Cupboard cleaning and expiration dates

Old, bulging can. Throw this away!

Our first prolonged winter weather has many callers cleaning and organizing their cupboards. We are always happy to answer caller’s questions about food safety.

The most common call we have about food expiration dates is the shelf life of eggs. We tell callers that the date marked on an egg carton is a sell by date not a use by date. We remind them they have an additional month to use the eggs.

Callers often want to know if a can of food they found at the back of the cupboard is still safe to eat. The quality of the food will decline over time, but the contents remain safe. The best if used by date on a can of food refers to the manufacturers estimation of the time frame that their food will be at peak quality if the food is eaten on or before the date marked on the can. If the can is dated within the past 3 years, the food inside should be safe to eat. However, if the can is dented, bulging, or rusty, the food should be discarded

Our new copy of the Joy of Cooking has a great chapter on Keeping and Storing Food. The book provides guidelines on storing pantry items, canned food, spices, cereals, oils, pasta, and other things you might have on hand. We also use a research based website for information on the safety of food.

We often get questions from callers about food that has been frozen for several years.Callers often ask about a date on the package that says use or freeze by a particular date. If the freezer has been continuously running below zero degrees, then the food inside the freezer will remain safe to eat. The quality of the food will decline over time, but the food will not make you sick from bacterial contamination. We often advise callers to have a back up plan for a meal they make from older frozen food, just in case it is not unpalatable.

Remember that we are just a phone call away if you have questions about food you find when you are cleaning. In Iowa, 1-800-262-3804 or Minnesota, 1-800-854-1678. If you have a phone that has neither Iowa or Minnesota area codes on it, call 515-296-5883. We look forward to hearing from you.

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Phone: (Monday-Friday, 9 am-noon; 1-4 pm)
1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)
1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)