chicken – Raw chicken should also not be used more than 1-2 days past the sell by date. Meat and poultry are notorious for attracting bacteria, and you can’t be too careful.
  • Fish – Most fish and shellfish also need to be used quickly. If purchased fresh, you should cook your fish within a day or two of the purchase date.


  • Apples – can be kept at room temperature for 1-3 days or in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.
  • Bananas – You can use bananas for about 3-5 days once they are ripe.
  • Oranges – will keep for about one week at room temperature or 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator.
  • Watermelon – This summer treat will keep in the pantry for 7-10 days or up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Once you cut it up, you should eat it within 3-4 days.
  • Carrots – Fresh carrots will keep for 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator.
  • Lettuce – Your leafy greens will only keep for a week or so in the refrigerator.
  • Cabbage – Cabbage will also last for about a week, although in my experience it lasts a bit longer than lettuce.
  • Bell Peppers – Peppers of all colors will keep for 1-2 weeks if refrigerated.
  • Tomatoes – Fresh tomatoes can be kept at room temperature until they ripen. Once ripe, they will keep in the refrigerator for another 3-4 days.

This is just a small sampling of the foods you might be staring down in your kitchen. Visit this site to search for a wide variety of food shelf life (including raw, cooked, frozen, open, unopened, and many more variations).

As a general rule, you should always be on the safe side with meat, poultry, and fish, which are the most likely foods to harbor harmful bacteria. If you’re even a little unsure, don’t eat it.

With dairy, fruits, and vegetables, you have more leeway to go with your gut – so to speak. With these foods, your senses will usually guide you well. You’ll be able to smell, see, or taste if something has gone bad.

You should always err on the side of caution if you’re on the fence about a food. Our parents may have taught us “waste not, want not,” but the dangers of food poisoning are real. It’s better to throw something out than get sick.

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Photo: Michael Stern


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