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Expiration dates are a sham. Here’s the best way to tell if a food has gone bad.

Expiration dates are a sham. Here’s the best way to tell if a food has gone bad.

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Shutterstock/Christopher Boswell
  • Expiration dates are based on rough estimates.
  • Americans waste 40% of the food they purchase annually, the equivalent of $218 billion.
  • Instead of relying on imprecise sell-by dates, here’s the best way to tell if foods like eggs, cheese, fish, or veggies have gone bad, according to science.

The best way to tell if a food is still good to eat isn’t necessarily looking at the sell-by date printed on the package.

Expiration dates are based on rough estimates. They can tell you when a carton of eggs or a raw steak will likely reach the limit for their best quality, but that’s about it, according to research compiled by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit environmental organization.

“Millions of Americans are tossing perfectly good food in the trash because they think it’s not safe to eat after the date on the package,” Dana Gunters, a senior scientist with the National Resources Defense Council, said in a statement last year.

Americans throw away up to 40% of purchased food every year, the equivalent of $218 billion. In addition to the wasted money – about $1,500 per year for a family of four, according to the NRDC – food waste also means that all of the resources that were used to grow, store, and transport food get wasted, too.

Here’s how to tell if everything in your refrigerator – including milk, cheese, hummus, and fish – has gone bad.


A bad egg floats.

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Narong Jongsirikul/Shutterstock

Egg shells are slightly porous, and as they age, small sacs of air begin to form between the shell wall and the egg.

If there’s enough of an air bubble inside an egg to cause it to float in a bowl of water, chances are it’s gone bad, according to the US Department of Agriculture.


Expired yogurt begins to puddle more than usual.

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Gene Kim

When kept in a sealed container, yogurt can last between one and three weeks. That’s thanks to its live bacterial cultures, which act as a natural preservative.

But when those cultures start to die off, things go awry. More liquid than usual will pool on the surface, and sometimes mold will form.

Other signs of expiration include curdling near the bottom, according to StillTasty.


Uncooked beef gets slimy when it’s gone bad.

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iStock

Uncooked beef with a foul odor, slimy texture, or sticky or tacky feel is best thrown out, according to the USDA.

Changes in color, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily an indication that raw meat has expired, the agency says.


Expired hummus develops a sour taste.

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Shutterstock

If your store-bought hummus starts to develop a sour taste, it’s probably a sign that it’s gone bad, according to EatByDate.


Olive oil stops smelling like olives when it’s gone bad.

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dulezidar/iStock

Bad fish starts to give off an abnormally fishy odor.

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Flickr / Ernesto Andrade

Fresh fish should be eaten within 36 hours of purchase, according to Whole Foods, EatByDate, and The Kitchn.

Fish that’s spoiled will typically have a slimy flesh with a thick, slippery coating. It may also develop a fishier-than-normal smell.


Fresh vegetables turn yellow when they’re going bad.

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Shutterstock

Green vegetables turn yellow when they expire.

That said, some vegetables can still be salvageable, according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. They suggest trimming the discolored portion of veggies like celery and soaking it for 10-15 minutes in ice water to refresh.


Sour milk gets lumpy.

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ShutterstocK

The biggest red flag for spoiled milk: changes in texture, smell, or consistency.

When the lactic acid in dairy starts producing bacteria, it gives off a sour odor. Lumps or chunks can also develop as a result.


Fresh fruit changes texture when it’s expiring.

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Shutterstock

If fruit gets mushy or grainy, it’s probably a sign that you shouldn’t eat it, according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Other warning signs that a fruit has gone bad include extreme discoloring, foul odors, or wrinkly skin that’s peeling away.


Bad bread grows mold.

If you spot mold on one slice of bread, it’s not safe to eat another slice – even if there’s no visible mold on the rest of the loaf.

That’s because bread is porous, meaning that mold spreads easily throughout the loaf.

Bead that gets stale, hard, or dry, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily expired. Mold requires moisture to grow, so dry bread may still be perfectly fine to eat .It can typically be safely used to make bread crumbs or croutons.


Expired deli meat gives off an odd smell or changes texture.

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Hollis Johnson

Smelly deli meat may be plagued by bacteria.

Turkey, ham, or salami that has become hard or slimy has also likely expired.

Deli meats purchased directly from the deli counter should be eaten within three days, according to EatByDate.


Spoiled cheese starts to smell like sour milk.

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gtfour/Shutterstock

When it comes to cheese, perishability is all about moisture.

The softer and more moist a cheese, the faster it spoils. Bad cheeses will typically give off a sour milk smell, according to chef Nora Singley.

If mold grows on soft cheeses like cottage or cream cheese, they should be discarded, according to the Mayo clinic. That’s also true for shredded or sliced cheese.

Harder cheeses, however, take longer to spoil because of their density. In many cases, it’s possible to cut off a moldy outer layer and find the interior to be fine, since mold doesn’t penetrate far into harder cheeses like cheddar or parmesan.

You may be storing your food all wrong — here’s how to keep fruit, veggies, meat, and dairy fresh for longer

You may be storing your food all wrong — here’s how to keep fruit, veggies, meat, and dairy fresh for longer

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Daniel Goodman / Business Insider (modified by Tanya Lewis)

Do your bananas go brown too fast? Do your greens wilt in the fridge?

Many of us chuck spoiled food into the trash because it goes bad before we have a chance to eat it. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, American families throw away an average of $1,600 worth of wasted food every year.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We’ve compiled some handy tips that could help you keep food fresh for longer and store things the right way. Read on to stop wasting food (and money) by storing smarter.


Rinse berries in a simple solution of vinegar water before putting them in the fridge: 1 part vinegar, 10 parts water. This will kill any berry-infecting mold spores. Raspberries will last up to one week, and strawberries up to two.

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Flickr / THOR

Sources: BuzzFeed, Momables.com


To keep bananas fresh, wrap their stems in plastic wrap. Banana stems produce ethylene gas, which makes the fruit ripen faster. Separating the bananas and wrapping each stem individually can keep them fresh even longer.

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Flickr/Quim Gil

Source: BuzzFeed


Parisian baker Éric Kayser says you should never store bread in the fridge, since the air inside is drier than the loaf. Instead, wrap it in a paper bag or dish towel and keep it in a dry spot, where it should last for two to four days. Avoid storing bread in plastic, which will make it get stale and moldy faster. Iif you want to keep bread for a while, your best bet is to put it in the freezer, then toast it up when you’re ready to eat.

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REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Source: Tastingtable.com, Business Insider


Store herbs like you would a bouquet of flowers — in water. But there’s a twist: Place herbs in a jar of water and drape a bag over the top to keep in moisture, then store them in the fridge.

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expertvillage/YouTube screenshot

Source: BuzzFeed


The same trick works for asparagus, too.

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Jerry James Stone/YouTube screenshot

Source: BuzzFeed


Keep lettuce in a bag with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture, and close it airtight. Then stick it in the fridge to keep the greens from drying out.

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The Juice Detective/YouTube screenshot

Sources: BuzzFeed, Time


Store avocados at room temperature until they’re ripe and soft, then keep them in a plastic bag in the fridge for three to five days. Wrap avocados that have been sliced tightly in plastic wrap to keep them from oxidizing — i.e., turning brown. For guacamole, stick plastic wrap directly to the surface of the guac.

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William Wei, Business Insider

Source: StillTasty.com


Keep tomatoes in a bag or box in a cool place (but not the fridge) until ripe, then store them on the counter. Overripe tomatoes can be put in the fridge, but it’s not the tastiest place for them. The cold air stops them from ripening and breaks down their cell membranes, making them mealy.

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Renoir Gaither/Flickr

Source: Popsugar.com


Citrus and melons should also stay on the counter until they’re ready to be cut.

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Mark Rober/YouTube

Source: Lifehacker


Don’t chop fruit, veggies, or meat until you’re ready to use them, since exposure to the air will make those foods dry out or go bad faster. Chopping up veggies also unleashes the nutrients and bioactive compounds in them, so it’s best to wait until you’re ready to eat.

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Flickr/Martin Cathrae

Source: Squawkfox.com, NPR


Onions, garlic and shallots can last for about two weeks in a cool, dry, dark spot like the pantry. But to make onions really last, try storing them in hanging pantyhose. The air circulation will keep them from getting moldy, and they should stay fresh for about six months.

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Healthy LifeStyle/YouTube screenshot

Sources: Life Hacker, eHow


Storing potatoes with apples helps keep them from sprouting. Avoid storing potatoes near onions, because both release moisture and gases that cause the other to go bad faster. And keep potatoes out of the fridge: that will turn their starch into sugar, which changes the way they taste and cook.

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Flickr / Wendell

Sources: BuzzFeed, StillTasty.com, EatingWell.com


Your cheese needs some air to stay happy. Wrap it in parchment or wax paper instead of plastic wrap or tin foil. Otherwise, it will dry out because it can’t breathe.

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Harris Farm Markets/YouTube screenshot

Source: Reader’s Digest


Don’t store your milk in the fridge door, since temperatures in that area can fluctuate, causing the dairy to spoil faster. Instead, keep it in the center of the refrigerator.

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Daniel Goodman / Business Insider (modified by Tanya Lewis)

Source: Squawkfox.com


The freezer is a better place for long-term butter storage than your fridge. America’s Test Kitchen chef and food science expert Dan Souza recommends keeping the stick you’re actively using in the fridge, while the rest of the pack stays frozen.

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Melting butter.
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Flickr/Taryn

Source: Business Insider


Honey is nature’s perfect sweet treat. It stays good at room temperature for eons, so do not put it in the fridge, where it will crystallize.

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Shutterstock

Source: Business Insider


In the US, eggs should go near the back of the fridge, where it’s chilliest. People in some other countries don’t refrigerate eggs, however, due to differences in the way eggs are farmed and processed.

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Getty Images/Joe Raedle

In the US, eggs are washed and sprayed with a chemical sanitizer to reduce the risk of salmonella infection. Those cleaned eggs are kept at cooler temperatures to prevent them from deteriorating. In Europe, eggs are not washed and therefore are not required to be chilled.

Sources: Time, IncredibleEgg.org


Olive oil should stay in a cool, dark place in your house until you’re ready to use it. Don’t put it in the fridge, though, because it will go solid there.

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dulezidar/iStock

Source: Business Insider


Keep meat in the bottom drawer of the fridge, where it won’t drip on other food. Double wrap it to prevent cross-contamination. Beef and pork will last one to two days in the fridge and three to four months in the freezer. Chicken will last up to nine months frozen.

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Flickr/DrHobo

Sources: Squawkfox.com, StillTasty.com


Don’t put odor-absorbing foods, like coffee and basil, in the fridge. If you do, you might notice that they’ll start absorbing other flavors. Instead, keep them on the counter. Basil can be kept in water like other herbs, and double as a leafy countertop bouquet.

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Michał Bażak/Flickr Creative Commons

Source: Business Insider


Keep your fridge clean to prevent mold and other microbes from growing. Give it a deep cleanse every three to four months. And don’t overstock it: air needs to circulate to keep things cool.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: Squawkfox.com, GQ


To keep your brown sugar from drying into a solid block, add some moist marshmallows or a piece of squishy bread into the bag or box.

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Flickr/David Pacey

Source: Reader’s Digest


Store red spices — paprika, cayenne, and chili powder — in the fridge to keep them fresher and brighter. Light and heat can cause them to lose color and flavor.

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Flickr / sara marlowe

Source: Reader’s Digest


Put your leftovers in clear containers so you’ll remember to eat them before they go bad.

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Flickr/Kathleen Franklin

Source: Squawkfox.com


Remember: just because something has passed its expiration date, that doesn’t mean you have to throw it out right away. The dates are just an indicator of when manufacturers consider food freshest, but it often stays good for longer. To find out how long a given item is safe to eat, you can consult sources like StillTasty.com.

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M. Woodruff/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

Tanya Lewis contributed to an earlier version of this story.

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