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To Toss or Not to Toss: How Long Can Your Food Last?

Trying to figure out what to buy at the supermarket can be a daunting task. You don’t necessarily know when you’ll be eating out with friends or eating on campus, but you want to make sure you have enough food in case you eat at home. It’s also hard to shop just for you because it’s hard to predict how much of what you will eat. Some things, like canned goods or frozen food, obviously can stay for a long time before eating them and are good to have as back-up meals, but what about other types of food stay fresh for how long?

Dairy

Dairy products always have expiration dates. It is best to follow these dates because food poisoning from sour milk is not something you want to experience. They are also easy to tell if they have gone bad – just smell it. And if you don’t smell anything funky, give it a small taste. Opened milk lasts five to seven days past the expiration date, but usually only stays good for about a week after opening it. Some dairy products last much longer frozen. For example, if you don’t think you will be able to eat your yogurt or cheese by the date on the package, put it in the freezer to give it an extra few months. Unopened yogurt lasts one to two weeks past the expiration date when refrigerated and one to two months when frozen.

Fruits

Fruits don’t have a sell by date on them, but you can tell how ripe they are pretty easily just by feeling them. If they are squishy they are ripe, but too squishy means they might not be good anymore. And check for mold, of course. Fresh apples and oranges last for one to two months in the fridge. Bananas last for about a week before being too brown and icky looking. If you have too many bananas ripening too quickly, baking banana bread is a great way to use them. Frozen bananas taste delicious, especially when coated in chocolate. They last for two to three months in the freezer. Fresh grapes left out on the counter generally last for three to five days before starting to shrivel, but last a few days longer in the refrigerator.

Vegetables

Just like fruits, when vegetables are stored correctly, they stay good for a decent amount of time. Baby carrots are a great snack and last for three to four weeks stored properly in the fridge. Raw potatoes last for two to three months in the refrigerator, so they are a great type of food to keep around for whenever you want a nice side to a meal. Lettuce is only good for about a week when kept in the fridge before it starts to wilt. This is something to plan ahead for, especially when you buy a whole head of lettuce just for yourself.

Grains

Grains are a large category and consist of many types of foods, but you can often tell if they are still good to eat just by looking at them to see if there are weird colors forming, or by tasting it to see if it is stale. Even if food is stale, it won’t hurt you to eat; it just might not taste as good. Most unopened grains stay for at least six months past the date on the package. Packaged bread lasts for five to seven days in the pantry, but for six months in the freezer. It stores great. English muffins are easy to separate, so they can easily be kept in the freezer and you can just take one out when you want it. Opened cereal lasts for four to six months as long as it is sealed and stored in a room temperature pantry. Don’t even worry about rice, it will last way past your time in college.

Meats

Many people freeze meat as soon as they get home from the supermarket. That’s the way to do it. You have something to make a meal out of if you store it in the freezer for six to eight months. Ground beef and uncooked shrimp last for only one to two days past the printed date on the package and for a week if you cook it first. Unopened fresh chicken lasts for one to two days past the expiration date in the refrigerator, but a year in the freezer.

Drinks

Unopened drinks last for months in the pantry past the printed date, but once opened do not last for long. Once opened, they almost always need to be refrigerated. Opened juices last for no longer than a week in the fridge before going bad and the time varies by type of juice. Opened soda only lasts for a few days before losing its fizz, depending on how many times the bottle is opened. Unopened bottled white wine lasts for one to two years, but one to three days after opened in the refrigerator. Red wine lasts longer – two to three years unopened and one to two weeks opened.

Generally, freezing food is a great idea if you know you aren’t going to eat it right away. Make sure you use freezer bags so the food doesn’t get frosty; freezer burn is a sign that it has gone bad in the freezer. It is also a good idea to write the date that you opened a certain item so you know how long it will last past that specific opening date. To find how long you have to consume any sort of food, refer to EatByDate. Happy eating, Collegiettes!

Photo Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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Karen Podorefsky

U Mass Amherst

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