Use by date, Sell by date, Food safety

Posted on: November 14, 2014

The Sniff Test

by Amy Rosenfeld

How often do you take something from the refrigerator, smell it, and then promptly turn to the nearest unsuspecting family member and say, “How does this smell to you?” Foods can develop an off odor, flavor or appearance related to bacteria, and while the “sniff test” has become a way of life for most of us, there are certainly safer ways of determining if something in your fridge is still edible?

Eating foods past their time can lead to foodborne illness. Use these tips to help you decide what to throw out:

1) Discard anything lurking about in your refrigerator or cupboards after its “use-by” date. This is the last day the manufacturer recommends using the product for optimal quality.

2) “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

3) Check items on the grocery store shelf for a “sell-by” date. Don’t put them in your cart if this date has passed.

4) No date? If you can’t remember when you opened it or purchased it, throw it out. To minimize waste, write dates on take-out food containers, homemade meals and on product lids when you open them.

5) Throw away anything in a loose container. Anything that wasn’t stored properly should be thrown out.
Proper forms of storage:
• Store raw meats in the store wrapping.
• Leave all dairy products in their original containers.
• Wrap hard cheeses in wax paper or foil.
• Don’t wash produce before refrigeration.
• Store all leftovers in air-tight containers.

6) Once in your refrigerator, its days are numbered. Use the chart below as your guide when cleaning out the fridge.

Recommended Refrigeration Storage Times
Courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):


Refrigeration Storage Times

Raw poultry, ground meat or poultry, sausage 1-2 days
Raw beef, veal, pork, lamb 3-5 days
Cured Ham, cook-before-eating 5-7 days
Raw eggs 3-5 weeks
Cooked poultry, fish, or sausage 3-4 days
Corned beef 3-4 days after opening
Bacon, hot dogs 7 days after opening
Luncheon meat 3-5 days after opening
Hardboiled eggs, milk, soft cheese 1 week
Opened mayonnaise 2 months
Store prepared or homemade egg, chicken, ham, tuna and macaroni sides 3-5 days
Cooked hamburger, ground and stew meat 1-2 days
Stews and soups, casseroles, pizza 3-4 days
Butter 1-3 months
Hard cheese
  • weeks

Use these tips when trying to decide what to keep or toss and you’ll never have to rely on the sniff test again. And just remember, when in doubt, throw it out.

Editor’s Note: Amy Rosenfeld is a Registered Dietitian at Northern Westchester Hospital.